In this article, a young signalman, who has organised the first of the Youth Venture clubs in Leicester, writes a manifesto for the scheme.
the boy stands up in his sexual and phallic dress, a rebel against a sexless world of fear, and from his own he has made gods. In his dress, his walk, in his whole way of life he makes a private drama for the world that failed him to take note of. “Look at me, look at me and those I, with my money, have defied.” Recently I was walking through a market in a country town, and a man was shouting from behind a trinket stall: “Buy your lockets here, only half a dollar, Tommy Steele, Elvis Presley, the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richards, buy your lockets here.” In one was a picture in blue of the Virgin Mary, and in another a black and white head and shoulders photograph. It could have been the face of any of a score of boys who threaded those stalls, but it wasn’t. It was Reginald Smith, the 20 year-old son of a London bus driver, better known as Marty Wilde, the rock’n’roller, the heart throb of the millions, the boy a generation has made a god, a Tin Pan Alley virgin. The boy stands in the age of the contraceptive as a potent hope. He stands in an age of frustration as a dream lover, a sub-American idol.
The subject is male, in his late teens and early twenties. He was born either in, or just before the last War. His family and his background are working-class. His education was paid for by the State. He lives in a metropolis, a city, a town; in a terraced street, a tenement block; on a redevelopment area, or a new estate. He is talked about in the posh monthlies. He is mentioned in the family journals. He is headlined in the popular press, and he is analysed in the educated magazines. He has done something. He has moved it. He has made a hit record. He has stood on a street corner. He has robbed an old lady. He has more money in his pocket than his people have ever had. He has hit a policeman on the head. He has fought his friends with a flick knife. In an age of sexual muddle his common charm has attracted the society moll and the homosexual. He stands on a stage spotlit in blue, on a street corner in sodium orange, asking for real, for love in an artificial age. He is your son, the nation’s hope, the child of the emancipated common man, the idol of a moneyed age, the hope in a world full of fear. His face comes out in the third dimension from the screen to appeal to the mother, the daughter, the youngest son; to epitomise this new glossy world of boom. He has become a new Dionysus, and the world sings a paean to his purity; a purity born of a fear created by his father’s generation. He is constantly pleading for love, for help, and for understanding; and yet he is incapable of returning that love. His search is for the dream lover that does not exist, for the dreamland that cannot exist; and his frustration is in this knowledge that his dream will never come true.
At the end of the last War, the boy emerged into a world of hope, and a world of fear. There was hope for a better world, with the Labour Party, and the Trade Union. The hope and belief in a dream. He was promised free teeth. He was promised a Council house, and given a place on a waiting list. He was promised educational equality—and given the Secondary Modern. His own failed him. Instead he was given American Aid. American gods. His sister became a GI bride. Slowly, and without his noticing it, he began to earn more money. At the same time he was given a fear; fear of the Bomb, of science, of the social worker; of a war of total destruction, of the power of the machine, the probings of the psychologist, and even of population increase. The Empire his father knew was given away. The Party his father helped, gave no constructive and positive answer. The Church his father knew was speechless. An 11 year old Fulham boy on a charge of arson said: “The reason I did it is I am unhappy. I lay in bed and wondered why God has made me unhappy, so I decided to burn his Church.”
This cult of the English idols has grown since the beginning of the 1950’s. With the defeat of the Labour Party, and the start of the Tory boom, it has been increasing. The one exception was the Suez Crisis. There the world of before-the-war to some extent returned. The troops on the dockside at Southampton sang Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye. Anne Shelton and Dorothy Squires topped the British hit parade. The boys were eclipsed. The boom in Borstal entries dropped, and the world of the Empire returned. 1 can remember sitting in a signal box, listening on the phone to a portable radio a signalman had down the line—the news bulletins, and the voice of Sir Anthony Eden. I can remember the feeling that ran down the line as they “stood behind Eden”, the man who was to show them and the world that the Old Bulldog could bite as well as bark, that Britain was still represented by that grimy statue of Queen Victoria, Empress of India, on the town hall square: that they were still at the heart of “the greatest Empire of all time”. They would send a gunboat and show the wogs how the lion still roared. There was not one man who at that time spoke against Eden, yet one could feel in the comments made their knowledge that the Empire was dead; pre-war Britain would never return, Eden would fail. They all knew it, as the American USAF trucks roared back to their British base across the bridge. And after the crisis was over, and the old world returned, the Boys poured back into Borstal, climbed to the top of the Hit Parade, and the new aided-England boomed on: Eden had sold them down the river. The wogs had beaten them. The dream of the Empire’s return was as much a dream as the Socialists’ land of milk and honey. The men felt again, as a National Service man said to Hoggart (quoted in The Uses of Literacy) “Life is a permanent wank inside you”. The feeling of failure, the frustration returned.
The Boy does not usually understand what he has for sale, but he is very conscious that the world outside is wooing him. They want his purchasing power, his vote, his opinion, his photograph. He is afraid of what they want, and of their sudden interest. It bewilders him. His father had nothing to sell. Now they are willing to buy his son. They want to buy him, not take him by force. His private drama has become inflated, exaggerated. His violence, his excess bravado—if nothing else—will give him the front page headline. “Let them take this”. He keeps well away from them, and his hate of them increases. He is afraid of selling what he has no right to sell, of coming to an agreement with Them that isn’t fair. He, and his gang make their own music, perform their own drama, and draw less and less on Them. His dress, his whole way of life becomes a rebellion against Them. His suspicions fall on the older generation; perhaps his own parents have betrayed him, did not tell him the truth, fed him a line, are holding something back. His idols must have done something, they must have sold their virginity, their birthright. The boy does not understand his new power. All he knows is that they are wooing him. It is the feeding of the line that he is most afraid of. For centuries his people have slaved for them, but he is the boss now. The Labour Exchange wants his labour. He does not have to plead for a job. He has the money. He has the power. He is the one with something to sell. He reads it in the papers. He sees it on the television. He is constantly being told of the dreamland that now lies within his own reach, just around the block, just across the green . . .
The dreamland is always, like the win on the pools, just around the corner. The man with the big cigar from up West who discovers The Boy, and buys him up, never arrives. Like the Education plan, and the premium bond, it can happen, but it rarely does, and always there is the fear that you have to sell what you have no right to sell. To reach the dreamy scene, the girl, or the boy in the teenage stories who is helped to a stage success by a Boy God in the end, finds true love, and happiness in the arms of the kid across the street who was jilted in her or his desire to be top. You have no right to sell your birthright. To be top you must lose your heritage, the love on the street that will never let you down. To be a God you have to make a deal with them, and they are never honest. They never play fair. They never treat you right. The haze that surrounds the life of the Boy is a fog of fear, and not the mist about to rise on a dazzling dawn of success. He lives in Birmingham, not Hollywood—a dead Empire in a sunset world, yet still hopes that somehow, an Eden will pull off the trick, Super Mac will open up those golden gates, and here along the M1 the orange trees of California will begin to blossom. There must be a lucky card somewhere, a permutation no one has found, a new body movement more appealing than the last. The man might come from Vernons. The man might come from the theatrical agency. The cheque, and the contract might be in his hand. Others may call apart from the rent man. If only he had the contacts. If only . . . And so this boy with everyone and everything against him, plays out his own private drama to the fuggy street, with his god on a chain round his neck, his girl clinging to his arm. Against all of them; in search of the heaven he sees on the glossy page, the screen, and the hoarding.