To mark 65 years since rock ‘n’ roll anthem ‘Rock Around the Clock’ was first released, a group of older people have been reminding us all just how much that record changed the face of British society.
The hit single, by Bill Haley and his Comets, was the first record to sell over a million copies in the UK and paved the way for a new style of music, dancing and socialising. Along with Rock Island Line by skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan, it gave young people a genre of music that was noisy, exciting and completely different from the ballards and big band music of the previous decades.
To mark the 65th anniversary, Care UK has invited nine care home residents to share their recollections of this iconic record on a specially commissioned film.
From the birth of rock ‘n’ roll to profound cultural changes, the stories from their younger years evoke a time of freedom and prosperity in a post-war climate. For Helen Hardie, aged 86, “It was music to some people, and it was a heck of a noise to others”. Jocelyn Ordidge, aged 82, remembered: “We were all singing Rock Around the Clock – it even gets my feet going now!”.
For David Dowie, aged 91, “It really affected most of the youth, and dance halls were full all the time”. This sentiment is echoed by Anthony Scott, aged 71, who added: “You could tell walking down the street – the atmosphere was different”.
Dancing constituted an important part of many of the testimonies shared by residents, including Florence ‘Freda’ Purcell, aged 90, who recalled: “Fellas used to swing us around, let go of your hand and then you’d come twirling round and come back again”.
For some it was the freedom of the dancing that appealed, David added, “People came up with new movements, there were no steps”, although Rose Southon, aged 82, fondly recalled: “All this jiving came in. I never could do it but I gave it a damn good go”.
Residents also reminisced on 1950s fashion, including Douglas ‘Doug’ Champ, aged 91, who remembered the “awful sideburns” which some young men sported, while Freda recalled wearing “flared dresses”.
As well as asking residents for their memories, Care UK has used the anniversary to encourage residents and teams at its homes to run 1950s-themed events to relive some of the excitement of this much-loved era. Over 40 homes are taking part with events varying from live music by Elvis impersonators to visits by 1950s cars, dances and vintage menus. There are even plans to decorate the coffee shop of one home as a 1950s diner and plenty of people will be enjoying the chance to wear 1950s fashions.
Care UK’s dementia expert Suzanne Mumford said: “For many residents in our care homes, the 1950s are often associated with happy memories from their youth and positive emotions. The release of Rock Around the Clock symbolises much more than just the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in Britain – it reminds older people of a time when post-war austerity was ending and young people had more freedom to spend evenings, unchaperoned by parents, in coffee shops and dance halls.
Suzanne continued: “This has made the record a perfect opportunity to run events that don’t just provide entertainment but give us an opportunity to prompt long-forgotten memories of the 1950s. Many people living in our homes have dementia and reminiscence activities like this are great for getting conversations going and sharing memories. And my colleagues working in the homes have been fascinated to hear what it was like to be a rebellious teenager in 1954 which helps build links between residents and those who support them.
“It was wonderful to go on this inspiring journey back to the 1950s with residents, and we hope other people will enjoy stepping back in time too and share their memories on our twitter and facebook pages.”