Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
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So Don, Edwin, Steve and Cyril, four ordinary young southern English bus mechanics, in the fully employed Britain of 1962, borrow a big red London bus from London Transport and set off for Greece. Somewhere along the road, they meet up with a guitar band, The Shadows, as well as a three girl singing group, Sandy Angie and Mimsie, whose car has clunked out on a French country road. Summer Holiday is a British teen musical with a nod towards the more wholesome American models. There's a lot of singing and dancing, with some unlikely adventures and an even unlikelier happy ending. It's corny and silly. The script is tenuous, many of the songs are ridiculous and the whole thing could never happen in real life. To this day it remains one of my favourite films ever and I still watch it at least twice a year.
When I first saw it at the cinema, aged 9, probably during the cold sleety half-term of February 1963, in Dundee, Scotland, its effect upon me was immediate and permanent.
Somewhere out there, I realised, there was freedom. The sun was shining, there were adventures to be had and music – guitar jangling cheery pop music – was somehow wrapped up in it all. Naturally I fell in love with Una Stubbs, this shapely, agile lovely creature. She was like the best big sister ever and one day I would grow up and meet someone just like her.
The world of Summer Holiday was not the bombsite playground with which I was familiar – a rain-grey post-war existence of yelling teachers, glinting-eyed coarse children and strict parents who ordered you home for baths, bedtime or meals. None of this. None of that. I did not only think that there was a better, more fun world outside the one in which I was trapped, I now knew there was one . And I intended to spend the rest of my life if necessary trying to find it before running off to be a part of it.
Even so, part of the essential bitter-sweetness of youth, is that youth itself is very often already painfully aware of its finite properties. Almost as soon as it is yours, time is running out. In an earlier Cliff Richard hit, The Young Ones, there's a telling line, “Cos we may not be the young ones, very long.” Even as the song is being sung – by a young man too – the poignant observation that youth itself is already on the run is made.
This feeling seems to echo in another brilliant song from the early 1960s. Moon River from the film Breakfast at Tiffany's – a further gem that will bear repeated viewings – is replete with a similar aching - a yearning for something better, “Dream-maker, you heartbreaker, wherever you're going I'm going your way.” From its outset, the key signature of the 1960s, is this awareness that the clock is already ticking. For those of us who came awake in the 60s, for me at least, there was a feeling that something brilliant was going on. If however, if I didn't catch the wave, the bus, the train, I'd miss the party, the summer, the romance, the girl and the song itself. The circus would leave town and would never return and I'd be marooned here forever....