Never Had It So Good

A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles
Published by Little, Brown (London, 2005)

Buy it at Amazon (UK)

Never Had It So Good is the first volume of my series on modern Britain. Originally I planned to cover the entire period from 1956 to 1970 in one book. But by the time I had reached 1963 it was obvious I had more than enough material for one long book, covering the first half of the period we conventionally call the Sixties.

In any case, the period from 1956 to 1963 stands as a fascinating episode in its own right: the age of the affluent society, the end of the British Empire, the rise of rock and roll music, the cult of the teenager and so on. The period roughly coincides with the premiership of Harold Macmillan, whose famous line – “most of our people have never had it so good” – suggested the title. I was very lucky to have such a splendidly interesting character at the heart of the narrative.

But there’s more to it, of course, than high politics: these were the years that gave us James Bond, Doctor Who and a band called the Beatles …

Publisher’s blurb

In 1956 the Suez Crisis finally shattered the old myths of the British Empire and paved the way for the tumultuous changes of the decades to come. In Never Had It So Good, Dominic Sandbrook takes a fresh look at the dramatic story of affluence and decline between 1956 and 1963. Arguing that historians have until now been besotted by the supposed cultural revolution of the Sixties, Sandbrook re-examines the myths of this controversial period and paints a more complicated picture of a society caught between conservatism and change.

He explores the growth of a modern consumer society, the impact of immigration, the invention of modern pop music and the British retreat from empire. He tells the story of the colourful characters of the period, like Harold Macmillan, Kingsley Amis and Paul McCartney, and brings to life the experience of the first post-imperial generation, from the Notting Hill riots to the first Beatles hits, from the Profumo scandal to the cult of James Bond. In this strikingly impressive debut, he combines academic verve and insight with colourful, dramatic writing to produce a classic, ground-breaking work that will change forever how we think about the Sixties.

Reviews

“The first volume of Dominic Sandbrook’s spectacular history of the Sixties is a chronicle of how the realisation of irreversible national decline hit the British after the Suez crisis … It is a tribute to Sandbrook’s literary skill that his scholarship is never oppressive. Alternately delightful and enlightening, he has produced a book which must have been an enormous labour to write but is a treat to read” Nick Cohen, Observer

“Sandbrook has a winning style – not too flashy, but always ready with a killer observation. His judgements are cool and self-assured, his wry wit ever-present but unobtrusive. Above all, he moves effortlessly from the particular to the general and back again, dazzling the reader with peculiar but telling facts, offering tart vignettes of politicians and cultural standard bearers, and demonstrating the extraordinary range of his reading. You should read this remarkable history of a much misunderstood era for both its immense sweep and the piquancy of its detail … Without a doubt, this will rank as one of the outstanding historical books of 2005″ Christopher Silvester, Sunday Express

‘There is much to be enjoyed and admired here. Sandbrook writes lucidly and with brio … I find myself in awe of Sandbrook’s apparent breadth and depth of reading, and his enthusiasm” Sam Leith, Spectator

“Brilliant … with a novelist’s skill, [Sandbrook] picks his way through the unfolding drama … As a popular, very readable history, this is a massive compendium of quiet, thoughtful information, occasionally punctuated with some very funny anecdotes” Ray Connolly, Daily Mail

“Brilliantly written … a great book” Arthur Marwick, History Today

“An astonishing range of material … immensely readable … a vivid picture of a nation at a time of unsettling and rapid change. There are bound to be many more books on the 1960s, but few will be as well structured, well written or intelligent as this” Simon Heffer, Country Life

“This is a rich treasure-chest of a book … Sandbrook possesses enough verve and self-confidence to have produced an outstanding example of the genre … a tour de force” Anthony Howard, Sunday Telegraph

“Refreshing and full of insight. Reading this book is effortless – rather like being pulled down a meandering river in a comfortable boat on a sunny day” Gerard deGroot, Scotland on Sunday

“Entertaining and always engaging, with a lovely narrative flow that carries the reader easily through its hundreds of pages” Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday

“A masterpiece of diligence. And Sandbrook has distilled it into a sharp and fluent prose that swirls elegantly from episode to episode” Robert Winder, New Statesman

“A rivetingly readable debut … What I shall cherish this whopping book for, above all, are its unforgettable vignettes … Sandbrook has found the hinge on which our history in the 20th century will swing” Godfrey Smith, Sunday Times

“Accomplishes for the television age what Barbara Tuchman achieved for the fourteenth century … A highly readable history … Sandbrook’s narrative is reliably fluent, amusing and confident” Richard Davenport-Hines, Times Literary Supplement

“Compelling … a richly detailed and deeply atmospheric book” Michael Bracewell, Daily Telegraph

“A vast and wide-ranging history … a thought-provoking survey of the transitional years between the Old Britain and the New” Waterstones Book Quarterly

“A most readable and persuasive chronicle … I recommend the book to anyone wishing to revive, or perhaps correct, his memories, and to anyone too young to have such memories who is curious to know what all the fuss was about” The Oldie

“A wonderful book – a most accomplished, readable and convincing tour through seven years from Suez to Beatlemania. It is refreshing because it probes beneath the surface of events, dissolving many of the myths of the sixties and suggesting, quite rightly, that this was a period of uneven and gradual change rather than a revolution” Lawrence James

“A clever and engaging study of Britain as it prepared to swing into the sixties. Never Had It So Good is very good indeed” Amanda Foreman