Second Picture: 1960’s portable TV
What price nostalgia?
The price of things nowadays! Why, I can remember when ten shillings would buy you four pints of bitter, a fish supper, a packet of fags and you would still have change for the bus ticket home." How often have we heard this sort of thing from some people usually a bit older than ourselves? And if we are being really truthful we sometimes find ourselves saying, or at least thinking the same sort of things don't we? But just how cheap were things?
Wages were much lower but the buying power of the florin (that's 10p to anyone reading who can't remember the pre-decimal days) was a lot more than it is today so making a comparison is difficult. That was until I discovered a rather nifty calculator on the internet which gives us the real price of things back then, compared with today and vice-versa. Because of something called Resale Price Maintenance, the prices in shops were much the same wherever you went. So the price of baked beans in Tesco for example was the same as it was at the corner shop (in theory). So a way to give customers more value was through Green Shield stamps which could be saved up to be redeemed for other goods was introduced.
There are few things more fascinating than old advertisements in newspapers, especially for products that are no longer around. But even for products that are still with us, how can we tell, for example, whether the price of 58 guineas for a portable television in 1960 was a good deal by today's standards or not? A guinea, as most people will remember, was the equivalent of twenty one shillings or a pound and five pence to the uninitiated, it was a posh way of quoting prices, pounds were considered 'common' for high ticket items in those days. So we can easily work out that 58 guineas was £60.90 for a black and white portable television with a 17 inch screen and amazingly, a thirteen channel dial. Why there was a thirteen-channel dial we can only guess, because there were only two television stations in 1960, perhaps they were expecting more. So £60.90 doesn't sound too bad for a television does it? Mind you this 'portable' TV weighed in at 31 pounds so you needed to be on a Charles Atlas course before you could start shifting your 'portable' television around. It was all the valves and capacitors, resistors, accumulators and transformers packed inside the mahogany effect bakelite casing. The equivalent television today weighs just 5 pounds. But what about the cost? Priced at just £60.90 it sounds quite reasonable compared with £99.99p (or less) for a 17 inch LCD from Argos today, but is it? If you were getting £1,000 per year back then you were doing well, so even £60.90p was quite a chunk of money to spend. However, thanks to the nifty little calculator on the internet, we discover that £60.90 in 1960 actually has the value today of an astonishing £980.60p. A television costing nearly a grand these days comes all singing, all dancing in surround sound and with so many channels and catch-up TV options you not only have no idea exactly how many channels you have, you can watch whatever you like anytime whether it is being broadcast now or not. In 1960 it was two channels in black and white and that was yer lot! And there was a good chance that it would breakdown because one of the valves would go, no wonder people were more likely to rent their sets back then.
Let's turn it on its head, how much would £99.99p today be worth in 1960? Well the magic calculator tells us that it was just £6.22 or £6-4s-5d in pre-decimal money, imagine buying a television for that price back then! So as we can see 58 guineas was an incredible amount of money to splash out, which meant that most people rented their televisions, because the option of renting your set for just nine shillings and six pence per week (47p) certainly made sense. For that weekly cost you also got free maintenance, free insurance and a free ITA aerial. "If a breakdown should occur your viewing is usually restored the same day," promised the advertisement for Rentaset who had a team of "experienced engineers". This indicates just how unreliable televisions were in those days, so nine shillings and six pence per week seemed like a good deal. However, the equivalent of 47p per week in 1960 by today's values is £7.57, which is not bad I suppose, but these days most of us budget monthly which would mean a monthly outlay of £30.24 which is about the same as renting SKY which would also include your phone, internet and more channels than you can shake a stick at. So maybe 47p was not such good value for money back then after all.
If you were a teenager in the 1960s and spending your hard earned paper-round money on the latest single buying an album was a major event and until I had a look at the magic calculator I always assumed it was because I had so little money then, that it took weeks to save up for an album. But in fact these records were an astounding amount of money by today's standards. For many years in the mid 1960s the cost of an album was 32 shillings and sixpence (£1.62) and the cost of a single was six shillings and eight pence (33p) but let's just take 1965 as an example. The price of an album was the same wherever you went, it was 32s/6d take. I don't know about you, but to me it represented a huge outlay, so buying a new album was a really big event. And what is today's equivalent of £1.62 in 1965? Believe it or not it is £21.93p! No wonder we only got these vinyl albums at Christmas and birthdays. A single such number one hit in 1965 would set you back the equivalent of £4.50, but the song only ran for two and a half minutes and the 'b' side was 15 seconds shorter, so less than five minutes of music for £4.50...hmmm.
Were cars more expensive back in 1960 or cheaper? This is difficult because we expect more in specifications from a car now than were available back then and not only that, but most of the makes available then no longer exist. But let's have a look at a four-door saloon, the Riley 4 sixty eight. This had a 1485cc engine and a three-speed gear box, and it was considered to be in the top of the middle range of saloon cars, maybe a bit like a Ford Mondeo today. A brand new 1600cc Mondeo, would not leave you not much change from £20,000 while a Riley 4 sixty eight would have cost you £725 plus £303 'purchase tax'. That is a 41% tax rate and we moan about VAT at 17.5% today, so the total cost was £1028 to drive it away in 1960. That means that the equivalent price today would be £16,552, not bad, but there was no radio, no power steering, no electric windows, no heated rear window, no air conditioning and not forgetting just three gears?
But back to the household. Remember twin tub washing machines? What a pain in the neck they were. If yours was stored under a work surface then every washday (remember when we had such things) the twin tub had to be dragged out with all its wires and tubes trailing behind. And you couldn't just switch it on and leave it, you had to stand over it and transfer the clothes from the washer to the spinner while being sprinkled water from the kitchen tap through a hose, which would keep coming off. The kitchen would soon be awash with water. A twin tub would cost 52 guineas in 1960 and believe was considered a bargain Today's equivalent? £879.16. You can get an Indesit automatic washing machine from Comet today for £225 which does the washing all by itself, that would have been the equivalent of £14 in 1960.
But what about everyday items? The latest in frozen foods, which was still quite a novelty in 1960, were two succulent steaks of whole fish from 'Eskimo' which would set you back one shilling and ten pence but reduced on special offer for your first pack to just one shilling and four pence (7p). In today's prices that's £1.13p which compares with £3.00 for four frozen cod fish fillets from Birds Eye at ASDA so that's £1.50 for two. But the 1960s advertisement does not make clear what sort of fish it is.
Then there were cigarettes, which nearly every adult smoked before it was realised that they killed you. Cigarettes were everywhere and were advertised frequently. Take 'Full Strength Capstan' with 'man-size flavour', probably with enough tar per packet to re-surface sizable sections on the A27. A packet of twenty 'full strength smoking' cigarettes would cost you three shillings and eleven pence or just under 20p in 1960, that equates to £3.22p much cheaper than the average of around £5.20 today. And the price of a pint of beer in 1960 down the pub was about one shilling and three pence, which is about £1.25 today. So it is clear that drinking and smoking was much cheaper in those days and it is things like that that we tend to remember.
Magazines and newspapers were priced at under a shilling, as was 'Tit Bits' a pre runner to 'OK', 'Hello' or 'Chat' magazine. It was priced at four and half pence and an advertisement for it said that its readers had already won £519,944 on the Pools, the National Lottery of its day. A Yorkshire housewife £152,319 on the Pools in 1961, which prompted her to say famously 'I'm going to spend! spend! spend!' A win today on the National Lottery of £152, 000 although very welcome would not be exactly life changing or even in many cases come close to paying off the mortgage. But her win was the equivalent of £2,452,615 now. And the £519,944 in pools wins for readers of Tit Bits amounts to over £8 million today.
So we can see that prices for everyday items like frozen food, cigarettes and beer were somewhat cheaper in real terms and even a family saloon was cheaper albeit without our modern extras, but electrical goods were unbelievably expensive. You will have noticed that I haven't mentioned house prices, the reason being that property prices have inflated out of all proportion so a real equivalent could not be made, but just for a laugh (or cry) let's have a quick look. A 'pleasing modern' semi-detatched house with three bedrooms was on sale for £2,750. That is the equivalent of, wait for it... just £44,280 today. Nowadays you would not be able to buy one for much under £190,000 in the same area, in 1960 that would have been £11,799. No wonder young people find it difficult to get on the property ladder. If you have enjoyed this trip down the shopping receipt of time unfortunately the web site I found has now been taken down.
Stay in touch,
I overheard a discussion the other day between two people of our age who were discussing what the routine was at the end of term at their junior schools and I came to realise that we did the same sort of things at our Junior school. Term always finished on a Thursday afternoon, I don’t know why it not Friday maybe it was something to do with giving the teachers a long weekend!
News and Views:
Cilla Black hosted "Cilla's Unswung Sixties" on March 19th on the Yesterday channel. The documentary is said to "reveal what the great British public was really wearing in the 1960s, what records they bought and what they liked to do at the weekend." Strange programme!
On this day 14th April 1960-1965
14/04/1960the number one single was My Old Man's a Dustman - Lonnie Donegan and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Wagon Train (ITV) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
14/04/1961the number one single was Wooden Heart - Elvis Presley and the number one album was GI Blues - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was The Budget (All Channels) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
14/04/1962the number one single was Wonderful Land - The Shadows and the number one album was Blue Hawaii - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Georges Pompidou becomes French Prime Minister.
14/04/1963the number one single was How Do You Do It? - Gerry & the Pacemakers and the number one album was Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard & the Shadows. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
14/04/1964the number one single was Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was The Budget (All Channels) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.The big news story of the day was Telstar broadcasts live TV pictures to UK from Japan
14/04/1965the number one single was The Minute You're Gone - Cliff Richard and the number one album was Rolling Stones Number 2 - The Rolling Stones. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.