Back on Planet Earth: what world did Neil Armstrong leave behind in 1969?

As Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Welsh nationalism was on the rise, blood continued to be spilled in Vietnam, and European leaders were debating what to do about Britain. Alwyn Turner explores the issues grabbing global attention in 1969

Striking machinists at Dagenham's Ford plant. (Photo by Getty Images)

Some of the pop music, at least, seemed in tune with its times, hinting at the momentous events unfolding a quarter-of-a-million miles above. As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon in July 1969, one-hit wonders Zager and Evans sat atop the American charts with ‘In the Year 2525’, an apocalyptic warning of humanity’s over-reliance on science. Soon to be number 1 in Britain was Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’, the title of which – if nothing else – was appropriate. And the BBC television coverage of the moon landings did feature ‘space rock’ band Pink Floyd, performing a piece called ‘Moonhead’. Over on ITV, however, they were less fastidious and went with the safer option, with a bill of light entertainment stars: Lulu, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ken Dodd and Eric Sykes.

To be fair, broadcasters had a problem. These were the first all-night shows ever screened on British TV, and viewers had to be kept going until the actual landing happened at nearly four in the morning. ITV ambitiously kicked off their programme at six the previous day, giving a full 10 hours of buildup, and although the BBC had stayed with its normal evening schedule – Dr Finlay’s Casebook, The Black and White Minstrel Show – by 11.30 it too was live and waiting for the big moment. That was an awful lot of airtime to fill, and even when Cilla Black and Cliff Richard had sung their new singles, and historian AJP Taylor and song-and-dance man Sammy Davis Jr had debated the value of the Apollo mission, there was still a long way to go. Nonetheless, enough people stayed up that the National Grid reported a huge power surge at 3am, in the last advert break before the giant leap for mankind.

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