Saturday, 23 November 2013

Where were you when JFK was shot?




From the digest of that year's TW3. Millicent Martin singing Herbert  Kretzmer's words
23 November. But who is the poet? I'm pretty sure it's P J Kavanagh. Confirm if you know.


I was at home in Kingsbury, a none-too-smart North West London suburb. 

I was a week short of fifteen - we'd been in England almost seven years - and remember it quite clearly as it came through on our B&W TV on Friday, interrupting programmes, then amplified into a long news item on the later evening news. 

It was an enormous and disorientating shock. I don't imagine I grasped the full significance at first but was aware that we regarded him as a heroic figure, someone who was handsome, glamorous and oddly unpresidential - not a grey man like most politicians - someone who had spoken out in Berlin and had faced down Khrushchev in Cuba. I too found him exciting.

There was a very popular pioneering satirical programme on TV that came late on Saturday, That Was The Week That Was. That day, the 23rd, it was only fifteen minutes long, no laughs, entirely about JFK, the programme itself dark and shocked. Millicent Martin is singing a little unsteadily and out of key on it, her own emotions on edge. 

It was possibly the first time that I thought, 'Oh the whole world is like that, even in America.'  

I had already understood from the revolution in Budapest that the world could be violent, perhaps even that violence was not an abnormal state of affairs, but the news lay oddly on top of my own broken fragments of memory, like a fallen hoarding. 



8 comments:

Paul Hellyer said...

My memory, as clear as I can recall, is of a fine Saturday morning in Dunedin, New Zealand. Our neighbour, Dora Drake, a stalwart of the local Gilbert and Sullivan society, is telling Mum , and perhaps Dad as well, that Kennedy has been shot. We are standing by the clothes line, the weather is gloriously fine, it being early summer in this part of the world. I am nearly 9 years old yet the memory is as clear now as it was back then, Miss Drake, for she was a spinster who lived with her two sisters, saying, on that blue sky day as we stood around my Mother hanging out the washing, it being Saturday, "Kennedy's been shot."

Nick Owen said...

It was before breakfast at my prep school in Malvern, a last bastion of the British Empire. We had to go for a run and take a cold bath before we ate, and the news buzzed up and down the runners like a freezing wind. It was maybe the first time I felt part of a bigger world, a world where heroes lived, and could be taken from you. There was something about Kennedy that set him apart from other leaders, even for a thirteen year old prep school boy, like me.

hiwoxuu said...

I was 8 miles away from Nick Owen above, in my home village. I
started work in July aged 16 as an apprentice compositor (remember metal
printing?) at Ebenezer Baylis & Sons in Worcester, had come home from work, and
my mum had reheated my dinner on a saucepan of boiling water - microwaves
not yet invented. I remember hearing on the radio that he had been shot and
wounded, then a little later that he was dead. I remember TW3 that Saturday.

One day in Texas death rolled out to take America's bright sun,
Then Texas death rolled out again . . . and did no good to anyone.

Lee Harvee Oswald was shot on 24th November. So does the second line refer to Police Officer Tibbit?

havantaclu said...

It was Friday evening, and I was doing my homework, writing on the kitchen table. My mother called to me from the sitting room that Kennedy had been shot, and I rushed through. A few minutes later the BBC announcer stopped what he was saying, picked up a slip of paper, and announced, 'I am sorry to have to tell you that President Kennedy is dead.' I remember that I never saw that presenter - a dark-haired young man - again.

And of course I remember the 'That Was The Week That Was' programme. We'd wondered whether it would be put on at all, that Saturday evening.

Isn't it strange how we all remember different times of day as being the ur-moment?
Who, I wonder, has the timing correct?


Gwil W said...

I can't honestly remember. There are only two such events where I can definitely remember where I was and what I was doing. One is the death of Princess Diana and the other is 9/11.

Anonymous said...

The first black dress

That November evening, three weeks into
seventeen, I feel my own life sketch cracks
in the ice of the family floe, hair-thin, drawing

a fine circle round me, though I do not fear
being floated off into the future before I’m ready,
safe at home where life is as it ever was, warm,

cheerful. We are all young - even the dog is only
three, not much more than a puppy - the word
work means only exercise books and point tests:

soon there will be Christmas with its parties
for which I have a new dress, narrow, neatly
cuffed and collared. There is a black lace slip

to wear beneath; I go upstairs to try them on
and come down to see what everyone thinks.
I have only reached the landing, am standing

with one hand on the newel post, when
my brother, watching television, shouts
out to us they’ve shot President Kennedy.

Who has? Who’s they? I think, not realising
there is not, will never be a they. We gather
silent round the set but nothing becomes

clearer. We’d had another world, a place where
every thing went right, or almost right, especially
in America; he was our handsome proof you could

be a Catholic yet still be somebody. Someone
has thrown our little box of certainties
aside, and see - I am already wearing black.

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Gwil W said...

All the best for the big day ;-)