6 Things You Didn’t Know About The 60s

From the shocking incident that sparked a war, to the truth behind Woodstock…

vietnam war

American soldiers in a burning village, taken from The Sixties: The War In Vietnam


The Vietnam War, one of the most hated aspects of the decade, was triggered by an "attack" that never took place. In 1964, a US warship deployed to gather intelligence on the Communist forces of North Vietnam had a brief skirmish with a cluster of North Vietnamese torpedo boats, in the Gulf of Tonkin. A few days later, the same warship apparently came under attack again, causing President Lyndon Johnson to order air strikes and eventually deploy ground troops, beginning the Vietnam War as we know it.

Yet, that second attack on the US ships seems to have been entirely imaginary. It's thought that confusing sonar signals made the crews believe they were being ambushed by the North Vietnamese. According to documents declassified in 2005, US intelligence officials KNEW there had been no attack, but consciously made it seem otherwise, leading the country to war.

9.17pm, July 20, 1969: Man makes his first space landing.

9.17pm, July 20, 1969: Man makes his first space landing.


What was the thing to be said on the Moon? It certainly wasn't "That's one small step for man". Nor was it "The Eagle has landed". It seems to have been the word "Shutdown", uttered by Neil Armstrong when the module had completed its risky descent to the lunar surface. Yet there's still some disagreement about this.

Some say it was actually Buzz Aldrin who spoke first on the Moon, and the transcript of the landing does indeed have Aldrin saying the word "contact" just before Armstrong says "shutdown". However, some contend that the module hadn't fully landed when Aldrin said "contact", meaning the honours properly go to Armstrong. As ever.


Feminism became a sweeping cultural force in the 1960s, giving rise to towering figures like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Surprisingly, before she became an icon of the feminist counter-culture, Steinem had a brief phase as a Playboy Bunny, working in one of Hugh Hefner's clubs. It was actually an undercover assignment - Steinem wanted to write an article exposing the way the Bunny Girls were treated.

Revealing how her feet permanently grew half a size thanks to the long hours in high heels, and how the tight corsets made the girls' limbs numb, the article was a sensation, but also backfired for the young writer, who found herself "typecast" as a writer of salacious, smutty stories. She was also shocked to find herself receiving letters from women who, rather than being horrified by the article, actually wanted tips on how to become Playboy Bunnies.

Penny Lane by The Beatles.

Penny Lane by The Beatles.


Beatlemania swept the world in the 1960s, but the Fab Four's fame almost proved their undoing during a terrifying visit to the Philippines. Flying in to play a couple of massive concerts, the lads didn't realise they were expected to appear at a special event hosted by the nation's first lady, Imelda Marcos. When they missed the event, Marcos condemned them for their rudeness, and the atmosphere immediately turned violent.

Literally hounded by snarling crowds, the Beatles fled to the airport, where the workers had been ordered not to help them. The airport escalator was deliberately switched off, forcing the band to trudge slowly up the steps while furious locals spat, jeered and waved guns in the air. Members of the band's entourage were punched and kicked, and the party genuinely feared they would be gunned down in broad daylight. After eventually flying away, George Harrison apparently said "The only way I'd ever go back to that place would be to drop a dirty big bomb on it."


The Woodstock music festival is remembered as the quintessential hippy gathering of the 60s, but it owed its creation to a sitcom that was never written. Two New York friends, one of them the heir to a family fortune, wanted to create a TV comedy about a couple of chaps who blunder into various business schemes. As research, they placed an ad in the New York Times, declaring themselves to be "young men with unlimited capital", seeking investment opportunities.

What began as research for the sitcom turned into a very real business endeavour, when the accidental entrepreneurs were introduced to a record company executive and a concert promoter, and eventually dreamt up Woodstock - which would become the most iconic music festival of all time.


The most prominent British political figure of the 1960s was Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Incredible as it may sound, the Labour leader was strongly suspected of being a Soviet spy by members of the intelligence community. His previous visits to the USSR, along with the testimony of a KGB defector, seemed to suggest Wilson was a secret puppet of the Kremlin.

There was even a conspiracy theory that the previous Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell, had not died of natural causes, but had in fact been murdered by the Soviets to allow Wilson to be installed as prime minister. The allegations against Wilson, who would go on to serve as PM again in the 1970s, continue to arouse controversy to this day.