On this day in history….19th February 1968

On this day in history. : 19th February 1968 – The High Court awards 62 children compensation after they are born with deformities after their mothers took the drug thalidomide during pregnancy….

The two enantiomers of thalidomide : Left: (S)-(-)- thalidomide : Right: (R)-(+)-thalidomide

Thalidomide can only be described as a dark chapter in the history of pharmaceutical history…. It was developed in the 1950s, by West German pharmaceutical company the Grünenthal Group. It was licensed in the UK by The Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd….

The drug was marketed as a sedative and mild sleeping pill – safe enough even for pregnant women to take…. It became extremely popular with expectant mothers as it was also found to ease morning sickness…. So safe was it deemed that it could be bought over the counter….

Thalidomide became available in the UK in 1958…. It was in 1961 that Australian doctor, William McBride, wrote to the medical publication, The Lancet, with his observations of an increase in deformed babies born to mothers who had used the drug…. It was removed from the UK market in late 1961 after tests concluded that it impaired foetal development….

Congenital malformation of the feet. Effects of maternal drugs – thalidomide. Image credit: Otis Historical Archives via Flickr

Babies born to mothers who had taken Thalidomide were often born with limbs that had failed to develop properly – but sometimes it affected eyes, ears and internal organs…. The severity of cases varied…. It is unknown how many miscarriages may have been caused by it…. Worldwide it could have been anywhere up to 100,000 women who had used the drug to alleviate their morning sickness symptoms – well over 400 victims were born in the UK….

Terry Wiles (right) who was born with phocomelia due to thalidomide. Public domain

After the High Court ruling in 1968 many other claims were settled out of court. In 1973, after pressure from the press and public, Distillers finally agreed to establish a trust fund and make lump sum payouts to all affected children….

Thalidomide resulted in tougher drug testing and approval procedures – but tragically for so many it was too little too late…. Nowadays Thalidomide is sometimes used as a treatment for certain types of cancer. From 2004 it became available on a named patient basis – meaning doctors can prescribe it but under strict controls….

Pack of Thalidomide tablets circa 2006 or later. Stephencdickson via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….18th February 1969

On this day in history : 18th February 1969 – The marriage of Lulu and Maurice Gibb (of the Bee Gees) in a Buckinghamshire church – thousands of fans flock to see….

Lulu and Maurice had met in a BBC canteen whilst filming for Top of the Pops…. Lulu was 20 and Maurice 19…. In a whirlwind romance they moved in together in Highgate, north London and were married soon after….

The marriage took place at St. James’ Church, Gerrard’s Cross…. It was thought of as the ‘showbiz wedding of the year’….

Lulu had tried to keep the wedding plans quiet – it was to be a small family affair…. She and the three Gibb brothers were the only celebrities present…. However, word got out and thousands of fans, mostly women, clamoured to see the pop stars….


Lulu arrived 20 minutes late in a green Rolls Royce….as she did so the crowd surged forward, some – including children – were hurt…. The police had to form a cordon in order to allow her to reach the church…. She wore a long, white, fur-trimmed coat with a fur hood over a white silk mini-dress….

Inside the church waiting were Maurice and his best man, brother Robin…. Barry was also at the wedding – although he had raised concerns about the marriage as he believed the couple to be too young….

After the service, which was conducted by the Reverend Gordon Harrison, the newly weds found themselves trapped in the church for a further 10 minutes whilst a path could be cleared to their waiting car…. They were then whisked away to a reception in London….


Four years into the marriage Maurice was frequently out night-clubbing, drinking heavily and indulging in mammoth spending sprees…. On one notorious 4-day splurge he bought an Aston Martin, a Bentley and a Rolls Royce…. Lulu could take no more – the couple separated and in 1975 she divorced him – although they remained on good terms…. Maurice died of a heart attack in January 2003….

On this day in history….30th January 1969

On this day in history : 30th January 1969 – The Beatles play an impromptu concert on the rooftop of Apple Records in London…. It is to be their last public performance….

Via Photo Community Site

It was a bitterly cold Thursday lunchtime, many were on their lunch break when they were surprised by the loud music coming from the rooftop of No.3 Savile Row – the home of Apple Records…. At first there was some confusion – but then as word spread crowds gathered in the street, five storeys below….and people climbed out on to the rooftops of neighbouring buildings….

The Beatles had been recording their album ‘Let it Be’ in the basement studio at Apple Records and had been planning a live performance since earlier in the month….but the idea of performing on the roof had only come about a couple of days before….

Image credit: Jan via Flickr

George, Ringo, John and Paul – accompanied by a young Billy Preston on keyboards – treated their delighted audience to a 42 minute set which included songs such as “Don’t Let Me Down”, “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back”…. It was their first ‘gig’ since they had stopped touring in 1965 – and it was to be their last, as by September 1969 the Beatles had unofficially disbanded….

Unfortunately, not everybody was happy about the unexpected entertainment…. The Metropolitan police were concerned about safety, traffic issues and noise disturbance…. Policeman Ken Wharfe later said that he had been ordered by his superiors to “turn that noise off”….

3, Savile Row, London, the location of the concert – public domain – Misterweiss via English Wikipedia

On arriving at Apple Records the police were initially refused entry into the building by staff – but when threatened with arrest they had to back down…. As the police reached the rooftop the Beatles realised their concert was about to be brought to an end – but managed to carry on for several more minutes. Paul McCartney changed the lyrics to “Get Back” to something more fitting for the situation….

“You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested”….

Fair Use

John Lennon finished up by saying…. “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition”….

On this day in history….24th January 1969

On this day in history : 24th January 1969 – Students at the London School of Economics go on the rampage with crowbars, sledgehammers and pickaxes – in protest at the installation of steel security gates….

This was just one incident in a long period of student unrest during the 1960s – not just in the UK but in some European countries and North America too….

For the LSE problems had begun a couple of years previously when Dr. Walter Adams had been appointed LSE Director…. It had sparked a series of protests and sit-ins, as Dr. Adams had formerly been the Principal of the University College of Rhodesia…. It was felt that he had not shown enough resistance to Ian Smith’s regime – and students disagreed with his appointment as Director….

Dr. Walter Adams

As a result of these earlier protests seven sets of steel gates had been erected in and around the university….Dr. Adams said they had been installed to improve security and so that areas of the building could be closed off in times of protest…. Students and staff claimed the gates made the place look like a concentration camp – they were described as ‘anti-student and anti-freedom’….

A week after the installation of the gates a meeting was held to discuss their removal…. Francis Keohane, the then Student Union president, wanted a solution to be found through negotiation – but when put to the vote his motion failed….

Within half an hour the gates were down…. Led by a lecturer apparently yelling “this way comrades” students took to the gates with pickaxes, sledgehammers and crowbars…. Francis Keohane and treasurer Roger Mountford immediately resigned from their posts as they could not condone the violence….

London School of Economics main entrance Image credit: Umezo KAMATA

The police were called and over 100 officers arrived and closed off the area around Aldwych….25 arrests were made and the protestors taken to Bow Street Police Station…. More than 200 students responded by marching, nine abreast, to the police station and then sat outside chanting “release our colleagues” …. Extra police had to be drafted in to protect the police station….

The protests continued for the following few days and as a result the LSE closed for more than three weeks. Legal action was brought against a total of 13 people, 3 of which were members of staff and believed to be the ring leaders – two lost their jobs…. The charged students were banned from college for a month and were only permitted to return if they promised not to cause any more damage and not to interfere with management decisions…. Other students faced disciplinary action for disrupting lectures….

National Archives nationalarchives.gov.uk

On this day in history….4th December 1961

On this day in history : 4th December 1961 – Health Minister Enoch Powell announces in the House of Commons the decision to make the oral contraceptive pill available to British women on the National Health Service – at a subsidised cost of 2 shillings per month….

Enoch Powell – Allan Warren CC BY-SA 3.0

Life for women in the early ’60s was very different to how we know it today…. The Victorian attitude towards sex was still prevalent…. There was a fear of pregnancy out of wedlock, as unmarried mothers were shunned by society – often being forced to give up their babies for adoption (abortion not being an option)…. Women tended to marry earlier and were usually expected to stay at home and raise a family….

Robert Wade ‘The Modern Housewife’ via Flickr

The arrival of the pill was to change all that….it was to give women freedom…. A reliable, convenient oral contraceptive – meaning women had control of their own bodies and the choice of when to have a baby…. It was to become a real liberation….

However, GPs were slow on the uptake….and the Government of the time were reluctant to be seen promoting promiscuity…. The pill could only be prescribed to married women – and mainly to those who were older, already had children and did not want any more…. It was to remain this way until 1967, when finally attitudes slowly began to change….

By 1964 half a million British women were taking the pill….the birth rate began to fall – and fewer children were being put up for adoption…. In 1974 family planning clinics were given the go ahead to prescribe single women with the pill – this caused considerable controversy at the time….

Couples no longer felt the pressure to marry in order to live together…. In the early ’60s it is estimated fewer than 1 in 100 adults under the age of 50 had ever cohabited – nowadays it is 1 in 6…. Nobody bats an eye at a couple who have not ‘tied the knot’ – and the same goes for children born outside of marriage….

It is estimated 70% of women in Britain have used the pill at some stage in their lives…. Currently some 3.5 million women between the ages of 16 and 49 do so today….

Tristanb at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0