Ready, Steady, Go! The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London

Shawn Levy

It would be too easy to relegate 1960s “Swinging London” to the cartoons of Mike Myers’ Austin Powers films. Yes, there was a lot of paisley, pot and shagging going on. However, Shawn Levy’s latest tome reminds the reader that it truly was a renaissance that occurred—fashion, art, theater, music all underwent significant developments. And not necessarily from a desire to smash preconceptions.

Each of the real-life characters here—fashion designer Mary Quant, photographer David Bailey, actor Terence Stamp, the Rolling Stones and so on—repeatedly emphasize, both in period interviews and in more recent reminiscences, that they were simply bored with the “same old way of doing things.” Many older Britons acted as if the country were still on World War II rationing, “scrimping and saving.” Mini-skirt popularizer Quant points out that the aforementioned “rationing” likely contributed to a crop of “skinny British girls,” making her slender, skimpy fashions not only possible but perhaps even inevitable.

Actor Stamp’s journey from working class hedonist to film star and spiritual seeker is perhaps the most entertaining and profound of the personal histories here. Levy’s book not only captures the zeitgeist of those days but also, more remarkably, superimposes their true significance onto modern times.