Gagarin first man in space

April 12: The Soviet Union announced that Major Yuri Gagarin had become the first man in space. Yuri GagarinIt was another huge leap forward for the Russians in the space race. Gagarin completed an orbit of the earth in just over 89 minutes at a height of about 200 miles. After orbiting, his spacecraft returned safely to earth by parachute.

"The sky looks very, very dark and the earth bluish," he reported as the Vostok capsule circled the earth. The experienced test pilot was 27 years old, married with two children and immediately became a hero not only in the USSR but throughout the world. He became, at a stroke, the best-known Russian of his generation.

Even in the United States there was little of the shock and outrage that had greeted the first satellite in space four years earlier. It had been rumoured for some time that the Russians were about to put a man in space. Nasa chief James Webb had nothing but praise for the "fantastic, fabulous achievement." Soon, President Kennedy would commit the USA to putting a man on the moon within ten years.

December 15. Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death in Jerusalem for war crimes. By far the most important of Hitler's henchmen captured after the war, Eichmann had been responsible for the plans to wipe out all the Jews in Europe.

He used the traditional defence, that he was just a small cog in a huge machine and was only obeying orders. His lawyers pointed out, too, that the state of Israel had not existed at the time of the alleged crimes and that Eichmann had been brought to court by illegal means, having been abducted by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1960. Such technicalities cut no ice. Adolf Eichmann was hanged for what he had done. His victims had been slaughtered simply for what they were.

April 3. The wraps came off the latest Jaguar - and motoring would never be quite the same again. The new E-Type was the ultimate in slung-low sweet chariots, offering 150mph performance at a price well below other supercars. The E-Type grabbed the imagination of a Britain on the threshold of the Swinging Sixties. It became the favourite accessory of TV celebrities, pools winners and football stars (this was also the year when the 20-a-week maximum wage for English league players was abolished.) It may have looked like a dream but the E-Type's was founded on Jaguar's proven racing success and was a direct descendent of the legendary D-Type of Le Mans fame.

January 30. One of the most important days for 20th century women. The contraceptive pill became available on prescription, although not immediately through the NHS. Women were warned that the Pill could bring side effects including headache, tension and weight gain. Yet it offered women the chance to restrict their fertility and take control of their lives in a way that their mothers and grandmothers could only have dreamed of.

August 31. The Berlin Wall went up, virtually overnight as the Soviet bloc turned up the heat in the Cold War. The city had been administered by Russia, Britain, America and France since the end of the Second World War in 1945. But the communists were alarmed at the haemorrhage of people from the austere East to the affluent West. West Berliners defied the soldiers and trampled down the first coils of barbed wire, but were driven back at bayonet point. Friends and families were cut off from each other and Berlin would remain a divided city for the next 30 years.


In brief

February 6: Danny Blanchflower, on the verge of captaining Spurs to the century's first league and cup double, became the first person to to refuse to appear on "This Is Your Life".

March 6: Much-loved comedian George Formby died aged 56.

April 21: Top Soviet choreographer Vladimir Bourmeister visited Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre, whose manager needed the expertise of the Express & Star to prepare a welcome message in Russian.

May 18: The Government announced the creation of three new universities to be called Warwick, Essex and Kent.

June 16: Ballet star Rudolf Nureyev defected from Russia with a plea to the West: "Protect me. Protect me."

July 8: For the first timer since the days of long skirts before the first world war two British women reached the ladies single final at Wimbledon, Angela Mortimer defeating Christine Truman.

August 4: Three tubes of deadly cyanide were found on a tip at Wombourne near Wolverhampton after a woman mislaid them - on a corporation bus.

August 24: A man was murdered and his girlfriend raped in the so-called A6 killing which is still having repercussions today.

September 17: Philosopher Bertrand Russell, playwright Arnold Wesker, jazzman George Melly and actress Vanessa Redgrave were among celebrities arrested in the biggest ban-the-bomb demo so far seen in London.

November 27: A new expression was coined for a group of upper crust poachers who were causing headaches to landowners in South Staffordshire. They were dubbed "Pin Stripe Percys".

December 13: The Huxley family of Shifnal won the cup for the best butchers' beasts at Wolverhampton Christmas Fatstock show for the fifth year running.