Man walks on the moon

July 21: President Kennedy did not live to see it but his incredible challenge, to put an American on the moon within ten years, came true. Neil Armstrong stepped down from the Apollo 11 landing module into the lunar dust and declared: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

One small step...Later, folk realised that he got the most important words in the history of travel wrong. Armstrong had probably meant to say "small step for a man" but this was no time for nit-picking. The Apollo 11 mission was achieved in an age before micro-chips and when computers were primitive by today's standards. It was a triumph of hard work and human spirit.

It was also the defining moment that put America firmly ahead of the Soviet Union in a space race that the Soviets had so often dominated.

If the moon was grey, barren and much as anyone had expected, the mission's stunning photographs of the earth rising over the lunar horizon had an effect on mankind that may never be fully measured. Planet earth, in all its blue-green diversity was seen in a new light. One small step for mankind revealed that mankind's home was a precious, fertile pinhead in the sterile, infinite blackness of space.

June 8. General Franco made the latest claim to the British colony of Gibraltar by closing the land frontier. The aim was to bring the Rock's economy crashing down and force its British-supporting citizens to negotiate a take-over by Spain. Two years earlier the Gibraltarians had voted to stay British.

"What sort of people do they think we are?" demanded a defiant Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan. Although the death of Franco and the entry of both Britain and Spain into the EEC made relations easier, Spain never relinquished its claim to the rock, held by Britain for 200 years.

June 20. In an announcement that would change the future for Britain, a drilling company announced that substantial deposits of high-grade oil lay beneath the bed of the stormy North Sea. But how to get at the stuff? Conditions were far worse than any so far tackled by the world's giant oil companies. In the years ahead, the lure of the oil would conquer anything. Oil rigs the size of villages would be towed out to the oil fields to drill for oil and pump the precious liquid ashore. Aberdeen would become the Houston of the North and Britain would become an oil exporter.

August 15. British troops were deployed on to the streets of Northern Ireland after a week of furious fighting between the religion-torn tribes of both Belfast and Londonderry. At first the Catholics greeted the Brits as liberators who were seen to be far more even-handed than the despised B-Specials of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. British ministers insisted that the troops were there for only a limited period. Thirty years later they were still there.

In September Belfast awoke to find itself a city divided. The new "peace wall" went up overnight, erected by Royal Engineers in a bid to keep the warring Catholics and Protestants apart. Army top brass insisted it was not a Berlin Wall type of operation but was only a temporary measure. Traffic curfews and checkpoints had been introduced to quell the rioting but elsewhere in the city residents had thrown up hundreds of barricades to protect their homes.


April 9. The sleek shape of Concorde took to the skies above Bristol as test pilot Brian Trubshaw took her up for the maiden flight from Filton. Trubshaw declared it "a wizard flight." Others were not so impressed.

An unholy alliance of environmentalists and jealous rivals would try to keep Concorde out of North America on the grounds of noise pollution. Concorde never fulfilled the dreams of her Anglo-French creators who had hoped to sell 400 models. She was beautiful but expensive and could never compete with the cheap-and-cheerful service offered by Jumbos and other wide-bodied, subsonic jets.


In brief

January 1: Rupert Murdoch won his titanic struggle to take over the News of the World from his deadly rival Robert Maxwell.

February 3: Yassir Arafat became the new leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

March 3. Prime Minister Harold Wilson received a 3,000-name petition from Wolverhampton immigrants, pleading for fiances to be allowed to join their partners in this country.

March 7: Golda Meir elected Prime Minister of Israel.

March 10. Shareshill parish councillors rejected Whitehall's refusal of a 40mph limit through the village and vowed to fight on.

March 19: John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their bed-in peace demonstration at the Amsterdam Hilton.

April 18: Civil rights worker Bernadette Devlin, aged 21, became the youngest MP in living memory when she was elected member for Mid Ulster.

June 17. Sixty-four council homes in Bilbrook were handed over to Seisdon Council, two weeks ahead of schedule.

June 29. At Burntwood's annual civic service, Chasetown priest Father Geoffrey Tucker offered special prayers for couples struggling with mortgages

July 20: A young girl Mary Jo Kopechne drowned when a car driven by Senator Edward Kennedy hit a bridge and plunged into a river at Chappaquiddick.

August 9: Sharon Tate, the actress wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four others were found brutally murdered at an exclusive Beverly Hills mansion. Cult leader Charles Manson was later jailed for life for the killings.

September 7: Jackie Stewart became world motor racing champion after one of the closest finishes ever.

October 13: The maxi skirt was unveiled at a time when it seemed skirts could get no shorter.

October 17. Staffordshire Police showed off its new uniform for WPcs with a skirt, "neither mini nor maxi, but something nicely in between."

December 19: The first clinic for vasectomy operations opened in Birmingham.