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The slimming Sixties

Judith Wills / 04 March 2016

Our diet expert on why it was easy to be skinny in the Swinging Sixties.

Judith Wills modelling circa 1968.
Judith Wills modelling circa 1968.

For the past week or so I’ve been busy promoting my new book* about my crazy days working on the pop magazine Fab-208 in the ‘swinging London’ of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

It’s mostly about the celebrities I met, the scrapes I got into and my view on those years now part of history.  But one of the things that surprised me, looking back and digging out old photos from that era for the book was just how skinny I was.  A photo of me modelling (cheap shiny) clothes for the magazine reveals stick legs to rival Twiggy.  I think I weighed about 8½ stones in those days, at 5ft 7 ins tall, and I can remember loathing my skinny arms too.  People weren’t proud to be thin – most of us just were.

Within the book there are more general memories of the lifestyle including descriptions of my (rare) attempts at cooking, popular places to eat out and how I spent my days.  And comparing my life then with how I live today, it becomes obvious to me that the reason I’m now 11 stone and a good size 14 is not just because I’m late middle aged and all the research tells us that we will get fatter as we get older, but because now I do the opposite of what I tended to do then. 

If you discount the fact that I thought nothing of consuming a couple of Scotch and Cokes at press receptions during the day and another couple after work (we all smoked – and, working more or less on Fleet Street, the media centre of the day, we all drank as if it were a badge of honour rather than a reason to feel guilty and slink off to AA meetings) then my lifestyle was designed, unintentionally, to keep me thin. 

I skipped breakfast most of the time as I preferred an extra few minutes in bed, and it never seemed to do me any harm.  I was always hectically busy during the day; eating in the office was a no-no and anyway there were no takeout places to get anything.  Most days I was out and about interviewing so lunch would be a sandwich grabbed in the canteen or the pub - a small sandwich, in those days, supersize everything hadn’t been invented. Work carried on into the evenings with screenings or music previews to attend, or occasionally a date, so I rarely ate at home (a bedsit) and of course again in those days there were no late night shops selling food so if I had an empty cupboard (I didn’t have a fridge) then I went hungry.

When we went to a café for a coffee it was plain and straight, just coffee black or with milk, no fancy high-fat, high-sugar additions like today.  Eating out was a rare thing even on a date; all I can remember is the Golden Egg on Fleet Street where you got an omelette, plain, cheese or ham, and that was about it.

Instead for dates we would go to the discos and clubs – The Cromwellian, The Bag O’Nails -  and dance, dance, dance for hours, a great way to burn calories.  And the working life meant plenty of walking – just  the walk to and from the tube stations twice a day took 40 minutes, always hurrying as I was always late.  Taxis to meet people for work were frowned on, so it was walk to the tube again or walk all the way to wherever you were going.

And actually, I was enjoying life so much that food was the last thing on my mind.

Today, my husband is retired and I am working from home most of the time so meals become a  by-the-clock affair and to be planned and enjoyed, I suppose.  Then walking, as I’ve said here before, becomes something you have to decide to go out and do because there is no actual practical reason to get out there – we live too remotely to get anywhere useful except by car and we aren’t dog people.  Yes there’s gardening but most of it tends to be back-wrecking rather than calorie-burning.

So no wonder over the years we’ve become more rotund, and no wonder I was skinny 40-plus years ago.  If your lifestyle naturally keeps you active and controlling your food intake without thinking about it, that’s the ideal way to stay in shape. 

Now we’re wondering whether to move into a flat in the city and back to the too-expensive taxis (so let’s walk instead), and plenty of fun things to do and see, so food takes a back seat.  It could be worth a try!

*  Keith Moon Stole My Lipstick, The History Press, £9.99, published 15th March 2016.


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