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Rock around the clock – how we celebrated the world’s first rock anthem

May 2019 marks 65 years since the first release of ‘Rock Around the Clock’, recorded by Bill Haley and his Comets in 1954 – an iconic song that many consider to be the world’s first rock anthem.

RATC video still 1 For most residents in Care UK homes around the country, the 1950s are associated with memories of prosperity and freedom after years of post-war austerity. Many bought their first television, went on a seaside holiday for the first time, watched the onscreen debut of James Dean in East End and Rebel Without a Cause, but more importantly, they witnessed the beginning of the golden rock ’n’ roll era, kicked off in style by the release of ‘Rock Around the Clock’.

Almost overnight, a whole generation of British youth started to jive to music their parents disapproved of, from Elvis Presley to Chuck Berry. To them, rock ’n’ roll became more than just a musical revolution: it was the symbol of social change, the early signs of a better and brighter future.

To celebrate the milestone, and as a tribute to the 1950s, we spoke to those who were there – we asked nine residents in their 80s and 90s living in Care UK care homes to share their memories of an iconic era. From disobeying their parents about what to wear to the countless hours spent dancing, they have taken us on an inspiring journey back to the 1950s – see what they have to say here:


As residents fondly remember, rock ‘n’ roll generated mixed reactions, as described by Helen Hardie, aged 86: “It was music to some people, and it was a heck of a noise to others”. 


Many memories from the 1950s and rock ‘n’ roll era are linked with dancing, as a whole generation of Brits discovered the swing and jive, which was often associated with an exhilarating sense of freedom. Florence ‘Freda’ Purcell, aged 90, recalls: “Fellas used to swing us around, let go of your hand and then you’d come twirling round and come back again”. For David Dowie, aged 91, “people came up with new movements, there were no steps”. Rose Southon, aged 89, said: “All this jiving and dancing came in. I never could do it but I gave it a damn good go”.  

For Anthony Scott, aged 71, however, it was the cultural changes that rock ‘n’ roll initiated, beyond the musical world, that were most memorable: “You could tell walking down the street – the atmosphere was different”. This sentiment is echoed by David, who added: “it really affected most of the youth, and dance halls were full all the time”, and summed up by Jocelyn Ordidge, aged 82, who concluded: “we were all singing Rock Around the Clock – it even gets my feet going now!” 

As well as producing the video, over 40 Care UK homes have taken the opportunity to run special 1950s events which celebrate the rock ‘n’ roll era – from visits by classic cars to 1950s food.  And of course,plenty of live music.  Look on the events listing of your nearest Care UK home to find out more.

Care UK’s dementia expert Suzanne Mumford encouraged others to share their memories – she said “Reminiscence activities like this are great for getting conversations going and sharing memories, particularly for people with dementia. I hope other people will enjoy stepping back in time and share their memories of the 1950s on our twitter and Facebook pages.”