Sputnik astounds world


October 4. To the amazement of the world and the horror of the United States, the Soviet Union put the first satellite into orbit above the Earth. Sputnik-1 made several orbits of the earth, emitting a distinctive bleep-bleep signal which was picked up on receivers all over the world.

The so-called Space Race had begun. From now on the rival communist and capitalist world leaders of the USSR and the USA would strive to outdo each other in space in the name of their respective creeds.

The Americans were startled by the size of Sputnik which orbited 500 miles high at nearly 20,000 miles an hour. At nearly 200lbs it was six times heavier than the satellite that American scientists had been planning to launch to mark International Geophysical Year.

Both America and Russia had rounded up some of Germany's top rocket scientists at the end of the Second World War and the Russians were ahead in rocket propulsion. The size of Sputnik indicated a more powerful rocket than the US had so far developed.

December 4. The Lewisham train crash in south London claimed the lives of nearly 100 people and was caused by something rarely seen in the capital these days - thick fog. Various parts of the Clean Air Act have meant an end to the old "pea soupers" which used to dog both the city and its outer fringes. But just three weeks before Christmas two trains crashed in appalling weather at the height of the rush hour. The collision - which very nearly involved a third train - led to a bridge under which both trains had been running to crash down on to the already wrecked coaches.

March 25. Politicians have been arguing about it ever since and nowadays it is referred to as "Europe". Then it was called the Common Market and it was created when the Treaty of Rome was signed by six nations which did not include Britain. We at the time were manoeuvering on the fringes in a bid to get in to the economic grouping of nations in which there would be free movement of people, money and goods.

January 10. Harold Macmillan, soon to be dubbed "Supermac", became Prime Minister at the age of 62 following the resignation through ill health of Sir Anthony Eden. In those days it was said that Tory party leaders "emerged" rather than being elected. The mysterious process that brought the crofter's son to the leadership of his party - and therefore Number 10 - was said to contain high drama and skullduggery.

Macmillan came to the fore after the party decided it would have been split down the middle had R A B Butler won the power struggle. The latter lived to fight another day some six years later but would always be known as one of the nearly men of British politics.

January 14. Favourite screen tough guy Humphrey Bogart - pictured left - died of throat cancer at the age of 57. Like many before and since, part of his fame rested on some words he never actually said - "Play It Again, Sam". Bogart had been told early in his career that he would never be a star because he had a slight lisp. But he managed to turn this into a snarl and was the star of 50 films including classics like "Casablanca" and "The Big Sleep".


In brief

January 22. A policeman, 36-year-old Pc Donald Hill, was killed when his car crashed into a lamp post at Ribbesford Avenue, Oxley, Wolverhampton.

February 28. Vauxhall launched its new Victor saloon which could travel up to 40 miles per gallon.

March 8. The Suez Canal finally re-opened but for smaller vessels only.

April 4. The government announced an end to National Service with the last call-up to be made in 1960.

April 23. We Are Not Hungry. The Queen demanded only a light lunch on an Easter visit to Dudley.

June 7. "Unspoilt" Benidorm is named as the favourite destination of the increasing number of Britons who can afford a holiday abroad.

  July 20. Hundreds of West Midlands busmen went on strike in a dispute over pay with state aid being offered to car drivers who offered lifts.

August 8. It was a case of rabbit run when myxomatosis was reported to be rife in 11 countries including Britain.

September 23. The Asian Flu outbreak in 160 towns and cities across Britain killed more than 200 people.

October 18. Wolverhampton women were told their slips were showing after not one from the town was nominated for a TV programme to find the region's best dressed woman. All other areas were well represented.

October 30. The government announced that women would be admitted to the House of Lords.

November 12. The GPO first announced plans to introduce postcodes.