Rita Tushingham on life after A Taste of Honey: ‘It was a shock when the 60s ended’

She caused outrage as a wide-eyed teen in her very first film. As the actor returns in a spooky Agatha Christie, she relives life as a 60s icon – and the taunts she endured in the street

One day nearly 60 years ago, Rita Tushingham was walking through Soho with her friend, the late British actor Paul Danquah, when a passerby yelled: “Blacks and whites don’t mix!” Tushingham looks troubled by the memory. “It happened to Paul a lot,” she says. “I remember he shouted back, ‘Don’t worry! She’s only been on holiday and got a tan.’”

That was Britain in 1961, before London swung, before sex between men was decriminalised, before a black man and a white woman walking in Soho might pass unremarked. There’s a photo in the National Portrait Gallery of the pair that very year, her leaning in care-free, him eyeing the street as if on alert for the next racist.

At the time, Tushingham and Danquah were filming the now-celebrated A Taste of Honey, adapted from the play by Shelagh Delaney. “It had everything – race, class, gender, sexuality, poverty,” says Tushingham of her first film role. She played something cinema had never seen before: a bored teenager from the rough end of Salford. Jo was alienated from school, revolted by her boozy single mam and eternally suckered by worthless suitors. After falling in love with a sailor, played by Danquah, Jo gets pregnant. He returns to sea, so she moves in with Geoffrey, a gay textiles student who becomes her surrogate co-parent.

Fist interracial kiss onscreen


“We shocked audiences without intending to,” says Tushingham. “I only learned later that Paul and I did the first interracial kiss on screen.” It’s a big claim: certainly, it was seven years before Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kissed in Star Trek, and a year before the earliest known interracial kiss on British TV, in the ITV drama You in Your Small Corner. For this and other supposed outrages, A Taste of Honey was banned in several countries including New Zealand. “A lot of the reaction was, ‘People like that don’t exist’ – by which they meant homosexuals, single mothers and people in mixed-race relationships. But they did.” Continue reading

Michael Caine on how the 1960s broke class barriers: ‘I’ve met lots of equals. No betters’

As a schoolboy, Michael Caine, the son of a charlady and a fish-market porter, was repeatedly taught to respect “his betters”. It took the social revolution of the 1960s, he says, to make it clear that such a hierarchy did not exist. “I’ve met lots of my equals since. But no betters,” Caine told the Observer this weekend on the eve of the British premiere of his documentary about the outpouring of working-class creativity in the 1960s.

“True, there was a lot of new music and great actors, as well as books and film directors and some dancing in discos, but it was a lot more than that: it was a change in the social lives of young people,” he said.Michael Caine: ‘I voted Brexit. It was about freedom, not immigrants’ | Read more: Michael Caine on how the 1960s broke class barriers: ‘I’ve met lots of equals. No betters’ | Film | The Guardian