Sixty years seems like an eon, but of course it is only the tiniest of quicksteps in the march of time. Yet in those 22,000 or so days so much has happened, been invented, improved upon, made new.
Consider that six decades ago there were no motorways in Britain, no Blue Peter on television, no Tupperware, no double glazing and no me. The war was long over, rationing had stopped but England and the rest of the UK hadn’t quite started to swing like a pendulum.
Harold Macmillan was in Downing Street, ERNIE began selecting Premium Bond winners and a young shaver called Cliff Richard released his first single.
As Which? reports in its celebration of 60 Products That Changed Our Lives, it was also the start of an era that would shepherd in exciting new appliances designed to take the time and effort out of household chores.
Double glazing was first introduced in 1973 when tighter building regulations followed the first big oil crisis
Little things that were actually big things, such as plug-in toasters (1958) and electric kettles that switched themselves off (1960). They meant housewives no longer had to supervise boiling water or attend to slices under a grill — which left them free to do other things, such as the laundry.
The laundry! Automatic washing machines were in the shops by 1962 but still too expensive for most households (the equivalent of £2,325 today). At the risk of sounding like a Downton Abbey scullery under-maid, I can remember when laundry was a colossal, bicep-busting chore that lasted all day and involved a washing board, a twin-tub machine and giant, evil-looking laundry tongs.
Sopping wet clothes had to be lifted out of the tub and into a mangle clipped to the sink, then loaded back into the spinner. Once a rubber lattice had been placed on top and the beast was switched on, the whole house would reverberate as if a jet flypast and an earthquake were taking place simultaneously.
Today, I bless my strong and silent Bosch as it effortlessly swishes through every load. Ditto my John Lewis dishwasher, which I think I love more than my lover. Which? lists the dawn of the dishwasher as 1965 but I didn’t have one until about ten years ago. For me, it is up there with the computer and Netflix as a godsend and a life-changer. I suspect anyone who grew up having to wash and dry dishes three bloody times a day would agree.
Oh, my absolutely lovely scrub-a-dubbley machines! Our relationship is almost romantic, such is my fondness for their reliability and unstinting capacity for hard work. To me, they are not mere inanimate objects but an integral part of Team Jan; their broad metal shoulders next to mine as we heave-ho together to crush the horror of household drudgery.
Apart from those big boys, I fondly like to imagine I lead an admirably low-tech life. No tumble dryer (1959), no microwave (1974), no freezer (1963), no iPod (2001), no iPad (2010), no Kindle (2009) and no fancy food processer or prep machine (1962) except a tiny Magimix Le Micro Mini Chopper that is currently broken.
Yet it is all a delusion, of course. My life is absolutely cushioned with sophisticated gadgetry and paved with First World conveniences, most of them sourced though my iPhone.
Child car seats (1997) has revolutionised car travel for millions of young families across the world
Smartphones arrived in 2007 but, late to the party as ever, I didn’t get my mitts on one until 2014 — and since then I have never let it go. It changed everything — first of all the need to carry a huge bag full of files and diaries to and from work and assignments. Smartphones allow consumers access to information to order books, plan a journey, play music, take photos, shop. They set us free.
Obviously you know all this already, but I still marvel at it every day — it’s got an inbuilt torch! — and only wish smartphones had been invented before I needed spectacles to read the tiny print and how many people hate me on Twitter.
And as a journalist, what would I do without my laptop (1992), which liberated us from the office.
Now we can work and write on trains, planes, at home, in hotels and even — if you get the sunshade just right and don’t tell the boss — by the pool.
Elsewhere, I drop an appreciative curtsey to the satnav (2004), which took much of the stress and map-reading arguments out of holidays abroad, not to mention the terror out of driving through Naples or Paris.
For days before each flight departure I would inwardly quake with horror at the thought of even exiting the airport correctly, without ending up on the wrong autostrada for a thousand miles.
Satnavs soothed away that particular lifestyle problem, like so many other wonderful things on this list.
While LED lightbulbs (2015) may be helping to save the planet, they just don’t give out the same quality of soft light as the old incandescent bulbs.
Video recorders (1978), music streaming (2006) and child car seats (1997) may be hugely different products but they each made tremendous strides in broadening consumer choice and allowing people the freedom to plan their own timetables and travel safely. Of course, not every invention introduced in the past 60 years has universal appeal. While LED lightbulbs (2015) may be helping to save the planet, they just don’t give out the same quality of soft light as the old incandescent bulbs.
And I do wish the new generation of digital hearing aids had been included in the Which? inventory, as they have hugely improved the quality of life for those who use them.
Finally, a quick whizz back to the domestic front to celebrate the bagless vacuum cleaner, as popularised by Dyson in 1993.
Yes, yes, here I go again, but I can remember when those rattle-and-roll manual sweepers were kingpin in the cleaning cupboard. And all they did was make your carpet prematurely bald.
Failing that, you had to hang rugs on the washing line and thrash them within an inch of their lives with a rattan carpet-beater — darling, how very Victorian. Now you just glide over the surfaces, propelling the slimmest of suckers in front of you, a bit like being a pro dancer on Strictly.
So there you have it. A life free of fluff, grime, manual typewriters and baked-on grease. We live in the luckiest of high-tech times. We should appreciate it more.
Inventions that changed our lives
1958: STEAM IRON
Hoover Steam or Dry Iron. Few now recall lugging solid irons heated on hobs, or even gas irons with rubber hoses.
Morphy Richards automatic pop-up toaster. Previous toasters did one side of the bread only, and you had to watch them like a hawk to stop it burning.
1959: TUMBLE DRYER
Parnall Auto-dry. Costly — £964 in today’s money — but no more waiting for good weather to hang clothes out on a line.
BMC Morris Mini-Minor, brilliantly using an engine turned sideways to drive the front wheels, freeing up interior space and nippy, too. Changed cars for ever.
1960: ELECTRIC KETTLE
The Russell Hobbs K2, one of the first kettles to turn off automatically, a boon for a busy but tea-mad nation.
English Electric Liberator, costing a month’s pay for the average family. But it ended standing over a machine operating the controls, or using a washboard
1960: AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINE
English Electric Liberator, costing a month’s pay for the average family. But it ended standing over a machine operating the controls, or using a washboard.
First Tupperware party was held in Weybridge, Surrey, in 1960. Sandwiches — and neighbours’ invitations — were never quite the same again.
1961: THE ‘PILL’
First reserved for married women, but soon had the opposite effect — it ended ‘shotgun marriages’ caused by pregnancy, so made free love possible.
Inspired by burdock seeds, which use tiny hooks to attach to passing animals.
1962: KENWOOD CHEF A701A
A firm started by Kenneth Wood invented the mixer and used the slogan ‘The Chef does everything but cook — that what wives are for!’ This was their best model yet.
Paracetamol provided the first real alternative to asprin
New over-the-counter painkiller and first alternative to aspirin.
1963: CINE CAMERA
Kodak Brownie 8mm. You had to wind it up, but it meant home movies for millions, long before video
Kodak Brownie 8mm. You had to wind it up, but it meant home movies for millions, long before video.
1963: FRIDGE FREEZER
Tricity Supercold TR661. For the first time it was possible to keep food for months without canning, drying or pickling it.
1964: FLYMO LAWNMOWER
Inspired by the hovercraft, it floated above the grass and was almost effortless to push. No neat stripes, and you had to rake up the grass clippings.
Colston Mk4: First Which? ‘Best Buy’ because it washed all the dishes well. But early models were noisy — you couldn’t stay in the kitchen and chat!
Polaroid Swinger: Much loved because for the first time people could see snaps without sending them off to the chemist.
1967: COLOUR TV
The Decca CTV 25 cost £4,700 in today’s money and was out in time for Wimbledon, where everyone wore white!
Bernard Sadow wheeled suitcase
Such models were at first considered ‘unmasculine’ because a real man should hulk his bags himself.
1971: SOFT CONTACT LENS
3.5 million people now wear contact lenses. No more ugly specs, and you could soon change your eye colour, too.
1972: POCKET CALCULATOR
Sinclair Executive. Launch price was the equivalent of £969 in today’s money. Today, mobile phones and computers have made these coveted gizmos pointless.
1972: DATA STORAGE
Floppy disks allowed users to save and transport documents - although a whole one couldn't store a whole song
Floppy disks. A whole one couldn’t store one pop song. They kept evolving, so you’d be hard put to use one today.
1973: DOUBLE GLAZING
Sales took off when tighter building regulations followed the first big oil crisis. Aluminium at first, white plastic later.
A very slow information system on TV. Many will remember weekends spent in front of page 316 — waiting for the latest football scores to flash up.
AEG Micromat ML 7.60. Responsible for Britain’s addiction to ready meals.
1978: VIDEO RECORDERS
Tapes were as big as a hardback book and couldn’t store a whole film
The JVC HR-3300 cost £2,785 in today’s money. Tapes were as big as a hardback book and couldn’t store a whole film.
The Sony Walkman cassette tape player sold 200 million worldwide.
1980: PACKAGED SANDWICHES
M&S sold the first pre-packed sandwich — prawn mayonnaise.
Acorn BBC Micro. Pushed into schools by government enthusiasm. Great games.
1981: SAFER CARS
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class set a new standard for passenger safety — with airbags and anti-lock brakes
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class set a new standard for passenger safety — with airbags and anti-lock brakes.
1982: AUDIO CD PLAYER
First commercial CD player Sony CDP101 launched in Japan. Killed off vinyl LPs, later killed off itself by iPods and downloads.
1984: APPLE MAC
Pioneered the computer mouse.
1985: SMOKE ALARM
Saved more lives than we’ll ever know.
1986: DIGITAL CAMERA
Early models held only six pictures.
1987: MOBILE PHONE
Nokia Mobira Cityman 1320 was more than five times the weight of an iPhone 7.
HP Printjet took a whole minute to print a single page, but so much better than the daisywheel dot matrix ones before.
1988: COMBI BOILER
The Glow-worm Hotwater Express meant no more waiting for water to heat up to have a bath.
1990: GAMES SYSTEM
The Nintendo Game Boy gave rise to the ‘Tetris Effect’ — where users had hallucinations of slotting bricks after playing for hours.
The lithium-ion battery made lighter
rechargeable gadgets possible.
The IBM 300 ThinkPad weighed 6kg.
1993: COMPUTING SYSTEM
Windows 3.1 meant users could click on pictures and icons, rather than typing in complex demands on the keyboard.
1993: BAGLESS VACUUM
The Dyson DCO1 ditched the bag.
The PlayStation 1 sold 100 million worldwide, addicting a generation
1995: GAMES SYSTEM
The PlayStation 1 sold 100 million worldwide, addicting a generation.
1997: TOYOTA PRIUS
The Toyota Prius was the pioneering electric-hybrid car that drivers found ‘eerie’ because of its silence.
1997: CHILD CAR SEAT FIXING
Britax and VW devised the Isofix fixing system so you no longer had to buy a new child seat for different cars.
1998: DVD PLAYER
Buyers of the Panasonic DVD-A350 could watch a few films, such as Four Weddings And A Funeral, and Philadephia.
1999: NOKIA MOBILE PHONE
The Nokia 3210 sold 160 million.
Put an end to choosing between going online and making a telephone call.
The Apple iPod made your whole music collection portable.
2002: CAMERA PHONE
The Nokia 7650 made trillions of selfies and silly videos inevitable.
2002: MOBILE EMAILS
The BlackBerry let us check emails on the go. Cumbersome keyboard.
The TomTom spread U.S. Department of Defense GPS technology to many
The TomTom spread U.S. Department of Defense GPS technology to many.
2006: MUSIC STREAMING
Spotify gave music-lovers access to millions of tracks for free.
2006: LCD HIGH-DEFINITION TV:
High-definition TV channels arrived on Sky in 2006. Tellies were going flat.
The Apple iPhone brought a computer to the palm of our hands. One billion have been sold worldwide.
2007: TV ONLINE
Services such as Netflix let you watch what you wanted, when you wanted
Services such as Netflix let you watch what you wanted, when you wanted (if the broadband was up to it).
2009: FITNESS TRACKER FITBIT
More than 100 million wearable fitness devices are sold annually.
Debut of the Amazon Kindle, but nine years before Stephen King’s Riding The Bullet debuted online and sold 400,000 copies in 24 hours.
2010: COMPUTER TABLET
At just 13mm thick, Apple’s iPad weighed less than a loaf of bread.
2015: LIGHT BULB
For the first time LED bulbs could emit as much light as a 100W incandescent bulb.
2016: SMART HUB
The Amazon Echo answers your questions, plays music and reports the news — and is perhaps a forerunner of artificial intelligence in the home.