I am the same age as Benjamin Braddock. Remember him? He was the graduate in “The Graduate” the superlative coming of age movie of the 1960s directed by Mike Nichols from Charles Webb’s novel of the same name. And starring, of course, Dustin Hoffman in his first major film role.
To be 21 in 1967 , the year of the film’s release, was – to coin a phrase – very heaven. But Ben Braddock and I were in rather different worlds. He was in Southern California and I was in Ealing. Ben had completed his studies and I was just starting mine. And, unlike me, Ben had a Mrs Robinson.
We, that’s Ben and me, were the lucky generation, albeit on different sides of the Atlantic. He had an Alfa Romeo and I had a Fiat 500. Italian chic and a car which resembled a metal hen house on wheels. But we were both mobile and what if his wheels were a bit classier than mine?
Those undergraduate days were characterised by stimulating studies and roaring hormones. The sixties did swing in London (of course) as well as Santa Barbara. And Paul Simon reached out to us all
“Got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you, all is groovy”
And there was plenty that was “groovy” even in Ealing. You see our generation was ready for something if we didn’t move too fast and made the morning last. But in the US something that was moving fast was troop deployment in Vietnam – almost half a million, and rising, in 1967. That war didn’t feature in “The Graduate” but even this side of the pond we could see that more dangerous to Ben Braddock, even than Mrs Robinson, was the possibility of being drafted.
In 1966 Simon and Garfunkel had signalled the dangers of escalation in Vietnam in their extraordinary “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” song on their “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” album. The choice of the duo to do “The Graduate” sound track helped place the film subtly in the protest movement genre. Ben Braddock’s protest was understated and subtle and personal and his rebellion was against social convention rather than being anti war. But under the surface – not least at Elaine’s university Berkeley where “The Times They Were a-Changin” as Bob Dylan had signalled they would back in 1964.
Ealing College was not Berkeley but we did our bit. It wasn’t a bad time to be on the cusp of adulthood and to have the self-confidence to tell our Parents’ generation that they were messing things up. 1967 was , of course, “The Summer of Love” and that for me was marked by the Beatles “All you need is love” which had just been released when I took a student holiday by train to Athens. It must have been played a hundred times as we made our way rather slowly (two days) from Boulogne to the Greek capital.
“The Graduate” was a story in which one young man and, eventually, one beautiful young woman took charge of their own lives. Me too in a more understated way. I didn’t have an Alfa Romeo (😢) or a Mrs Robinson (😢😢) . But in 1968 I was to find my own Elaine in Ann – no less beautiful than the gorgeous Katherine Ross !
Fifty years on “The Graduate” has lost none of its power. Hoffman, Ross and the extraordinary Anne Bancroft created a story that was so much more than light comedy, at least for my generation. It was the coming of age film of my generation because it overtly said “Your time has come”. It had.