Tag Archives: Festival of Britain

More Festival of Britain

As I’ve noted elsewhere, this year sees the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain. I think I also mentioned I had a copy of the Festival magazine which my father had acquired when he was taken to see the exhibition at the tender age of 11.

I had been thinking of scanning the pages and putting them online somewhere, but being a cautious type I worried over copyright and other stuff, so prevarication and procrastination won the day. The magazine still sits in the drawer, protected from the light.

Luckily, the nice people at Things Magazine took the challenge, and have posted scans of the book’s pages.

Consider the advertising therein, and consider how many of the companies advertising are still operating. It’s a little sobering.

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“Oh, not another queue” | Ian Jack | CiF | The Guardian

Walking around London’s South Bank on Tuesday, I tried to match a few fragments of memory to the present geography. Where did we queue to get inside the Dome of Discovery? Where did we queue to buy the commemorative crown pieces, the silver five-bobs that suddenly made sense of the term “half-crown”, of which they were the vanished ancestors?

Queuing wasn’t an unusual custom in those days – for cinema matinees, or the butcher’s – but at the Festival of Britain the waiting was formidable. It dominated parental complaint, so that my personal soundtrack from that day 60 years ago is the noise of adult dismay – “Oh, not another queue” – that reached a climax when we took the boat to the Battersea Pleasure Gardens and, after more queuing, discovered the thing we’d come to see wasn’t working. There had been some kind of accident on the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, the fantastical line created by the cartoonist Roland Emett, and the booking office was closed.

An interesting memory from someone who visited the Festival of Britain.

Related post: Festival of Britain Showcase | The National Archives

A flat festival tonic for Britain | Owen Hatherley | Comment is free | The Guardian

The Festival of Britain was a “tonic for the nation” in the last age of austerity, a series of events in London (with a touring exhibition), intended to usher in a new world of modernity and abundance – often with a socialist slant. The Skylon and its demolished nearby structures – the Dome of Discovery, Sea and Ships, Power and Production or the Telekinema – or the Royal Festival Hall, the survivor, symbolised the embattled optimism of the postwar Labour government; a road not travelled politically as much as architecturally. Its buildings, influenced by Swedish Modernism, imagined Britain as a northern European social democratic country, not a mid-Atlantic one. A place comfortable with modern architecture, modernity and material production, rather than the Americanised, deindustrialised mess we put up with. It was as much a monument of the era as the NHS, universal benefits or nationalised industries, and faced a similar fate.

It is ironic that the festival is being revived under the coalition, as the original buildings – save for the more permanent Festival Hall – were wantonly smashed when the Tories miraculously won the 1951 election, despite Labour winning a still unprecedented 49% of the popular vote. Churchill called it “three-dimensional socialist propaganda” – and it was. Yet there’s a deeper reason for the two to coincide.

My historical research interests are wide and varied, and I’ve always been interested in the Festival of Britain. My father had the guide book, which enthralled me as a child. I still have it here. Best Beloved went to the exhibition, too. Milton Keynes — the village, not the new town — won an award for being pretty during the wider national festivities of 1951. I am too young by a good 20 years to have been there.

The fact the 60th anniversary is being held at all is a measure of the impact the original festival had at the time. What is worrying is how inept the revival looks like it will be.