Saturday, July 16, 2011

Austerity Britain

Hot on the heels of those BFI documentaries (see 5 June), am now greatly enjoying David Kynaston's tome, Austerity Britain 1945-51. 'Enjoying' might not be quite the right word given the post-war gloom of rationing and making do, but it's a fascinating read. One forgets that, actually, a hell of a lot happened in those few years: nationalization (of coal, steel and railways), the introduction of social security, secondary moderns and of course the NHS (and, interestingly, BUPA), New Towns, council housing, green zones, Radio 3, the Arts Council, Beano, Noddy, Listen With Mother, Morris Minors, O-levels and all those great Ealing Comedies (three corkers in 1948 alone); there was even the London Olympics; and it was the beginning of the end of Empire with Indian independence in 1947. That's quite a lot in six years.

At the time Britain was still responsible for a quarter of the world's trade in manufacturing goods and was still the world's leading producer of ships, as well as Europe's biggest producer of coal, steel and textiles. And also cars: Britain accounted for over 50% of the world's car exports! On the other hand, Britain was virtually bankrupt, rationing and strikes went on and on, and everyone was miserable. Interesting talking to Liz's mum who got married and set up home during this time. She still uses the 'seconds' crockery bought 60 years ago, still shops at the butcher and baker, and never succumbed to buying a television set.   

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