The Book Depository Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston

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The Book Depository Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston
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Description: Family Britain, 1951-1957 : Paperback : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC : 9781408800836 : : 03 May 2010 : Family Britain continues David Kynaston's groundbreaking series Tales of a New Jerusalem, telling as never before the story of Britain from VE Day in 1945 to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The Book Depository Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston - shop the best deal online on thebookbug.co.uk

 

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Author: S Riaz

Rating: 5

Review: Following directly on from, 'Austerity Britain 1945-51,' this volume takes the reader through 1951 to 1957; from the Festival of Britain to the Suez Crisis. Describing this in such a way, though, denies the minutiae of detail and the myriad of cultural, political and social references, which make this series of books such a delight. The 1950's begins with the grand gesture of the Festival of Britain, but it is a country still mired in rationing and shortages. After the immense political change of a Labour Government, Churchill is back as Prime Minister, and the decade will see the death of a King and a new, young, Queen. Author David Kynaston leads the reader through the years which saw the death of Alan Turing and the active prosecution of homosexual men, the class system still very strong, and, despite the Cold War, more British people still identified more with the Russians than the Americans. Meanwhile, the British were about to discover the delights of Indian restaurants, in a country where food had been, for so long, bland and utilitarian, embraced ballroom dancing and hung on the press stories about Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend... I have read true crime titles about some of the major cases that the author discusses in this book, but the attitudes of the time were often more shocking. This book sees Christie and Rillington Place, as well as the contentious death penalties of Derek Bentley and Ruth Ellis. Again, the Mass Observation studies lets us know that sympathy was not as widespread as I may have thought, with waspish remarks about Ruth Ellis's platinum blonde hair and even Bentley's own lawyer seeming to think he deserved to hang. Still, this was the beginning of the end for the death penalty, with opinions divided in public, but change coming. Change was also in the air in the arts. Television becoming more pervasive, "Lucky Jim," by Kingsley Amis published in 1954, Angry Young Men, the coming of rock and roll, Teddy Boys, John Osborne's, "Look Back in Anger," and Colin Wilson's, "The Outsider." The Goons were still popular, Tony Hancock turned to television, the Woodentops joined children's television and the subtle change in people's viewing habits saw men more likely to stay home with wife and children, in front of a screen, rather than heading to the pub for desultory conversation. Weather forecasters appeared on television for the first time, meaning housewives did not have to resort to the farming or shipping forecasts. Commercial television breaks the BBC monopoly and, amongst new stars of the decade is The Benny Hill Show, Norman Wisdom, The Sooty Show, Fanny Cradock and the arrival of Elvis to bring an air of rebellion to the ears of John Lennon and John Peel, among others, while Lonnie Donegan created a musical revolution with skiffle, which would explode around the country. After the success of Labour, sympathy with the Trade Unions was waning as strikes happened more often. When Wedgwood Benn described unions as, "the most warm-hearted movement in the whole of the country," he was met by laughter. It was less funny when the National Union of Railwaymen called a strike four days before Christmas, in December, 1953. Perhaps unwisely, Churchill gave in, telling his Chancellor (somewhat charmingly), "We cannot have a railway strike. You will never get home, nobody will be able to see their wives." Settling for their terms, though, set the tone for 25 years of industrial relations. Unions were very much traditionally male and did little for women workers, who were seen as working for 'pin money,' and women not given anything like the same wage as their male counterparts. Meanwhile, by 1954, meat was finally off the ration and immigration and homosexuality were the hot, political topics. Britain was embracing modernisation of British Railways and building nuclear power stations, but the upkeep of Country Houses was proving difficult and many were being destroyed. "In 1953 along," according to architectural history, J. Mordaunt Crook, "Country Houses were coming down at the rate of one every two and a half days. There had been nothing quite like it since the Dissolution of the Monasteries." James Lees-Mile reported that, in another country, these houses would be classified as a monument and such a fate, "would not be tolerated," but the destruction went ahead. Interestingly, the British had a complicated relationship with Europe even then. At the Messina Conference, a gathering of six member states, which later led to the European Economic Community, in 1958, the British observer left before the end, thoroughly unimpressed and voicing his opinions openly. Meanwhile, the secretary of the Football League, bullied Chelsea out of taking part in the European Cup. Overall, this series is a delight. The next two books are, "Modernity Britain," taking the country from 1957 to 1962. I look forward to reading on.

 

Author: Mr. A. Pomeroy

Rating: 2

Review: Two stars. I just couldn't stand it any more. Two stars for the depth of research, two stars for attempting something unusual. No more stars. About three-quarters of the way through I realised I was grudgingly enduring the book until I could roll over and go to sleep. Back in mid-2014 I read the first volume in this series, Austerity Britain. It was refreshing - a stark, finely-detailed, almost brutalist recounting of Britain's post-war years. It had minimal editorial and almost nothing about the world outside Britain. There were no thematic diversions, no jumps to the present, almost no attempts to put things in context, no talking heads interviews. In the words of A N Wilson it felt like "an enforced reliving of those years". At the time I believed that the style had been chosen to complement the subject matter, and I ended with a mental picture of a bleak, grey age, and a generation of people who were uninterested in the outside world. Why should they care? Britain was top dog, at least in their minds. At the same time I had doubts. The author's habit of juxtaposing momentous events with football victories and radio cookery programmes got old quickly. Was it really building up to something, or was the author simply putting all of his research onto the page, indiscriminately? I couldn't stand volume two. Kynaston's style wasn't a deliberate choice after all, it's simply how he writes. He admits this during the book's coverage of the Suez Crisis; he points out that he isn't trying to write about the grand sweep of history, which is a shame because the Suez chapter is engaging and interesting albeit very rushed. It's shocking to learn after five hundred pages that there are countries outside Britain and events that are not football or radio cookery programmes. The concentration on what is essentially trivia irritated me and I think the Suez chapter finally made me lose my temper, because it highlights the book's flaws. In one paragraph Britain detonates its first atomic bomb, and in the next paragraph we learn about soap powder adverts, then there is something about Woodbines and darts. Britain's atomic programme is then forgotten as we learn a little about Benny Hill and Sooty - but, frustratingly, only a little, because then there is soap powder and cricket. What about the atomic bomb? The Korean war is first mentioned in the second half of a sentence, as something that has been happening for a while. It's mentioned half a dozen times thereafter as something that is happening far away, but Kynaston never actually *writes about it*. Did it mean so little for people in Britain? There's a case to be made that this kind of thing - a mass of trivia - was the *real* Britain, but by God it gets monotonous. And it *is* trivia. Even in the 1950s television and radio stars were coming along all the time, they were more or less interchangeable commodities. Britain's nuclear programme was hugely expensive and significant. It's not fashionable to write about Kings and wars and noblemen and treaties today but it would be nice to know what was going through our overlords' minds. And without international context, how can I tell whether Britain was doing the right thing or not? Germany and Japan gradually outstripped us, but why? What about Britain's international empire, how was that coping? What about British people living abroad? Alas the book concentrates on then-new television shows and cookery books and comedians and popular singers and social clubs. Gardens, football matches. And by focusing so narrowly on just a few years there's almost no context, so things are brought up and then dropped and then brought up and then dropped and never resolved. It's frustrating, because the book is readable and I am in awe of the research involved. If it was half the length - if indeed it had been chopped down by two-thirds and merged with Austerity Britain - it would get four stars. The doubly frustrating thing is that Kynaston seems to realise this, dropping hints now and again that Britain in the 1950s simply wasn't as eventful as Britain of the 1960s. I'm going against the tide with this review, but I believe in what I write; perhaps you could skip this volume and move on to the next, which I haven't read yet but surely can't be any less interesting.

 

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