The 50s began with rationing and austerity and ended with affluence. The 50s gave us Teddy Boys and Rock'n'Roll. The glamour of the American lifestyle heavily influenced Britain in the 50s. As well as adopting Rock'n'Roll music, our cars reflected American tastes when bright shiny chrome and fins appeared on British cars. The fifties was a decade of conservative attitudes and values, as well as a Conservative Government from 1951. By the end of the 50s though, the seeds of change had been sown. There were already stirrings of the freedom that would sweep the country in the 60s.
At the beginning of the 50s rationing was still in place. In the years following the War, Britain had to regain export markets to survive. Clement Atlee's Labour Government, which won a landslide victory in 1945 with an ambitious social programme, was still struggling with economic worries in the early 50s. Nevertheless, the Welfare State and the National Health Service were already a part of our lives.
A glimmer of hope for the future came with the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Festival of Britain was described as 'A tonic to the nation'. The space age buildings, such as the Skylon and Dome of Discovery (left), must have seemed like another world. Its main purpose though, was to show contemporary design at its best. People, starved of novelty, had their first taste of the new contemporary style which transformed homes in the 50s and the 60s.
The 50s was the age of television. In 50s America, it won and lost elections. In the UK we had just one channel at first. Screens were small, television sets were expensive, and everything was in black and white. Nevertheless, the television was the thing to have in the 50s. Many people bought one to watch the Queen's Coronation in 1953, and by the end of the 50s, around three quarters of the population had access to a TV.
Economically the early 50s was a hard time. However, by the middle of the 50s Britain's industry was running at full strength. Our lead over other European countries led to boom time in the UK. A high demand for skilled labour in heavily industrialised Britain meant high wage packets for many. There was a chance to enjoy affluence as never before. Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan captured the spirit of the age when he said "Some of our people have never had it so good".
Rising prosperity meant teenagers in work had more money to spend. The 50s saw the first youth cult, the Teddy Boys. Their outlandish style of dress combined with acts of violence shocked British society. The 50s was also the decade of American Rock'n'Roll. Young people in the latest fashions danced to music despised by their parents.
As the fifties came to and end, a new era was just about to begin.
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