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When Britain was The Envy of The World by Paul Feeney

The 1960s was arguably the most upbeat and exciting decade of the twentieth century and beyond. Even those who argue against this must concede that for most of us it was the decade in which our whole way of life changed for the better, like never before in modern history.

The British government’s post-war slum clearance program and the rebuilding of our war-torn cities was helping to improve living standards while at the same time removing many painful reminders of the destruction and heartache suffered during the Second World War. We were a good two years into the 1960s before we really began to feel that we had moved on from post-war austerity. By the end of 1962, most of us at last felt able to celebrate the prospects of more prosperous times ahead.

Britain was in a post-war boom period and unemployment was extremely low. British goods and services were in great demand and we had a thriving manufacturing industry. Most ordinary working people had much more disposable income than their predecessors and were financially better off and more able to enjoy life. We were now living in peaceful times and although our country was saddled with wartime debt there was a greater sense of optimism and adventure, especially among the younger generation who were keen to embrace any new ideas that might help improve the mood of the country and even change the established British way of life.

The famous sixties’ Cultural Revolution began to take hold in 1963. It started in Britain and changes happened very quickly. We were by now rapidly distancing ourselves from what we considered to be the dull and staid fifties culture. We had grown tired of the 1950s rock n’ roll and crooner styles of music and the early-60s chart-toppers like yodelling Frank Ifield and twisting Chubby Checker. We were now heralding the age of the new style ‘pop-groups’. The ‘merseybeat’ sound had arrived with bands like The Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas, and The Searchers. At the same time, a host of other ‘soon to be famous’ pop-groups were gaining wider public attention; these included London favourites The Rolling Stones and The Dave Clark Five. It was these early-1960s pop-groups that paved the way for an abundance of other British groups and solo artists to make their own breakthroughs in the music industry.

The ‘mod’ fashion scene had already taken hold in London and by 1964 was fast spreading around the country. The ‘swinging sixties’ had well and truly arrived and the whole world was talking about this British Cultural Revolution. The fashionable clothes shops around London’s Carnaby Street, Kings Road, and Kensington were already well frequented by London’s ‘mod’ subculture set, and fashion innovators like John Stephen, Mary Quant, and Barbara Hulanicki were familiar names to them. It was not long before the fame of these and other London based fashion entrepreneurs spread around the world. England and more especially London quickly became a magnet for tourists from all over the globe. London was fast becoming the cultural capital of the world; the place to be and to be seen in. Everyone wanted to be part of the London vibe. Towns and cities throughout Britain also became tourist hotspots like never before as coach-loads of visitors sought out the birthplace homes of the newly emerging 1960s celebrities; none more so than Liverpool where they went in their droves to see the homes and music venues associated with Liverpool’s ‘fab four’, The Beatles.

By 1966, commercial radio was at its height of popularity with 45 per cent of the British population now listening to sixties’ popular music broadcast from offshore pirate radio stations and Radio Luxembourg rather than the old-fashioned BBC radio stations. People of all ages were now embracing sixties’ fashions, not just the young and trendy. Older men from all walks of life had abandoned the traditional short back and sides’ haircuts for more fashionable styles and older women were now wearing increasingly shorter mini-skirts. It was the year in which credit cards were first introduced in Britain by Barclaycard, the Daily Express named 16-year-old Twiggy ‘The Face of 1966’, and Time Magazine dubbed our capital city ‘Swinging London’. If there was ever a time for England to host the football World Cup, then it had to be in the swinging sixties. No football World Cup had ever before received as much worldwide attention as this one. Celebrities from around the world used whatever influences they had to get hold of tickets, not necessarily because of their interest in football, but more so because the tournament was being held in England and the final was to be held in London. And yes, if ever there was a time for England to succeed in winning the football World Cup, then it had to be in 1966, the year in which Britain was at the centre of the world’s cultural stage and London was the featured star of the show and widely regarded as the greatest capital city in the world.

Copyright © 2016-2021 by Paul Feeney All rights reserved. This article / blog or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, Paul Feeney.


Rationing and Strikes in Post-War Britain by Paul Feeney

The birth-rate in Britain shot up in the years immediately following the Second World War and the children from the first wave of that baby boom grew up in the 1950s, in a Britain so far removed from the one we live in today that the way of life back then seems almost primitive to us now.

This was a generation of children who never developed a craving for chocolate and sweets because for most of their young lives such things were not freely available to them. These things were regarded as luxuries and an occasional treat to be eaten only in small quantities. Restricted access to sweet things was not for the good of their health or because they made their teeth rot, it was because up until 1953 the amount of sweet and sugary items you could buy in shops was restricted by post-war government rationing regulations, and so children had to make do without them.

It is commonly thought that wartime rationing ended immediately after the war but that is not the case at all. In fact, some forms of rationing got even stricter after the war, and this went on for several years. The country had been operating within a controlled rationing system for six years when the war ended in 1945 and it just was not possible to turn volumes of supply back up to pre-war levels overnight.

Many of our working men had been away serving in the armed forces during the war and those who survived were only returning home gradually. With this initial post-war shortage of labour and the frequent strike actions taken by key workers, Britain did not have the resources needed to handle any significant increases in food production. In addition to this, some of our crops were ruined by bad weather. There was also a huge increase in post-war demand for food in Europe, which affected the amount we were able to import. Imports were also adversely affected by industrial unrest at the docks and our dock workers striking. Having gone through the entire six years of war without bread being rationed, one year after the war ended bread rationing was imposed. This was due to heavy rain flooding our fields and ruining our wheat crops. The rationing of bread continued until 1948. As with bread, potatoes were not rationed during the war but due to the harsh weather conditions in winter 1946/47 they too had to be rationed. Between 1945 and 1950, private use of petrol was rationed and was periodically made unavailable. Meat and all other food rationing finally ended in Britain in 1954, but shortages were still quite common, especially with cheese products. Petrol rationing was briefly reintroduced for a few months towards the end of 1956 and through to May 1957, due to the Suez Crisis.

It has been reported that housewives faced more difficulty in shopping after the war than they did during the war, but the post-war baby boomers did not grumble. After all, they knew no different - they had only ever known times of shortage, and for them things could only get better.

Copyright © 2013-2021 by Paul Feeney All rights reserved. This article / blog or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, Paul Feeney.


The Life and Times of the Post-War Baby Boomer Generation by Paul Feeney

Back in 1950s' Britain, a smart phone was one that had been newly installed in the public phone-box at the end of the street and a widescreen television was one that measured 14-inches and produced a 405-line, grainy, black and white, and flickering picture. Up until September 1955, the BBC was responsible for all television transmissions and there was only one television channel, it did not seem necessary to have any more than one. Not that any of this mattered a jot to most of the population because few people at the time could afford the luxury of a television set or a home telephone. In 1950, two out of three people in Britain had never seen a television programme let alone own a television set. On wet Sundays and on cold winter nights, the cinema was the main source of entertainment outside of the home, and back indoors it was the deep comforting tones of radio broadcasting that helped keep everyone content.

These were austere times and many people lived extremely basic lives, often in harsh conditions. In those post-war years it was not at all unusual to see kids playing out in the street in their bare feet, and others clambering around in their elder siblings’ cast-offs, which were several sizes too big for them. For many of these children, a classy pair of shoes was a pair without holes in them. And yet, even with the cold and damp living conditions that most families had to endure in wintertime, somehow family life still seemed quite cosy. Not comfortable, dry, and warm, but cosy in an old-fashioned sort of way. It was something to do with the closeness of families and the kindness and camaraderie of trustworthy friends and neighbours.

The hardships and sufferings of wartime were still fresh in everyone’s minds and there remained a great sense of national pride and loyalty, which was especially noticeable at the time of the Queen’s coronation in June 1953. Even with the enormous differences in living standards between the lower, middle, and upper classes, the post-war mood of solidarity remained evident throughout the country and everyone seemed to share a common purpose in life. To the children of the 1950s, the atmosphere was sort of homely – yes, it did feel quite cosy. It is amazing to think that it was these innocent and unspoiled children, the post-war baby boomer generation, who dragged our weary nation out of the greyness of the 1950s into the colour and excitement fuelled 1960s, changing our whole outlook on life forevermore. They became the revolutionary teenagers who created the atmosphere of the ‘swinging sixties’ and helped make Britain the envy of the World. They let the genie out of the bottle and broke all the traditional rules. The mood of the ‘swinging sixties’ was infectious, and thereafter there was a relentless desire for more and more innovation and change - life would never be the same again.

Copyright © 2013-2021 by Paul Feeney All rights reserved. This article / blog or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, Paul Feeney.

History - Nostalgia - Memories