Dreaming of a spire: the Festival of Britain

Enoch Powell published two collections of poetry called The Wedding Gift and Dancer’s End. Potatoes and sweets were rationed. No country exported more cars: typical was the Austin Atlantic, an underpowered cargo-cult Alfa-Romeo copy aimed, not very accurately, at America. Steel was nationalised. And Diana Dors and Alastair Sim starred in a new comedy called […]

‘A tonic for the nation’

Herbert Morrison, a Labour MP and former leader of the London County Council, described it as “the British showing themselves to themselves, and to the world”. It was intended to mark the end of an era of shortages and rationing and display the mastery of industry and the benefits of trade in a nation still […]

Divers to search for missing Skylon

Visitors to the festival on London’s South Bank marvelled at the 300-metre high steel construction, which appeared to float above the ground. Built of steel and suspended on cables, it was one of the most striking features of the London skyline. However, Sir Winston Churchill balked at the cost of re-erecting it elsewhere when it […]

Unlike today, the 1951 Festival of Britain reflected a nation eager to look to the future

Presenting a snapshot of disgruntled young people in the mid-1950s, John Osborne called his greatest play Look Back in Anger. That has always struck me as the most un-British of titles. The British almost never look back in anger. Au contraire. We lead the world in the art of looking back in hazy affection. Nostalgia […]

The Festival of Britain, 60 years on

Who could fail to be charmed by the legend of the migrating stone lions? How one couchant beast, with its imperturbable gravitas, a heraldic chunk of London itself, moved without lifting a paw, from the site on the south bank of the Thames being cleared for the Festival of Britain in 1951, to Waterloo Station […]

Festival of delight: Decades before the Dome fiasco and Olympics row, Britain showed how to celebrate this country with pride

Sixty years ago this week, workmen on the South Bank were putting the finishing touches to a public spectacle that became a symbol of the age. Conceived against a backdrop of war damage and economic austerity, the Festival of Britain lifted the spirits of a generation. Originally, it was supposed to be a centenary tribute […]

Fun that forged the future

It was a time of hope. After six years of post-war austerity – making do on very little – the Festival of Britain brought good news. One day, not far ahead, the country would enter an age of peace and plenty. At the heart of the Festival was a sampler of the future Britain: an […]

The year Britain learned to party

Former Fleet Street newspaper editor Gerald Barry promised that the Festival of Britain would be full of ‘fun, fantasy and colour – a tonic to the nation’. He went on to be its director and, on its 60th anniversary next week, this book presents the story through his eyes, thanks to the diary he kept. […]

Festival of Britain

The Festival of Britain (FOB) involved a nationwide programme of events. ASS 187 shows the official programme map with events and exhibitions around the country. This case study focuses on sculpture sited on and around the South Bank Festival exhibition site in London. Independently, you will need to consult texts and weblinks for further information […]

Festival closes to applause

The Festival of Britain was widely regarded as a big success – although there had been much criticism initially of the £11m cost at a time of meat rationing and petrol shortages. London and the South Bank were the heart of the Festival. The modern design and informal layout of the South Bank exhibition dotted […]