|The monochrome years
||[Apr. 1st, 2019|05:47 pm]
poliphilo got me thinking about the 1950s. He was talking about his father's love of gardening, and said:|
I suppose that - like most of his generation - he came out of the war thinking, "That's enough excitement for one lifetime." It helps explains why the 1950s were so dull and drab - and why when the postwar generations started thinking, "Hey a little excitement would actually be rather nice," he and his lot opposed us so resolutely.
Which makes all sorts of sense, and may well explain why some people felt and behave as they did. But, as I commented in his post, were the 50s really so dull and drab? I know it's become the received view, as a prelude to talking about how exciting the 60s were: I heard it again last night, watching Made in Liverpool, a documentary about the Beatles, which went on to explain the formative influence of the records brought back from America by Liverpool seamen, the excitement of the rock and blues of the 50s... I suspect (and this is only half a joke) that the idea comes from people who grew up with colour TV, never mind colour film, and can't imagine life in black and white.
Only it wasn't actually in black and white, of course. At least, I don't remember it that way, and I don't think that's just because I was born in 1951, so this is my childhood I'm talking about. Like everyone else, I remember the perfect summers of childhood, but I also remember the London smog. The other side of the generation returning from the war looking for a little peace and quiet, is that this was the generation that set up the Welfare State and the National Health Service. By 1951 a nation still rebuilding after the war deliberately set out to create a sense of optimism and new things happening with the Festival of Britain - and it may be naïve to treat a government iniative as a valid sign of how people felt, but if it comes to a choice between the arts quarter on the South Bank and the Millennium Dome, I know which one I'd choose.
My parents were not royalists (on the contrary), so despite the photographs placing me at a street party for the coronation, I don't remember any excitement about the new young queen. But it did exist, that sense of a second Elizabethan Age (I've read A.S. Byatt on the subject).
"I'm thinking how class-conscious we were," says poliphilo, "and how conformist, and how dreadful the food was and how boring the clothes were and how tame the popular music was..." Up to a point, Lord Copper. When it comes to class-consciousness, what's remarkable is not how much we have changed, but how little, with our cabinet of Old Etonians, and our films and televisions dominated by public-school educated actors. How conformist we were in the 1950s? Some of us, no doubt; others spent Easter marching from Aldermaston against the bomb. The Wolfenden Report was published in 1957: a long way from gay equality, but a first step.
Was the food so dreadful? It was more limited than what we have now, certainly, and continued to be so into the 60s and beyond: when I came to Durham in 1969, olive oil was something you bought in Boots, for pharmaceutical use. But Elizabeth David was encouraging us to try new things (A Book of Mediterranean Food, 1950, French Country Cooking, 1951, Italian Food, 1954...). More home cooking, less convenience foods, there's an upside and a downside to everything.
As for the music: I don't really know about the popular music of the 1950s, my listening was restricted to Children's Favourites (with Uncle Mac). But I've already mentioned the beginnings of rock & roll making their way across the Atlantic, which led to the birth of skiffle and livened things up a bit. Personally, I'm more interested in the folk revival which was going on at the same time.
A decade is a long time, and the world is a big place: you can find evidence to support either side of an argument. I realise, too, that I am talking, repeatedly, about things beginning, the first signs appearing of things which would be more visible, more important, later. That's not a counter-argument: beginnings are exciting times. I'm surprised how much I have to say on this subject, and I'm gratful to poliphilo for spurring me on to saying it.
This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.