A land of bus conductors, district nurses and rag-and-bone men is the image of life in the 1950s, to which many want to return, suggests a survey. Was post-war Britain really all good?
We might enjoy cheap flights, e-mail and plasma televisions, but a report by Somerfield says one in four people want to return to the decade of the Suez War and the Coronation.
Bobbies on the beat (80%), district nurses (55%), bus conductors (41%) and rag-and-bone men (20%) were among the features of life those surveyed most wanted to revive or expand.
This has been presented by some dewy-eyed newspapers as evidence that life 50 years ago was better than now. A time of decency and strong community ties, yes, but what aspects of that life were not so appealing?
1. Post-war austerity was characterised by outside lavatories, central heating was rare and many houses were without televisions or running water.
3. Food rations until 1954. Fruit was a luxury, chicken or sweets a rarity. Queues outside butchers lined the streets. Petrol was rationed in 1956-57.
4. Smog, or peasoupers, were thick and yellow, made worse by coal fires. Some have described the fog as a “yellow wall” outside the front door. Parents gave children scarves to wear over their noses and mouths and street lamps were still gas.
5. Britain was humiliated in the Suez War and its influence on world events greatly diminished.
6. Bomb sites littered British streets, while air raid shelters, unexploded bombs, gas masks and seaside defences provided a reminder of the horror that had gone before.
7. The Cold War intensified throughout the 50s, with tensions illustrated by the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the McCarthy witch hunts in the US.
8. Sporting humiliation arrived when England’s football team lost 6-3 to Hungary at Wembley, the first ever defeat to a non-British team at home.
9. Smoking prevalence among UK men aged 35 to 59 was 80% in 1950, and half of deaths of middle-aged men were caused by tobacco.
10. Sexual expression was frowned upon and even criminalised. Homosexuality and abortion were banned throughout the decade and unplanned pregnancies stigmatised families.
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To quote my Grandad: ‘The good old days?… What was so bloody good about ’em??? You could leave your door unlocked but only because we had nowt.. They (thieves) would have to bring it in first before they could take out’
Tom Milec, Manchester
This bad view of the fifties was the earlier part of the decade. The entire ten years had a better legacy. Kids were allowed to be kids, parents and policemen could make bullies behave. People had a pride in themselves, their homes, their community. Sadly there was also racism, low wages and bad working conditions prevalent but we were all in it together. Born in 1954
Janet Hodgson, Scarborough, late of Sheffield
My family moved from central London (next to a bomb site) to an isolated Bucks farmhouse at the beginning of 1952 when I was eight. From having running hot water, instant gas fires and a proper bathroom, we only had a coal-fired copper boiler for water, no cooker except the coal range in the living room, and the inevitable outside toilet. How my mother survived the change I will never know. I clearly remember the first day sweets came off ration and breaking all rules to cross the main road from school to the sweetshop. Maybe we should have sweet rationing again, and I’d love to see more bobbies on the beat and district nurses. Bus conductors might speed up journeys, and rag-and-bone men could help recycling. I’d like to see more courtesy, but don’t miss the sexism.
JCofMargate, Margate, UK
Remember the basic rate of income tax was 47.5% and there was a super-tax rate of 97.5% (or 19/6p in the £) However I could and did ride my bike at the age of 8 for miles & miles around Liverpool in the summer evenings by myself without worries about anything
Vic Denwood, Biggleswade
Humiliation: Suez? Falklands! Kudos to our brave servicemen and women, but Thatcher’s words (“It’s exciting to have a real crisis on your hands, when you have spent half your political life dealing with humdrum issues like the environment”) continue to embarrass.
Joe, Birmingham, UK
Despite downside of the 50’s, most food one ate was fresh and home cooked, children could play out and come home for tea, neighbours all looked out for one and other and could reprimand children if they were doing something they shouldn’t. I have happy memories of the 50’s despite the pea-soupers (and getting lost in them!).
Madeline Luitsz, London UK
Looking at the list of things ‘wrong’ with the 50s, most people would agree that getting rid of smog and discrimination was way overdue. But now there is no rationing, and a lax attitude to sexual expression, we have obesity and rapidly growing numbers of people with STDs. And is it really good that we all have television now?
Peter, Newbury, UK
The anticipation of waiting for the delivery of my Robin comic (was it Fridays?), graduating to Swift, then to Eagle for me and Girl for my sister. And then the icing on the cake – the Annual at Christmas! Journey into Space (I hid behind the sofa); I Spy books, Ian Allen’s train spotting (I think that was his name)- used to a lot of that. Simple pleasures – but as a child that’s what it should all be about. The 50s for me were great. Deprived, with rationing and general post-war austerity? – not a bit of it. On the contrary, I feel extremely lucky to have been growing up at that time and am thankful that I”m not a child of the 21st century.
s, NewYork ex Kent UK
However there was a sense of social cohesion, common identity and a Utopian hope for the future, in spite of ‘The Bomb’, which birthed the 60s.