BBC Radio 4 Extra, 27 June - 3 July 2013
The Festival of Britain in 1951
marked a watershed in the country's history. Designed as a celebration of British technological achievements, it was
simultaneously perceived by many as an expression of a new-found spirit after six long years of post-war drabness. Amongst
its many highlights were the Skylon and the fun-fair with many rides imported from the United States.
David Kynaston's magisterial
book, read by Dominic West, recalled the spirit of that time through the writings of the famous and the not-so-famous.
The spirit of deference still existed: many people still metaphorically touched their collective forelocks in the presence
of royalty and/or politicians such as Winston Churchill. At the same time individuals were less likely to submit to
the dictates of authority - whether political, social, or mediatic. When King George VI passed away in February 1952,
at least two diarists complained about the BBC's decision to suspend normal programming in favour of extended coverage of
the funeral. Surely it would have been more democratic, argued one diarist, to have continued broadcasting popular hits
like ITMA, so as to prove how the British people could meet both triumph and adversity with an equal amount of sang-froid.
Moving seamlessly between the
domestic and the political, the celebrational and the mundane, Family Britain is a remarkably colourful history of
what was in truth quite a drab period, when rationing still blighted people's lives.