INSIGHTS ON IVOR
Part Twenty One
In May 1950 petrol rationing finally ended after 10 years. People were tearing up their petrol rationing books and dancing around their cars. The Whitsun weekend of wonderful weather saw thousands take to the roads in celebration. The next month, in typical Government fashion, they put up the price of petrol to three shillings a gallon.
The first self-service shop in Britain opened in Croydon, south London in June 1950. Sainsbury’s described this type of shopping as ‘Q-less shopping’ meaning shopping without waiting in line to be served. Part of the aftermath of the war was a shortage of labour but fortunately this problem was greatly eased by the thousands of immigrants from the Commonwealth countries, particularly from the West Indies , who had been coming over since 1948. By the mid fifties figures showed up to three thousand per month were arriving seeking work and a new life in the UK .
Sadly there were some famous people who died in 1950, this included authors Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell the writer of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ fame, and George Bernard Shaw, who’s book ‘Pygmalion’ inspired the musical ‘My Fair Lady’. At least Shaw took the advice of Scottish singer and comedian, Sir Harry Lauder who advocated everyone to ‘Keep right on to the end of the Road’, and lived to 94. Unfortunately Sir Harry couldn’t heed his own advice, and died aged 77.
On the sporting scene we saw American Budge Patty win the men’s single title at Wimbledon whilst fellow American Louise Brough took the Ladies Trophy for the third year running. Arsenal won the F.A. Cup. The golf Open championship was won by South African Bobby Locke for the second year running. The Grand National was won by Freebooter and the Derby saw a horse named Galcador first past the post.
Whilst there were many popular films being released such as All about Eve, Sunset Boulevard and King Solomon’s Mines, Radio was still king in most homes with favourites like Variety Bandbox, Dick Barton – Special Agent- Life with the Lyons (this programme starred Americans Bede Daniels, her husband Ben Lyon with their two children Barbara and Richard). Bede and Ben had endeared themselves to the British public during the Second War by not rushing back to the luxury and safety of their American home, choosing to stay in London throughout the frightening days of the Blitz, putting out a weekly comedy radio programme called Hi Gang which did a lot to raise morale.
King George VI opened the restored House of Commons, which had been destroyed in an Air raid in 1941. Whilst on a completely different plane, three generations of the Bowler family attended a celebration to mark the centenary of the Bowler Hat.
The BBC transmitted TV pictures live across the Channel from France for the first time on August 27th when a two-hour programme was sent from Calais to Dover and relayed on to London. There was only a single, two-second break during the whole transmission and reception was reported to be very good.
In 1951 another record was set when Britain ’s first jet bomber, the Canberra , crossed the Atlantic to Canada in a time of 4 hours 40 minutes. On a completely different ‘plane’ in Scotland, the Stone of Scone,which had gone ‘missing’ from Westminster Abbey, was found in an abandoned Abbey near Forfar, Arbroath after a 107-day search.
The big event of the year was the Festival of Britain. This was held to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851. As before, London was of course the main focal point but it was also celebrated, albeit in a much smaller way, throughout the country. Although the King was unwell at the time, he still accompanied Queen Elizabeth to the opening ceremony on May 4th. Despite the austerity, which still existed in Britain , the event was a showpiece for British Industry, Art and Design. It also raised the spirits of the people and gave them hope for a brighter future. Twenty-seven acres of derelict bomb weary scarred land on London ’s South Bank was transformed for the exhibition. There was a Dome of Discovery and floating, floodlit above all of this, like an exclamation mark in aluminium, was the Skylon. This structure had no visible means of support, which prompted one wag to wryly observe that it ‘symbolised Britain ’ at that time.
By the time the Festival closed in September figures show that around eight and half million people had visited this innovative morale boosting spectacle. One building, The Royal Festival Hall, was designated as the only permanent structure and it’s pleasing to record that, even today it still serves as a very popular venue for many entertaining functions. As well as working right next door to it for many years afterwards I also visited it many times including once sneaking in without a ticket (they were sold out and it was the only way I could get in to see the Chris Barber Jazz Band with special guest, American Blues and Folk Singer, Big Bill Broonzy, (that’s another story) Down river at Battersea Park a kaleidoscope of colour in the guise of a giant fun fair was awaiting the thousands who flocked there to forget the years of austerity and rationing for a few hours and enjoyed a breath of fresh air, laughter and freedom.
The General Election in October 1951 saw the youngest ever Tory candidate enter the contest. Her name was Margaret Roberts, who later made a bit of a name for herself as Margaret Thatcher and later Lady Thatcher. This election also marked the return to power of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister.
Another big event which occurred in October 1951 was when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip undertook a tour of Canada on behalf of her father, King George VI who was too ill to travel. The Princess and the Prince flew to Montreal and embarked on their tour taking in around 60 cities and towns travelling by train, aircraft and even naval vessels. Everywhere they went they were greeted by vast welcoming crowds.
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