THE 1950s

The ascent of the 1950's saw a Britain struggling to rebuild and redefine its place in a world irrevocably altered by the cataclysmic events of the Second World War. The initial flush of victorious jubilance swiftly receded during the early years of the decade and the nation found itself slowly encloaked in a subdued mood of colourless sobriety as thick, cloying and grey as the notorious smog, which lent post war London an almost Dickensian air of health destroying, vitality sapping, gloom.

As if in a futile effort to turn the clock back to the lost certainty of the pre war years, 1951 saw Labour leader Clement Attlee ousted from office, to be replaced by the aging lion, the then 77 year old Winston Churchill. But even the re-emergence of the legendary old warhorse and the ensuing reversal of many of the social reforms instigated under the departed Labour government, were mere futile attempts to revive a status quo whose time had passed. Long entrenched attitudes were in the throes of upheaval, and a once mighty empire was beginning to crack and fragment as a result.

The Coronation of the new Queen on 2nd June 1953, following the untimely death in February of the previous year of her father, the much loved George VI, was proclaimed joyously as the beginning of a glorious new "Elizabethan Age" for the nation. A sentiment that further served to reinforce the spectacular Festival of Britain held on London's South Bank between May and September 1951, and which had sought to evoke the same sense of national pride and technological enlightenment and superiority engendered at the pinnacle of Victorian Britain's imperial power with the Great Exhibition.

By the middle of the decade Hilary and Tensing had conquered Everest, Watson and Crick had unlocked the structure of DNA and Churchill had been knighted. Against this backdrop a new -alien to the more traditional elements of the establishment, social force was coming to the fore. With important seaports such as Liverpool providing a gateway from the US, the raw, vital and exciting music of Rock n' Roll galvanised the nation's experience-hungry youth. Empowered by an awakening sense of their collective identity, 'youth culture' was born, and the ripples of its impact upon the country would prove to be profound.

As the decade moved inexorably into its final phase, while steadfast traditionalists fought an increasingly futile and desperate battle to preserve their vision of the nation, the leaks in the dam holding back change grew evermore numerous and uncontainable. The surreal and inspired lunacy of the Goons perplexed and convulsed radio listeners in their millions, while the safe and cosy world of the theatre was rocked by an intense young playwright named John Osborne, who extolled audiences to "Look Back in Anger", and in the process gave a powerful voice to a still painfully emerging generation.

At decade's end Great Britain had finally all but dispelled the clouds of uncertainty and inertia which had hung over the country at the beginning of the 50's. The country and its people now looked to the immediate future with a renewed sense of optimism and expectation. Change was in the air. But just how explosive and far reaching a change awaited them just over the horizon, not even the most foresighted amongst them could have dared imagine.

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