Sixty years ago yesterday saw the opening of the Festival of Britain. Although celebrated with events all over the country, it centred on London's South Bank with buildings and structures that have become like 3D souvenirs, even though almost all of them have disappeared. Powell & Moya's 300 foot cigar-shaped Skylon was rumoured to have been made into ashtrays, but at least we still have the Royal Festival Hall. This was 'a tonic to the nation', as Festival Director General Sir Gerald Barry had it, a surreal enlivener to perk up post war Britain after the deprivations of wartime. What brave new world things we would have seen. Everything including Terence Conran's first outings into furniture, Barnett Freedman's Penguin biscuit wrappers, Laurie Lee's captions in the Lion & Unicorn Pavilion, Rowland Emett's Far Tottering & Oyster Creek Railway chugging round Battersea Park. And Lewit-Him's Guinness Clock (above) that whirred into action every hour, as it later did on the promenades of British seaside resorts. I watched it with great wonder in Great Yarmouth, but I didn't make the Festival, only becoming aware of it when my brother stuck a sticker of Abram Games' Festival symbol with its bunting Britannia on the family cricket bat. But I do now have a book of matches (top) and a faux leather comb case with it on, and one of Bedfordshire's steel roundels used on village signs. (Given to me by the original manufacturer, I hasten to add.) My cousin went, but had a row with his dad and had to come home early.
Richard Chopping: Bohemian rhapsody
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