Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Matchless Festivities





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.

13 comments:

TIW said...

I wonder what Abram would make of this:

http://instagr.am/p/Dmd3W/

I know it makes me want to kick stuff.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Thanks for this post commemorating some of the things that make the Festival of Britain worth remembering, or celebrating if, like me, you weren't quite around in time for it.

The link that TIW has posted is worth following, but steel yourselves. It shows the current South Bank Centre version of Abram Games's FoB symbol, a foul-up in a number of ways, which I leave those with more graphic education than me to list. I'm off to kick stuff now, too.

Peter Ashley said...

I am kicking stuff RIGHT NOW. What an utterly crass interpretation and positioning of Games' superb graphic.

Wartime Housewife said...

I don't suppose you heard any of the programme on Radio 4 on Wednesday which was all about the Festival of Britain? Try and listen on iPlayer if you can. I do think that the ident for FoB is one of the best ever.

Peter Ashley said...

I did hear snippets of the Radio 4 discussion, which is where I got the info on the Skylon perhaps being made into ashtrays. I wish there had been a good informed documentary on television, and not one presented by a parachuted-in celeb. Perhaps there was and I missed it.

Outa_Spaceman Being: 53 said...

I've been delving into the British Pathe News Archive for anything I can find about the Festival.
http://www.britishpathe.com/

I enjoy viewing the movies, found there using The Tornados', sorry, Joe Meek's 'Telstar' as the sound-track.

O.S.M. B:53

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou very much Outa Spaceman for that link. With voice-overs by Bob Danvers Walker I think.

Martin H. said...

There is a DVD entitled "London in Festival Year 1951" (Panamint Cinema) which contains four short films, two of which are directly about the festival; 'Festival in London' and 'Brief City'. Amazon has it.

I would love to have witnessed it, but alas, I was born in 1952, so missed it. But I do remember being taken by my Dad to see the wonderful Emett flying machine in Battersea Park. He was a great fan of Rowland Emett -an enthusiasm I have inherited.

Outa_Spaceman Being: 53 said...

Looking at the FoB, from the perspective of someone born seven years after the event looking back 50 years, it seems like a pivotal moment in British history.
The population suddenly blinking in the light of the fact the second world war was over and that things were moving on.

Unless anyone can think of a better example.

O.S.M. B:53

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