The Festival of Britain

Working our way through the economic doldrums, and complaining about it to my wise old friend Anita Shanahan, her pithy rejoinder was ‘Well, it isn’t wartime, is it?’ She has posed that rhetorical question to me before, under similar circumstances to fore stop my whingeing. And, of course, as tough as things are, few of us in the developed west know hard times or privation. For Keith and me, we have yet to require any cinching up of our (designer) belts.

What’s put me in mind of this is a highly decorative and exquisitely wrought screen/room divider that, frankly, we are surprised is still in our inventory. With a montage of London landmarks either side, silkscreened on to Formica, it is framed in gilt bronze, with each panel having a pair of finials that are reminiscent of, depending upon whether your bent is connoiseurial or governmental, either the Palladian obelisk-shaped chimney pots of Chiswick House, or the Beaufort portcullis. Regardless, the overall effect betokens what became known as the Festival Style- a use of period motifs restated in a mid-20th century idiom, and rendered in contemporary materials. Formica? One forgets how profoundly innovative was this use of melamine resin in domestic interiors. I have to say, about the happiest moment of my mother’s life was when she had easy to clean Formica counters installed in her new (circa 1960) kitchen. Times do change…

But, of course, the introduction of new building, new design, and everything else associated with the 1951 Festival of Britain, yet surviving nicely in London in the form of the Southbank Centre, was to jar a nation into looking forward, that had been so beggared physically and spiritually in the recent past. The extent of the devastation just in London is hard to comprehend, but as the physical damage was cleared away, that the nation, for nearly a decade after the conclusion of the conflict remained on ration was a daily reminder of a conflict that, for most Britons, was not yet completely over.

Suffice to say, the only thing Keith and I have had to queue for lately is to pay for our popcorn at the movies. So, right again, Mrs. Shanahan- hard times? Hardly…

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