I am coming near to the end and I want to do a broad summary. It will be a bit rambling, without any pictures and full of sweeping generalizations. I have put in lots of links so you can find out more details.
I don’t want to give you pages and pages of Terms and Conditions as we seem to get nowadays but I just want to make it plain that these are my views. For the Fifties they are the memories of a young boy brought up in a large family in Ilford with no knowledge of life outside my family and school. Even in the Sixties I knew little outside my small world. News and information from television and newspapers was far more restricted than today
We had virtually nothing of modern technology. There were fixed line Telephones, which we hardly ever used – more or less just for occasional local calls. Our house had Electricity but we didn’t have many uses for it. We had an electric iron and very, very occasionally in winter an electric fire might be used. Basically electricity was for lights. All the things you now think of as automatic just didn’t happen. We survived without Computers.
If you wanted to write anything you used a pen or pencil. Offices used Typewriters, which were only used by typists and Newspapers were produced by a complex, cumbersome labour-intensive process taking several hours.
For Photographs we had cameras and photographic film. You might take 36 shots in a week’s holiday and then wait a week for a single tiny print of each one. We did have Cinemas producing films but people did not make their own moving pictures.
(Perhaps the most automation we ever had was in traffic lights. They were very simple with no fancy stuff like lanes or filter lights or pedestrian signals. Some of them were able to detect when traffic arrived to hasten on the next change.)
Standards and Authority
Attitudes were more Formal and Standards were different especially our views about women, children, ethnic minorities, animals and sexuality. (‘Ethnic minorities’ is a modern term. We didn’t have them. There was some open racism towards ‘black’ people – and Irish!)
We respected the Authorities even though we had no knowledge of how they worked. (There was no Internet!) We trusted and believed doctors, teachers, policeman and generally vicars. If we didn’t there was no way we could question what they said or did. If something went wrong we accepted it – we didn’t think of suing anyone for damages.
Most people more or less accepted the Church and there were many more believers and regular churchgoers. The Church played a significant part in our education and our attitudes to Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and Sundays. St. Andrews Church at Ilford played a significant part in my life.
The government and Civil Service covered much, much more than today – coal, gas, electricity, railways, telephones, television and national savings. Education, doctors and hospitals and local government services were more centrally controlled.
Families stayed together. Men and women stayed married. Men and women were different. The man of the house worked; women stayed at home and were housewives; children grew up with their parents. More complicated family situations were rare. Homosexuality did not exist. (I am talking about generalities and public perceptions. It was not openly acknowledged or accepted.)
Most married women were housewives and there were few opportunities for work for women. Women expected to get married and raise a family at home and were generally happy with the situation. Housework (making beds, shopping, preparing and cooking food, cleaning and laundry, together with looking after children) took most of the average housewife’s day – and a lot of the evenings and weekends! Men were expected to do little at home and probably did even less.
Children, particularly those below school age, were looked after by their mothers because there were no alternative arrangements. Growing Adolescents remained in the care of their parents and could not vote until twenty-one.
While the man of the house earned an income and paid for regular bills (gas and electricity, rates, telephone etc.), he would pay a housekeeping allowance to his wife to cover basic food, cleaning and probably children’s clothes. In general, this allowance did not include anything for the wife to buy clothes or cosmetics (although most generally saved enough to look after their basic needs).
There was still the attitude that men made the major decisions for the family without consulting their wives, and wives just followed their husbands. The marriage ceremony included the promise for wives to ‘… love, honour and obey…’
[A major difference that affected all aspects of family life was that Contraception was not easy and abortion was illegal. It was not considered ‘right’ for unmarried women to have children.]
Law and Order
My impression is that there was much less public disorder and crime, but this may be partly from the innocence of youth. Police mostly operated on foot. There were no police cars. All they had was a police whistle to call for assistance.
There were different standards but crime, like other aspects of life, was more local. We didn’t have fast cars or easy roads.
Food and drink
Families ate together at home eating simple foods cooked by the housewife of the family.
Restaurants were up-market, much rarer than today and for special occasions and the rich. Eating at a restaurant was a more formal occasion and a more formal process. Except when on holiday, ordinary people rarely ate in restaurants or hotels. (Restaurants in those days were limited to British or perhaps French Cuisine. Foreign restaurants started to emerge in the sixties with Indian and Chinese restaurants.)
The only ‘fast food’ in the fifties was fish and chips, and for most people this was the only experience of eating out. The fish and chips were usually taken home, wrapped in newspaper, but there were facilities to eat in the shops. This would have been a much more informal and cheaper experience than eating in a proper restaurant.
The first equivalent of the American revolution that was fast food hit England in the early sixties. It was the Wimpy Bar. This was a glorified coffee bar which served hamburgers in buns (‘Wimpy’) but not exactly in the Macdonald’s takeaway fashion. They were served, with chips, at tables and on plates, with knives and forks – a downmarket version of restaurant service. The real takeaways such as Macdonald’s did emerge, in their full American format, until the seventies. After that came Pizza and other culinary imports from the U.S.A.
By modern standards, cafes were non-existent. When shopping in Ilford Mum might have a cup of tea at a department store café. That was it.
Almost all early Television was live, not pre-recorded. (The only real exceptions were programmes repeated a day or two after their original broadcast.) Also, in a way which is not easy to define, there was a much narrower range of programmes, only what the middle class establishment of that time would consider to be in good taste. This consisted of news, information and entertainment based on ‘Variety’ (i.e. singing, dancing, comedy, magic, circus acts etc.) Sports broadcasting was virtually unknown as technological limitations made ‘outside broadcasts’ (anything not done from the central studios) both difficult and expensive. Back in 1950 there was no choice of viewing, no television advertisements no phone-in programmes, no Soaps, no reality television, no live football, no morning television.
We had one channel for a few hours each day with very poor quality black-and-white pictures on a nine-inch screen! My memories of Children’s Television date from these earlier days. By the late sixties we had three channels, still not broadcasting all day and still without the reliability and picture quality we expect today.
I have a whole series of blogs about particular stars of television – from David Attenborough and Doctor Who … to David Attenborough and Doctor Who!
At home, people spent some time watching television, listening to the radio, reading and perhaps making their own music. Pianos were nowhere near universal, but were far more popular than today. Cinema was more popular. If people went to the theatre, it was a far more special night out than now. People more often just went out walking together.
I have said a lot in my blogs about Primary School, Secondary School and University life all of which were much more formal than today. I can only speak for Grammar School education, which may have some similarities with the few remaining Grammar Schools today – including my alma mater, Ilford County High School, which still exists. Teaching was based on chalk on blackboards, reading from textbooks and writing in exercise books. Our most sophisticated visual aids were – coloured chalk.
We had just the traditional subjects, formal homework, end-of-term examinations and hand-written reports.
We had simple local Shops – Grocers, Bakers, Butchers, Newsagents, Chemists, Hardware shops and Post Offices were common. Big towns had Department Stores but there were no Supermarkets. If I take an example, the baker might sell half a dozen types of loaf (only one of which would be sliced and packed,) white rolls or brown rolls and a few types of cakes. We were not burdened with Choice. There was, of course, no on-line shopping.
There were no motorways, just narrow roads going through the centres of towns so that long-distance travel was a series of traffic jams. For local shopping parking outside the shops was easy and free.
We used cash and coped with pounds, shillings and pence and it was all done by mental arithmetic. Shopkeepers gave us the right change. Credit was virtually non-existent. Banks managed all their calculations without automatic calculators or computers.
By way of a diversion, here are some typical prices from the Fifties (or perhaps early Sixties) from memory. I have converted pre-decimal money to approximate decimal equivalents.
- 1p would have bought a cup of tea. (Coffee was 2p.)
- A stamp for a letter was about 1½p. (There was no distinction then between First Class and Second Class post!)
- A Mars bar was 1½p, a Kit-Kat 1p. (Most other chocolate bars did not exist then.)
- A bus ride started at 1p and was unlikely to be more than 10p. (Buses were double-decker and had bus conductors.)
- A small loaf of bread was about 4p.
- A haircut (for men) was about 5p.
- A pint of beer in a pub was about 5p.
- A cheap plastic ball-point pen was about 10p (and probably still is).
- Single records, when they started, were about 33p. LPs (33 rpm) were about £2 to £3.
- A three-course meal in a restaurant would have come to between 50p and £1.
- A gallon of petrol was about 25p. (That’s a gallon, a bit more than four litres!)
- A black-and-white television set (9 inch) was about £60-70. (This figure has remained virtually unchanged for 50 years.)
- A 4-bedroom semi-detached house in the suburbs of London was about £250.
(The Retail Price Index has risen by a factor of about 25 since the mid-fifties. Most of this inflation took place in the Sixties and Seventies.)
There were virtually no plastics so things now made of plastic would have been made from wood or metal.
Packaging, when it existed, was simple, perhaps a rectangular box. Bread, meat, fruit and vegetables were sold loose or perhaps wrapped in tissue paper.
We knew little of some modern health concerns and Health and Safety was not a major consideration. Substances like mercury, DDT and asbestos, now considered very dangerous, were uses routinely. The same can be said for lead in pipes, paint, toys and petrol. Smoking was common, ubiquitous and accepted.
Here are some of the evils of the modern world, which we did not have in the Fifties.
- Consumerism and advertising were much less significant. There were no three-for-two or buy-one-get-one-free offers.
- We had and no junk mail.
- There was no cold calling on telephones.
- Utilities – gas, electricity, water, telephones, television – were state controlled and there were no choices of tariffs.
- Banks and building societies were similar to each other – offering few choices at identical rates.
- Telephones did not have premium rate calls – but then all non-local calls were difficult, unreliable and expensive.
Something younger people find hard to understand is that we knew so little of the nastier side of life that we trusted people.
There were no school runs by the parents. Children as young as five walked to school on their own. When we were seven or eight we were sent to the shops at Beehive Lane on our own. Women with babies would leave them in prams outside the shops.
[I know. I said no pictures. I changed my mind.]
We played in the streets or spent the day at Wanstead Park Recreation ground – without mobile phones and without even watches. We came home when it was time for tea.
I have put in a lot of links but there is a lot more in the blogs including some about Christmas, my family, politics and some miscellaneous odds and ends … and language. I still think the best way to read then is to start at the beginning and work forward.
My last blog … in a week or two … will be about language.
The title of this blog comes from the quotation ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ from Revelations of Divine Love, the first book in the English Language known to be written (about 1395 AD) by a woman.
We know little about the authoress, Julian of Norwich. Even her name is uncertain. She lived in the second half of the Fourteenth Century as an anchoress in a cell joined to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, which is probably the source of her name – although Julian was a common name for women at the time.
As this is almost my final post I want to acknowledge my sources. Apart from my own memory I have just two sources.
There may be an odd exception but almost all of the background information and most of the pictures come from Wikipedia.
The rest of the pictures – apart from a few of mine – come from Facebook, generally from the rapidly growing number of groups devoted to nostalgia about the Fifties and Sixties.