Changing quality of life, 1918-79



  • 1930s = 18-19 million cinema tickets sold every week.
  • Cinema offered men and women escapism at affordable prices.
  • Cinematograph Films Act (1927) = protected British film industry against competition from USA by insuring 7.5% of films shown had to be British-made: this figure rose to 20% in 1935.
  • Cinemas were closed on the outbreak of war in case they were bombed, however pressure from the public made them reopen quickly.
  • Films which encouraged patriotism were popular during this period. e.g In Which We Serve and Let George Do It.
  • Cinema struggled to retain its popularity after the advent of television.
  • 1947 = 1,400,000 cinema attendances, which fell to 800,000 in 1959.
  • 1970s = cinema went into temporary decline, with TV series spin-offs such as On the Buses gaining popularity.
  • With the exception of James Bond, there were few successful blockbusters.
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  • Music appealed to all age groups between 1918-79.
  • The inter-war period saw dance bands and crooners singing sentimental ballads.
  • 1930 = 20,000 dance bands, often performing at local halls where young people could meet away from elders.
  • They were sometimes criticised as encouraging immoral behaviour.
  • 1950s = birth of teenage culture.
  • Late-1950s = rock and roll movement, although this was short-lived.
  • 1960s = beat music based on US rhythm and blues.
  • Bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones topped the charts.
  • 1970s = glam rock and punk, e.g. David Bowie became a world icon.
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  • 1920s = growth of radio audience due to the low cost of radio sets.
  • Content = news, drama, music and advice programmes on gardening and cooking.
  • WW2 = radio was instrumental in maintaining morale: comedy shows such as It's That Man Again and the evening news were popular.
  • BBC = slow to embrace rock and roll or beat music, so listeners turned to Radio Luxembourg, a European station broadcasting pop music, or priate radio stations.
  • 1967 = birth of Radio One, causing a close relationship between radio, the music charts, record producers and stars to develop.
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  • 1950s = television developed and revolutionised entertainment as people stayed at home to watch programmes.
  • Television was initially broadcast by the BBC, with commercial TV starting in 1955 and covering the whole country in 1962.
  • There were only 3 channels until 1981, so programmes often attracted huge audiences and encouraged the coming together of the nation.
  • For example, Christmas specials from Morecambe and Wise attracted 20 million viewers.
  • Television had an impact on the nation through its relection of social issues.
  • For example, Cathy Come Home exposed the tragic consequences of homelessness, generating public support for the charity Shelter.
  • Up the Junction revealed a backstreet abortion which contributed to the national debate leading to the legalisation of abortion.
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Youth culture

  • Post-war years = large number of births (baby boom).
  • 1950s = young people grown up, tensions between age groups developed.
  • Era of full employment and disposable incomes, so young people developed their own culture.
  • While 'rebellion' was limited to teenage fashion and rock 'n' roll, there was concern over the development of the Teddy Boys - known for gang rivary, vandalism and racist attacks on immigrants (e.g. Notting Hill riots of 1958).
  • 1960s = Teddy Boys were replaced by Rockers, Mods, skinheads and hippies.
  • Volence between Mods and Rockers in 1964 = 51 arrests in Margate, 76 in Brighton.
  • 1970s = football hooliganism and punk rockers with piercings and torn clothes, and angry music.
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Spectator sports

  • 20th century = increase in leisure time, enabling the working-class to attend matches and sports teams to develop in local communities.
  • Football = cheap entertainment attracting gates of thousands.
  • There was a maximum wage of £50 for professional footballers until 1960.
  • 1930s = sport offered escapism from economic problems, football attendances were high.
  • Tennis, show-jumping and golf = attracted middle-class audiences (50,000 people paid to see the Ryder Cup golf tournment in 1933).
  • 1927 = BBC radio outside broadcasts did not reduce match attendances. e.g. 91,000 attended FA Cup final at Wembley in 1927, but this rose to 99,000 in 1938.
  • Like cinemas, sports stadiums were closed at the outbreak of WWII, but were later reopened due to public demand.
  • There was a cessation of league competitions due to sportsmen joining the army.
  • Sport took the form of games between forces for charity, e.g. 55,000 attended a football match in Chelsea which raised £8,000 for naval welfare.
  • Post-war = newspapers devoted more coverage to sport than any other topic, and the 1966 World Cup attracted 32 million TV viewers.  The government formed the Sports Council in 1972 in order to develop elite-level sport in the UK.
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  • Before 1918 = few working-class people were able to take holidays, so tourist facilities were catered towards the wealthy, with expensive hotels in seaside resorts.
  • 1930s = growth in employees receiving paid holidays, e.g. in 1931 the figure was 1.5, but in 1939, when it became compulsory, 11 million.
  • Factories often closed for the same 2 weeks in the summer, so special trains and buses took people to holidary destinations.
  • 1930s = growth in boading houses and holiday camps.
  • For those who couldn't afford to stay away from home, railways offered special day trips to the seaside.
  • 1930s = affordable cars led to tourism across Britain that was not dependent on train travel. By 1939 there were 2 million cars on the roads compared with 100,000 in 1919.
  • Billy Butlin built the first Butlin's holiday camp in Skegness in 1936, promising a 'week's holiday for a week's wages'.  By 1939, his Skegness and Clacton camps attracted 10,000 a year. 
  • 1960s = people favoured holidays which they could arrange themselves, caravanning accounted for 20% of holidays.
  • 1970s = rise in package holidays abroad.  1971 = 4 million holidays abroad, and 13 million a decade later. This was a decline in British resorts and holiday camps.
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  • Henry Ford's production lines = car prices fell dramatically in the 1930s.
  • An Austin Seven cost £125 and a Morris Minor SV cost £100.
  • Cars were overwhelmingly the preserve of the middle-classes.
  • Hourly rate of male works was 7p per hour in 1938, so cars were beyond the resouces of working-class families.
  • Growth in car ownership = expansion of Britain's road network in the 30s.
  • The Mersey Tunnel (opened 1934) and the Great North Road (finished 1939) were the result of increased car ownership.
  • Car production was interrupted by WWII as production lines were used to build materials such as tanks.  The war also saw the rationing of petrol.
  • 1960s = increase in wages = increase in car ownership, e.g. by 1969 there were 2.2 million cars registered in London.
  • 1/3 of cars were imported from countries such as Japan in 1975.
  • A rise in car ownership saw a decline in train and coach travel.  Half the rail network was shut down as a result of the Beeching Axe of 1963.
  • 1960s and 70s = motorway network built, which made it quicker to transport goods.
  • 1960s = cheap foreign holidays.  Airline passengers on international flights grew from 1 million in 1955 to 14 million by 1970.
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Affluent society

  • Post-war decades = longest sustained improvement in living standards:-
    • Global economic boom throughout the post-war era;
    • The establishment of a welfare state ensured a basic standard of living;
    • Relatively low energy prices until the early 1970s;
    • A commitment by post-war governments to full employment;
    • Strong trade unions who were able to secure fair wages;
    • The rise in average wages;
    • The increasing availability of consumer credit, i.e. hire-purchase.
  • 1957 = PM Harold Macmillian 'most of our people have never had it so good'.
  • Growth in prosperity = growth in home ownership, e.g. 32% in 1950 to 50% in 1970.
  • 1957 = Britions spent £1 billion on consumer goods, rising to 1.5 billion by 1960.
  • Money was spent on labour-saving devices, e.g. vacuums, washing machines and fridges.
  • 1955 = 17% of homes owned a washing machine, rising to 60% by 1966.
  • One factor that allowed working-class families to buy consumer goods was the relaxation of rules surrounding consumer credit in 1954.  They could now pay for goods by schemes of hire-purchase.
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  • Despite overall prosperity, there were pockets of deep deprivation.
  • 1966 = housing charity Shelter was founded in order to help the 12,000 homeless people and the thousands living in temporary accommodation.
  • The most vulnerable residents in run-down neighbourhoods were the elderly.
  • 1965 = 1.5 elderly people lived alone and on small pensions.
  • Their quality of life was generally poor due to poor diet, loneliness and insanitary conditions.
  • 1963 = 80,000 slum houses in Manchester without running water, heating or inside toilets - most of these houses were overcrowded.
  • 1967 = 7.5 million were living below the poverty line, often in cold, damp, dirty conditions.
  • While the media concentrated on the affluent, there were some groundbreaking television programmes, i.e. Cathy Come Home.
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Impact of WWII

  • WWII = government intervened in the supply of essential items, i.e. food.
  • Germany's sinking of cargo ships and the need to ensure the military had adequate resources did affect living standards, but the government did intervene to ensure fair distribution through rationing.
  • 1940 = creation of the Ministry of Food involving 50,000 administrators meant food was allocated by ration cards.
  • People were encouraged to grow vegetables and cook nutritious food, and as a result, people were healthier at the end of the war than in 1939.
  • The government emphasised thriftiness and a 'make do and mend' mentality.  Clothes, for example, were mended rather than replaced.
  • The German Blitz of British cities destroyed 2 million homes causing a severe post-war housing shortage.
  • 1945-51 = 'age of austerity' as economic difficulties prevented any improvement in living standards.
  • Some rationing lasted long after the end of war, e.g. clothing was rationed until 1949.
  • Winter of 1946-47 led to electricity supply to industry and homes being cut by the Minister for Fuel and Power to 19 hours a day and 1/4 of Britain's sheep being lost.
  • 1951 = conditions began to improve which was illustrated by the Festival of Britain.
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Economic crisis 1920s and 30s

  • While unemployment never fell below 1 million during the 1930s, the picture was uneven across Britain.
  • Unemployment was far less severe in the new industries.
  • 1932 = 12% of those engaged in electrical appliance manufacture were unemployed compared with 70% of those engaged in shipbuilding.
  • Decline of traditional industries such as shipbuilding, coal, iron and cotton had a big impact on living standards in the areas where they were concentrated.
  • For example, in 1932 unemployment rates in London and the south-east were 13% compared with 40% in Wales.
  • The prosperity enjoyed by many in new industries was not shared by those in traditional manufacturing.
  • The 1931 consus showed a movement of people to London whose population grew from 7,000,000 to 8,000,000, but there was no great wholesale of mirgation to areas where work could be found.
  • People were reluctant to move away from their families to a new area where there was no guarantee of a job.
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Improved living standards 1930s

  • As the economy recovered from the Great Depression, living standards improved overall.
  • Living standards rose because wages remained stable and prices fell 1933 = real wages were 10% higher than in 1929.
  • This period saw a growth in service industries such as hotels, whose workforce grew by 40% in the inter-war period to cater for those who could afford holidays.
  • Household electrical appliances such as vacuums purchased on consumer credit filled the homes of the middle-class.
  • 1930 = 200,000 vacuum sales compared with 400,000 8 years later.
  • There was also a wider variety of food such as fresh fruit imported from abroad, which led to improved diets.  Prices for basic foodstuffs such as tea, sugar and milk fell.
  • Late-1920s = 20,000 fish and chip shops; with fish at 2p and chips at 1p, people could afford this treat.
  • 'Youth culture' began in the 1930s with young people spending money on clothes and records.
  • 'Bright Young Things' were a group of young people associated with aristocracy and theatre who became famous in the 30s for parties and outrageous behaviour.
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