History-Britain in the 60s-Section 2

Section 2-Causes of social and cultural change in the 1960s


The consumer revolution:

The growth in consumer spending:

  • The 60s brought a time of general affluence where the general public could indulge in items previously described as novelties such as cars, clothes and technology
  • The purchasing power of British citizens increased as employment more than doubled from 1955-1970
  • People also felt more affluent in the 60s due to: improved welfare services, reduced working hours, reduction in income tax, reduction in purchase tax (which was previously 100% on certain items) and an increasing range of goods offered
  • Post-WW2 people were finally laying to rest memories of rationing and death and were focusing on the prospects that the new technology could bring
  • Home ownership almost doubled from 27% to 50% between 1950 and 1970 with almost 6 million new homes being built
  • Consumer spending, encouraged by advertising, increased by £750,000 in one year
  • Consumerism meant different things to different people yet to all it was a new experience the previous generation did not possess and a new way to gain self-fulfillment
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The consumer revolution:


  • believed that this new "affluent society" would bring the old, rigid class divisions to a halt and instore more harmony in society
  • people were now able to "gain access to an unprecedented range of products" becoming a "way of life" that was "large, open, prosperous and youthful" (Tony Judt)


  • believed this consumerism and materialism would bring even more selfishness and therefore would force the social class divisions further apart
  • they argued that not everyone was experiencing this new affluence, being excluded due to sex or race
  • I. MacDonald argues that the new consumer goods simply presented a "meltdown of communality" by the segregation of people due to "TVs, telephones, record players, waashing machines and home cookers".
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The consumer revolution:

Vivian Nicholson:

  • "Spend, spend, spend"
  • Coming from a working-class background where Vivian Nicholson struggled to make ends meet, she won £152 000 on the football pools in 1961
  • With the new consumer revolution prominent in the country Vivian vowed she would "spend, spend, spend"
  • She filled a new bungalow with all the latest gadgets and brought a new car "every six months"
  • Just four years later she had almost exhausted all of her winnings
  • Subsequently, her husband died at a tender age of 27 and the remaining money "went to the taxman"
  • After this Vivian got into trouble with the police, worked in a ***** club, was admitted to a mental home and attempted suicide
  • This example can support the pessimist's view that the consumer revolution had a negative effect on people's values
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The consumer revolution:

Scientific developments:

  • Wilson referred to it as the "white heat" of scientific progress-he created a seperate Ministry of Technology, making it clear that scientists were a pivotal part of the future for Britain
  • Kitchen items were introduced during this revolution including: refridgerators, washing machines, TV's, vacuum cleaners, phones and ready-made furniture units
  • Food and clothes also had a some-what revolution. All of these advancements had one thing in common, convenience and speed
  • The 1960s also saw the expansion of communications devices such as colour televisions and artificial satellites.
  • The Post Office Tower was opened in 1965
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The consumer revolution:

  • Colour television marked a distinct break between the old style Britain and the new technological age
  • By the end of 1969 the sale of colour television sets reached 200,000
  • The availibility of new and cheaper means of transport had a huge impact on British culture
  • By the end of the 1960s car ownership reached 11.5 million
  • The Mini car became iconic as it was small, efficient, fashionable and affordable
  • The expansion of passanger air travel led to huge change in leisure time and holidays
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The consumer revolution:

  • Medical advancements followed the demands of WW2 such as the polio-immunisation, penicillan and an increased knowledge of vitamins
  • With the growth of the National Health Service (NHS) these new medical advancements were able to be spread to the general population more effectively
  • As a result by the end of the decade people were living longer and healthier
  • The pill was a huge phenomenon that allowed women to control their own fertility. It changed attitudes, lifestyles, marriage, the family and female employment
  • Although this was a major advancement it did not have a profounf immediate effect: by 1970 only 19% of married couples and 9% of single women were using the pill
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The expansion of mass media:

Includes the growth of: television, newspapers, magazines, radio and billboards.

TV became common in houses, creating a shared identity among the nation. Politicians were seen on the TV and now a imperative part of being a good leader was the be able to present yourself on TV in a positive way.

Radio survived due to an increase in transistor and car radios. It broadcasted a mixture of serious news and light entertainment.


  • From 1950-196 television ownership expanded by almost 13,000,000
  • By 1971 91% of the population had a TV
  • Televisions became evermore popular and accounted for 23% of leisure time
  • It was both a cause and consequence of social change in the 60s
  • HUGH GREENE became the director of the BBC in 1960 and changes such as guidelines on nudity and swearing being revised and funds being directed at TV occured
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The expansion of mass media:

  • Pilkington's report meant that all ITV franchises had to broadcast a certain amount of serious listening, illustrating that although censorship wasn't as harsh, it was still there
  • In April, 1964, due to the quality programmes BBC1 was showing it was allowed to open a new channel, BBC2
  • The launch of the BBC2 channel was not as planned. There was a huge blackout due to a fire in Battersea. This meant the launch was a disaster. Denis Tuohy is remembered for "blowing out a candle" as a sign of recognition of the blackout and that gesture is still remembered today
  • The launch of BBC2 meant BBC1 could grow more popularist and it began showing more sport, beginning with the World Cup in 1966

Television shows in the 1960s:

  • That Was The Week That Was
  • Match of the Day
  • Ready Steady Go!
  • Coronation Street
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The expansion of mass media:


  • Before the 1960s radios were bulky and were enjoyed by the family in the evening
  • With small, lighter radios being created in the 60s it made a new use for them; being taken to the beach or to the privacy of a bedroom
  • Teenagers no longer had to listen to what they parents wanted to hear therefore radio stations began to target them, particularly with advertising, leading to a growth in young consumerism
  • There were no radio stations previously aimed at young people which resulted in "pirate stations" being created that played pop music aimed at the emerging youth culture- Radio Caroline was one
  • Although these stations acquired very loyal listeners the BBC and politicians argued that they weren't legitimate and could not play the music
  • Other than these stations the four BBC stations remained unchallenged until 1963 when a more commercial radio station was created-London's capital radio
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The expansion of mass media:

Changes in press and print:

  • Many newspapers, due to the vast expansion of TV ownership, were shut down in the 60s however it was not the end of print media
  • The newspapers that did survive became stronger and some are even still available now such as, The Sun, which was created in 1964
  • They stated from the beginning that they were "championing progressive ideas"
  • The Sun became known for its more permissive attitudes as it realised sensational stories about celebrities and politicians would sell more papers
  • This was illustrated in the PROFUMO AFFAIR where John Profumo was publically humiliated
  • New magazines also emerged reporting on clothes, music, teenage interests and satire-Private Eye was launched in 1961 which looked at The Establishment in an extremely satirical way
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The expansion of mass media:

  • New magazines emerged with new colours and layouts. They created new covers which were eye-catching and learned from the world of advertising

The spread of advertising:

  • The consumer society and growth in media led to an increase in advertising
  • Expenditure on retail advertising rose from £102 million a year in 1951 to £2.5 billion in 1978
  • Advertising leapt onto television screens which rode over radio advertising as the use of movement and colour was now available
  • Advertising led to the sales figures of regularly advertised products to leap in front of the less known competitors
  • J.B Priestley described the system as "admass"
  • Adverts were bright, eye-catching, usually contained jingles and snappy slogans such as "drinka pinta milka day"
  • They also used to contain attractive women to entice consumers into buying the product
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The expansion of mass media:

Summary question: How far did the developments in the mass media in the 1960s promote cultural change?

  • The main cultural change resulting from the growth in mass media was consumerism. This was developed through the increase in television ownership, which rose to 91% of homes. As a large percentage of the country owned a television, advertisers began to use it as a means of advertising to a mass audience. They could now use image, movement and colour to sell their product and the sale of well advertised products soon outstripped the less well-known ones. The expansion of radio in homes also led to more consumerism, particularly among the youth. Since they became more affordable young people would have their own radio therefore they could listen to whichever stations they wanted. Advertisers used this to target them as a key demographic.
  • Cultural changes in the views on nudity, sex and violence also changed due to the growth in mass media. With greater resistence the censorship laws changed allowing for more radical ideas to be discussed in the media which as a result began to change views of people on what was acceptable.
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The growth in leisure:

Reasons for the expansion of leisure time and leisure activities:

  • Shorter working hours
  • 99 out of 100 industrial companies increased their workers' paid leave to 2 weeks per annum
  • Rising incomes and improved living standards
  • Mass ownership of cars which permitted travel
  • Mass ownership of TV's which gave people ideas of how to spend leisure time
  • The spread of education and increased social mobility which increases aspirations
  • The growth of tourist companies, passenger aircraft and falling costs of overseas travel

In the home:

  • TV viewing, listening to music, reading magazines or books and DIY became popular leisure activited due to encouragement through television programmes such as Bucknell's House. There was continuity with some activities however, such as, knitting, cooking and needle-work
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The growth in leisure:

Outside the home:

  • Pubs and working men's clubs remained popular although there was a decline in attending the cinema and playing or watching outside games
  • Eating out and shopping became leisure activites that were not previously a prominent part of British leisure however with increased prosperity and an increase in living standards they became more popular
  • With the increase in car ownership caravanning, golf and sailing became more popular

Increased car ownership:

  • Car travel grew to 77% of journeys
  • The Mini car of 1959 was priced at under £500 which was affordable for reasonably paid workers
  • An increase in car ownership catapulted new designs and encouraged manufacturers to created smoother rides in cheaper cars
  • Cars were a sign of status and affluence
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The growth in leisure:

  • Some people saw the growth in cars as a way of demonstrating that the "owner was incapable of expressing personal attributes in the old ways, such as conversation" (Mark Garnett and Richard Weight)
  • Others believed that it "opened up new horizons" (a cornishman's recollection of the sixties)
  • Due to this increase in cars new roads were being built including: the M1, A1, M5 and M8


  • This growth led to a dramatic decrease of £104 million on the railways
  • Beechings recommended that: all branch lines were closed, 2, 359 local stations were shut, railway track was dismantled and 160,000 job losses
  • The car was a personal thing and like the growth in TV's it encouraged families to shun communal activities
  • Whilst car ownership caused pollution and traffic jams it also opened up new social and career possibilites and allowed escapism from the confines of the home
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The growth in leisure:

Mass tourism:

  • Between 1951 and 1971 the number of holidays increased by 14 million
  • British holidays were popular, especially due to the increase in cars as they could now be driven to with the family and luggage on board
  • Butlins was a popular resort until: reports of contaminated beaches appeared in the media and the young teenage market they appealed to vandalised and abused the resorts
  • Brittania Airways was founded in 1964 that allowed Britons to travel to areas such as Spain, the Canary islands and North Africa
  • The arrival of cheap package holidays coincided with an increase in leisure time and a booming economy, catalysing the new mass tourism culture
  • General Franco, the Spanish leader, strongly encouraged tourism as he sought the foreign currency. New towns and tourist areas were created resulting in 30% of all foreign holidays being taken in Spain
  • Although it appears that holidays were cheap being approximately £20 for 2 weeks, they were still mainly enjoyed by the middle class
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The growth in leisure:

The impact of mass tourism:

  • Britons did not instantly become "European" in outlook, many opting to stay where fish and chips were available
  • It did begin to inject some continental flavour into British tastes hwoever with wine becoming more popular. The annual wine consumption doubled in the 60s
  • Coffee began to infilterate British culture and lager became more widely drunk
  • Elizabeth David's "French Provincial Cooking" was widely brought and highly rated: she gained ideas for her book while living in France and by 1964, when all five of her books were published by penguin, many of the ingredients were more widely available
  • Immediate impacts were a lot less influential than the more fundamental cultural changes that were to happen later
  • For some the increase in mass tourism opened the mind and broadened horizons while for others it was the simple joy of doing nothing
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The growth in leisure:

Examination style questions:

(a) Explain why the nuber of holidays taken abroad increased during the 1960s. (12 marks)

(b) "During the 1960s, leisure activities became more private and individualistic". Explain why you agree or disagree with this statement. (24 marks)

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Anna Howarth


Really helpful 

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