You've Never Had It So Good! Britain 1945 - 1970 - Lecture Programme

1. Austerity and Welfare 1945 - 1951

We will begin by discussing the state of Britain in 1945 both at home and abroad as it faced the challenges of post-war reconstruction. Already, during the war, important innovations, such as the Beveridge Report of 1942 and the Education Act of 1944, signalled the desire for reform and change across many sections of British society. This resulted in the landslide Labour victory of July 1945. Labour then instituted a radical programme of nationalisation in transport and heavy industry as well as the creation of a free National Health Service. Britain's desperate economic situation, however, forced the government to continue with rationing and controls throughout the late-1940s.

2. You've Never had it So Good! 1951 - 1970 (ish)

The 1950s and early 1960s would be dominated, politically, by the Conservative Party, with Churchill giving way to Anthony Eden in 1955, who was himself succeeded by Harold Macmillan in 1957 and Alec Douglas-Hume in 1963. Macmillan coined two phrases during his premiership which encapsulate this period. On the home front, he told the British people that they had 'never had it so good!' This was, for many, a true statement. The 1950s was a time of full employment, more people than ever bought their own home and ran a car. Rationing was phased out by 1954 and the end of the decade saw the development of the 'package holiday' which allowed many people to travel abroad for the first time. In the home, labour-saving devices from electric irons to washing machines transformed lives.

3. Farewell the Trumpets! The End of Empire

On the international front, Macmillan stated in 1960 that a 'wind of change' was blowing through Africa, signalling the end of colonial rule by European powers and a move towards independence. An important aspect of this day will be to examine Britain's changing role in the world, both in terms of 'end of Empire' and Britain's role in NATO and the relationship with the USA as the Cold War developed.

4. Did the Sixties Swing for You?

Whilst there might be continuing anxieties about nuclear weapons and the decline of British power, in other respects the British changed in more subtle ways during this period. The 1950s witnessed the rise of the 'teenager', a process encouraged by the fashion and popular music industries. Young people had more freedom and more money to spend than ever before and the ten-years between 1955 and 1965 witnessed the development of a distinct youth culture - from Teddy Boys and Rock n Roll to Mods and Rockers and then the Beatles - which demonstrated that the generation which came of age after 1955 often wanted a very different society from that of their parents.

Our course ends around 1970. Winston Churchill's death in 1965 seemed to symbolize the passing of an old order. The previous year Harold Wilson and the Labour Party had won the general election after thirteen years of Conservative government. Wilson's government was progressive and reforming, abolishing the death penalty, decriminalising homosexuality and, apparently, welcoming the 'permissive society.' There was CND and protests against the American war in Vietnam and, from 1968, the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland. The extent to which the 'swinging sixties' fundamentally changed British society is a debatable point, what is beyond doubt is that during these twenty to thirty years, to quote Bob Dylan, 'the times, they are a-changin!'

Andrew Lacey has spent more than 26 years teaching history in Adult Education and is a tutor in continuing education at both Cambridge and Oxford. He holds a PhD from Leicester for work on Charles I.

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March 2020

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