I’m afraid Fifties month has spilled over into December. My excuse is that I’ve been too busy writing fiction about the Fifties to worry about the facts. I find it very difficult to concentrate on both at the same time. I haven’t quite managed to squeeze all my research into the novel (yet!) but that doesn’t matter as much during the first draft as getting into the Fifties spirit.
My main inspiration for writing a novel set in 1951 was the Festival of Britain, which took place in that year. In many ways it seemed to set the tone of the decade that immediately followed as well as laying the foundations for developments in the Sixties. From a fiction writer’s point of view it’s both good and bad to have an iconic setting like this for a story. Good because it lends itself to human dramas, bad because quite a lot is known about the reality of it so it’s easy to get something wrong.
The Festival was intended as a showcase for everything British and a sort of end point of wartime and post-war austerity, although by our standards now, much of that was still around. The main exhibition was at the South Bank in London, but there were also regional events and displays, and shows that travelled round the coastline on boats. The buildings at the South Bank were mostly temporary and were demolished at the end of the Festival, but there are plenty of photographs and film clips available to show what it all looked like. A big inspiration for me was seeing (at an exhibition at the V&A) a film clip of people dancing in the dark at the Festival. It is also possible even now to buy Festival of Britain programmes and other memorabilia.
I’ve found the following websites and books particularly helpful, and rather than summarise them here I will post the links so that anyone who is interested can have a look for themselves.
Barry Turner: Beacon for Change. How the 1951 Festival of Britain Shaped the Modern Age
Harriet Atkinson: The Festival of Britain. A Land and its People