Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 12

The Embrace of the Modern and the Decline of Christian Britain

I. What do the London Olympics of 1948, the Festival of Britain, and the Coronation of Elizabeth II reveal about the state of the British nation and its attitude toward modernity in the decade following the Second World War?
II. Did the twentieth century see the ‘death of Christian Britain’? If so, when and why did this take place?
III. Did becoming an ‘affluent society’ bring the nation together?

• Watch clips of coverage of the Olympics, the Festival of Britain and the Coronation, which you can find on YouTube.
• For an introduction to the period’s relationship with national identity: Richard Weight, Patriots: chapters 3-5.
• For an introduction to post-1945 Britain: A. Marwick, British Society since 1945. See especially chapter 9 ‘The End of Victorianism’. For a comparative perspective and for the idea of a ‘cultural revolution’ see also his: The Sixties (1998).
• For a picture of a harmonious society exhibiting ‘moral unity’ at the start of the 1950s: E. Shils & M. Young, ‘The Meaning of the Coronation’, Sociological Review (1953). And for a critique of this: N. Birnbaum, ‘Monarchs and Sociologists’, Sociological Review 3 (1955); A. Olechnowicz, ‘Britain’s Quasi-Magical Monarchy in the Mid-Twentieth Century’, in C. Griffiths, J. Nott and W. Whyte (eds.), Classes, Cultures and Politics.
• Assessing the post-war decade as a ‘moment of modernity’, symbolised by the 1951 Festival of Britain: B.Connekin, F. Mort & C. Waters (eds.) Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain 1945-1964 (1999). Also on the Festival: M. Frayn, in P. French & M. Sissons (eds.), The Age of Austerity (1963).
• On the ‘affluent society’: Lawrence Black and Hugh Pemberton (eds.), An Affluent Society? Britain’s Post-War ‘Golden Age’ Revisited (2004); Mark Jarvis, Conservative Governments, Morality and Social Change in Affluent Britain, 1957-64 (2005); Selina Todd, ‘Affluence, Class and Crown Street: Reinvestigating the Post-War Working Class’, Contemporary British History, 22 (2008), 501-18.
• On the end of gentlemanly culture: Marcus Collins, ‘The Fall of the English Gentleman: the National Character in Decline, c. 1918-1970’, Historical Research, 75 (2002), 90-111.
• On the challenges to the ‘common culture’: R. Hewison, Culture and Consensus: England, Art and Politics since 1940 (1995); A. Aldgate, ‘Alfie’, History Today, 40, 10 (1996), 50-4.
• For a less positive view of the changes to working-class culture: R. Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1957); Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2001).
• On the emergence of a distinct youth culture: Bill Osgerby, Youth in Britain since 1945 (1997); Bill Osgerby, 'From the Roaring Twenties to the Swinging Sixties: Continuity and Change in British Youth Culture, 1929-59', in B. Brivati & H. Jones (eds.), What Difference did the War Make? (1995); Peter Bailey, 'Jazz at the Spirella: Coming of Age in Coventry in the 1950s', in B. Connekin, F, Mort & C. Waters (eds.), Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945-1964 (1999), 22-40; L. Heron (ed.), Truth, Dare or Promise? Girls Growing up in the Fifties (1985); Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1957).
• On the deepening culture of consumption: John Benson, The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980 (1994); Frank Mort, 'The Commercial Domain: Advertising and the Cultural Managements of Demand', in B. Connekin, F, Mort & C. Waters (eds.), Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945-1964 (1999), pp. 55-75. Also useful: Paul Johnson (ed.), 20th Century Britain: chapter 1 Introduction; chapter 14 'The New Consumerism'; chapter 17 'Austerity and Boom'; & chapter 18 'The Golden Age, 1955-73'. On class within the affluent society see the relevant sections in D. Cannadine, Class in Britain.
• On secularisation: J. Wolfe, ‘Religion and Secularization’ (chapter 24) in P. Johnson (ed.), 20th Century Britain; C. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain; A. Hastings, A History of English Christianity, 1920-1985 (1986); Callum Brown, ‘Sex, Religion and the Single Woman, c. 1950-1975: The Importance of a Short Sexual Revolution to the Religious Crisis of the Sixties’, 20th Century British History, 22 (2011), 189-215; Simon Green, The Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change, c. 1920-1960 (2011); Hugh Mcleod, The Religious Crisis of the 1960s (2007).