Preview: 1951 Festival of Britain documentary
BD brings you a preview of this weekend’s BBC 2 documentary tracking the story of the Festival of Britain
The 1951 Festival of Britain - A Brave New World
BBC 2, Saturday September 24th, 8.15pm
The film is made up of rarely seen colour archive film and interviews with some of the original designers and architects involved including James Gowan and Clifford Hatts, who at the time had just graduated from The Royal College of Art. Charles Plouviez tells of working alongside festival Director Hugh Casson and the writer Laurie Lee to produce “ a fantasy land”.
Historians Dominic Sandbrook and Barry Turner put the importance of the Festival of Britain in context: “This was a completely radical, new vision of what Britain could look like” says Sandbrook “It defines this as style, this is what style is going to be in the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties. This is what you have to aspire to”.
Barry Turner adds: “I think the Festival did change Britain. People now are beginning to realise that the fifties was far more innovative thanwe gave it credit it for at the time… looking back now you can see a lot of what happened in Britain in the sixties and seventies that had its origins in the Festival of Britain.”
BD columnist Jonathan Glancey agrees “The Festival of Britain really mattered to British design history because there was that moment of an explosion of real joy and pleasure in design after the Second World War.”
The film ends with a scene of the crowds on the Southbank jeering and booing the closure of the Festival in September 1951. The Labour party lost the election the following month and the Conservatives attempted to erase evidence of the Festival, with The Skylon and the Dome of Discovery - symbols of Britain’s bright new future - torn down.
If you watch the documentary this weekend, let us know your thoughts on it in the comments below. A full review by Oliver Wainwright will be posted on Bdonline on Monday.