Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The London Reading List No.46

Tuesday is great London books day on The Daily Constitutional. Give us your own recommendations at the usual email address

Recently we’ve been focusing on guide books here on The London Reading list – by which we mean books written  by London Walks guides. Click HERE and HERE to catch up.

This week’s guide book is a different affair altogether. Fifty one years old, and not the sort of thing you’d be able to grab at Foyles every day of the week, the official guide book for the Festival of Britain is a fabulously evocative piece of work.

It opens with photographic portraits of the Patrons of the Festival – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. And the whole thing is bookended with advertisements for the popular products of that austere age. Noteworthy is the full page for Heinz, which takes great pains to point out that “The British House of Heinz” had been established for 55 years, predating both world wars and presumably hoping to rid the name of any connotations linking it with our then recent foe – the Festival of Britain celebrated peace in our time, but the “P.R Disaster” still presented a clear and present danger in the world of cold economics.

The ad for No.7 cigarettes features a posh couple at the races, and suggests that glamour and riches are simply a puff away. All one needs do is change one’s brand of gasper.

The ad for Cow & Gate baby food states: “We all know a Royal Baby [capitals sic] is bound to be given the best that is obtainable.” Could they be referencing the birth of Princess Anne in August of the previous year?

The content of the guide maps out the South Bank location of the festival. The South Bank as we know it today was laid out to accommodate this “Tonic For The Nation”, a celebration for Londoners at a time when rationing and shortages, as well as bomb sites, still dominated London life.

The stated aim in the guide is “to bring to the British way of life some enrichment that will endure for long after the Festival year is over.” And indeed the Royal Festival Hall remains one of the capital’s finest concert halls. Not only that, but it is thanks to the Festival of Britain that we can enjoy the run of this part of our riverside.

The site of The Festival of Britain can be seen on the Somewhere Else London walk every Tuesday and Saturday

A copy of this highly collectible London book is on sale at The London Bookstore online


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