Beacon For Change
The Festival of Britain 1951
Date of publication: May 2011
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd
As the 2012 Olympics sets about re-making a whole swathe of east London, Barry Turner's book marks the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, which did the same for London's South Bank after the war. Where the stupendous, Pharaonic construction site of the 2012 Olympics and its GBP9 bn budget is all in aid of a few weeks of running and cycle races, 60 years ago there was a far more ambitious cultural event. Centred on London's South Bank, which was cleared of its industry and Victorian architecture, the Festival of Britain sought not only to celebrate the best of Britishness but also to set new standards and paradigms for modern design, aesthetics and architecture.
With satellite festivals all over Britain, it attracted 8 million visitors in a year (the Millennium Dome managed only 5 million). The Royal Festival Hall was built, as well as the Dome of Discovery (then the largest unsupported roof in the world), and the long-lamented, Skylon (a futuristic aluminium pylon). The Scandinavian design we now take for granted with IKEA's furniture was a big influence in the Festival buildings' architecture.
As well as nostalgic appeal its story constitutes a kind of sequel to David Kynaston's Austerity Britain, as the Festival gave the British people permission to enjoy themselves and look forward at last to a future of modernity and prosperity.