From Austerity to Affluence: The Whitsun Weddings
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In the ten-year interval between The Less Deceived (1955) and The Whitsun Weddings (1964), the social and economic circumstances of post-war Britain had altered significantly. By the mid 1950s, the rationing of most major foodstuffs had ended, new employment opportunities were created, export targets were achieved and credit was available for the purchase of ‘consumer durables’: refrigerators, washing machines and television sets. By 1961 commercial television had reached the homes of eighty per cent of the population. Advertising became, in itself, a major new growth industry. A massive building programme was set up in response to new demands for housing and ‘a home of one’s own’ became a realistic aspiration for many people. Some areas remained untouched by the economic boom, but the country was generally seen to be emerging from austerity. 1957 is often thought to be the first year of the new affluence; it was in this year that Harold Macmillan told the people of Britain that they had ‘never had it so good’, a phrase that was much in evidence in his election campaign two years later. The Affluent Society was the title of a book by Professor J.K. Galbraith, first published in 1958, and in keeping with Galbraith’s thesis the term came to be associated with the uncaring materialism of the United States and with fears of a similar society being created in Britain.
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