From the birth of ‘Top of the Pops’, to Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, the 1950s were a decade of change and progress in many areas of life. People were trying to recover from the devastating effects of World War II and life in the UK was characterised by a time of rebuilding and prosperity as our society was eager to return to a sense of normalcy.
In this blog post, we will explore what life was like for people living in the 1950s, including their living conditions, notable events, and popular culture.
In the 1950s, living conditions in the UK were vastly different from today, and the standard of living for most people was improving in comparison to the standard of living during wartime. Many people were moving from rural areas to urban areas to find work in factories and offices.
Most homes were modestly furnished with basic amenities, such as a coal-fired range for heating and cooking, a single shared bathroom, and much like in the 40s, an outdoor toilet. Running water and electricity were available but not universal, and many families lived in cramped conditions, with several generations sharing one or two rooms.
Housing was also in short supply, but as the decade progressed, the government implemented policies to improve living conditions. The post-war years saw a boom in home construction and suburban development, and many families had access to improved housing, sanitation, and healthcare, and the quality of life improved significantly.
Notable events of the 50s
The 1950s were marked by many significant events that shaped the world we live in today. The decade also saw a wave of social change, including the beginning of the civil rights movement.
The Korean War, which began in 1950, dominated the news headlines and was a significant conflict that pitted the United States and its allies against communist forces led by China and the Soviet Union.
Her Majesty’s Coronation – June 1953
Her Majesty was crowned Queen at the age of 25 on June 2, 1953, at Westminster Abbey, which is the traditional setting for coronations since 1066. The news was broken whilst she was on holiday in Kenya, becoming the first Sovereign in over 200 years to accede while abroad.
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth was the first to be televised and was watched by over 20 million people (about the population of New York) in the UK alone. The ceremony was attended by 8,251 guests who represented 129 nations and territories.
Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation is an example of how the 1950s was a period that saw the beginning of a change in society. From here on, memorable events covered worldwide were televised and meant that the world was now connected.
In 1955, there was a change in leadership in the UK, with Winston Churchill resigning due to ill health, and Anthony Eden taking over as Prime Minister. The same year saw the birth of television advertising with ITV becoming the first commercial channel available. A Gibbs SR toothpaste commercial ran on September 22, 1955, the same day as the inauguration of the ITV broadcast and was the first of its kind in the UK.
Worldwide, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. This event marked the beginning of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
1958 was the year of the Munich air disaster, where 22 out of 40 people on board BEA Flight 609 died at take-off from Munich airport. Those killed included eight members of Manchester United’s football team who were nicknamed ‘the Busby Babes’.
Other notable events in the 1950s included:
- 1953 – Ian Fleming published the first James Bond book, Casino Royale.
- 1953 – Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ever ascent of Everest
- 1954 – The end of food rationing following WWII.
- 1956 – the Suez Crisis in 1956.
- 1958 – the founding of the National Health Service.
The 1950s were a time of cultural change and innovation. The rise of television brought new forms of entertainment into people’s homes, and many families spent their evenings watching shows like the BBC’s ‘The Grove Family,’ a drama series about a working-class family in London.
Other popular shows included the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” which began airing in 1954, showcasing the top chart hits of the week which emerged as one of the UK most beloved TV show of the next few decades.
Rock and roll music, led by Elvis Presley, exploded onto the scene in the mid-1950s, and teenagers embraced the new sound and style. The 1950s saw the rise of rock and roll with artists like Bill Haley and the Comets with ‘Rock Around the Clock’ dominating the airwaves. Other popular genres included jazz, swing, and crooning – a smooth style made possible by advancement in microphones which picked up quieter sounds and a wider range of frequencies.
Fashion also underwent a transformation in the 1950s. Women’s clothing became more form-fitting, and the hourglass figure was in vogue. Men’s clothing became more casual, with the adoption of the “preppy” style.
Named the “Teddy Boys” style for boys, it featured coloured velvet collars and cuffs, trousers that were so tight they couldn’t sit down in them, belts on the back of their jackets, and long narrow ties like bootlaces. For girls: petticoats, poodle skirts, bobby sox, saddle shoes, and ponytails was the style of the time.
In conclusion, life in the 1950s was a time of change and progress. The standard of living for many people improved, but there were still significant disparities in living conditions. The decade was marked by significant events that shaped the world we live in today; the emergence of television as an information source and entertainment medium helped form cultures and stereotypes, for better or for worse.
Learning about the disparities in people’s lives is something we love about what we do at My Story Told. Creating a biography is a great way to capture your life and remember them in your own words.
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