Off to the flicks!

Cinema-goers of the 1940s were so lucky, with a host of amazing films that are still among the most loved of all time!

Outset Publishing

The 1940s were a golden time for cinema, with some of today’s most loved films and revered actors emanating from that decade. Just look at this for a snapshot of what 1940s cinema goers could choose to see…

  • Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchock, starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier and receiving an Oscar for best picture (1940)
  • The Philadelphia Story, directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart (1940)
  • The Grapes of Wrath, directed by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda (1940)

The Grapes of Wrath film poster, 1940

  • Citizen Kane, directed by and starring Orson Welles (1941)
  • Gone with the Wind, went into general release, starring Clark Gable and Vivienne Leigh – still one of the highest grossing film in history (1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart (1941)
  • Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman premieres in New York (1942)
  • For…

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Listen while you work

Whether it was for music, drama or news broadcasts, the wireless radio provided a vital backdrop to 1940s family life in Britain…

Outset Publishing

In 1940s Britain the wireless was one of the key sources of home entertainment and news. Since the 1920s – when the first musical broadcast was aired from the Marconi Research Centre in Chelmsford – the wireless radio provided the backdrop to family life. Once the BBC received its Royal Charter in 1926, becoming the first national broadcaster in the world, households got used to turning on their wireless to be entertained, as well as to be informed.

Radio Times advert for Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co 1923

Back in 1940 the BBC Home Service provided a wide range of programmes, everything from classical music, short stories and drama, schools programmes, comedy and sport. It was on the Home Service that the nation heard King George VI announcing the start of the Second World War, and throughout the war years wireless radio provided a vital link for families divided from their…

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Hooligan, vandal or just plain bored?

No longer children and not yet adults – perhaps this was the dilemma for the youth of the 1940s that led them to problem behaviour?

Outset Publishing

Before we look at what youngsters were getting up to during the 1940s let’s consider some of terminology that we are so familiar with today – words that we tend to associate with young people…

Hooligan

Origin late 19th century, first found in British newspaper police-court reports in the summer of 1898, almost certainly from the variant form of the Irish surnameHoulihan, which figured as a characteristic comic Irish name in music hall songs and newspapers of the 1880s and ’90s.

Oxford English Dictionary

What about ‘vandal’? Well, that goes way back to the fourth or fifth century…

Vandal

A member of a Germanic people who ravaged Gaul, Spain, Rome and North Africa and more recently (since mid 17th century) a person who deliberately destroys or damages public or private property.

Oxford English Dictonary

In their original form neither term seems to refer exclusively to young people and…

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Books that shaped a decade

So many of the books published in the 1940s remain on the bestsellers’ lists today – here’s a selection of titles that helped to shape a decade…

Outset Publishing

For the first half of the 1940s Britain was in the grip of war, followed, once the war ended, by years of austerity and hardship. So what about reading habits during those years? Was there still an attraction in the escapism offered by a good book? It seems the answer was ‘Yes’. Despite paper rationing, labour shortages and even the difficulties of censorship, people were still keen to read. Here is a snapshot of ten books published during the 1940s that – according to Goodreads – helped to shape that decade.

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  • For the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • A Tree…

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A victory for the workers

Labour’s landslide victory of 1945 gave them the challenge of rebuilding Britain with all the problems that six years of war had created…

Outset Publishing

When Britain entered the Second World War in September 1939 the country was governed by a National Government, a coalition of all the political parties, as well as a number of individuals who belonged to none of the parties. Conservative politician, Neville Chamberlain, was Prime Minister but by spring 1940 he bowed to pressure to resign, with another all-party coalition taking centre stage, led by Conservative, Winston Churchill.

Churchill famously led the country in defeating Germany but just as the war was ending the war-time coalition broke up, with Labour leaving the coalition, sparking the election of July 1945. After Churchill’s successes in rallying the country behind Britain’s fighting forces many believed another win for the Conservatives was a foregone conclusion. Instead it was Labour who won a landslide victory, led by Clement Atlee.

Clement Atlee with King George VI

The magnitude of the loss was historic. The Labour Party…

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A ticket to ride

Our British railway network has provided a vital lifeline since the charming days of steam trains through to the busy commuter world we have today…

Outset Publishing

Ever since the first steam locomotives of the early 19th century, the UK railway network benefitted from extensive expansion. By 1923 most of the railways were grouped together to form the ‘Big Four’ – namely, the Great Western, the London and North Eastern, the London, Midland and Scottish, and the Southern Railway companies. Other smaller companies operated, such as the Somerset and Dorset, and the Midland and Great Northern, but it was the Big Four that were public companies, eventually becoming part of ‘British Railways’ when nationalisation took place on 1 January 1948.

During the Second World War the railways played a key role. It made sense that railway workers were a ‘restricted occupation’ and not required to join up. They were more than busy ferrying vital military supplies and personnel, and supporting the evacuation of children from bombed out cities.

A group of children arrive at Brent station near…

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The air we breathe

Pollution and weather conditions combined to create the London Great Smog of 1952 – perhaps a forewarning of what was to come…

Outset Publishing

When we think of city smog, we might think of the days when the new Victorian factories choked city air with thick smoke. Many times during the 1800s in the East End of London, in particular, it was barely possible to see from one side of the street to the other. It was hard to breathe and people died from the damage the polluted air caused to their lungs.

The two large steam coaches are named “The Infernal Defiance — From Yarmouth to London” and “The Dreadful Vengeance — Colchester, London”. On the rear of the coach in front is a banner proclaiming “Warranted free from Damp”, the small delivery wagon has “Bread served Hot” on its side, and the service station proclaims “Coals Sold Here: only 4s. 6d. per Pound(?)” As documented in Paul Johnson’s book The Birth of the Modern, the early British railroad companies used their…

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75 years of gardening know-how!

Celebrate 75 years of BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time today, recalling a time back in 1947 when food rationing meant that vegetables were centre stage!

Outset Publishing

If you tune in to BBC Radio 4 this afternoon at 3pm you will have the chance to listen to a panel of experts answering gardening questions as diverse as whether it’s possible to plant a tea plant in the UK from which to make a cuppa, through to tips on how to let off steam in the garden, including giving a good stir to the compost bin!

There isn’t much these gardening experts don’t know about plants, with today seeing 75 years of the programme we know now as ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’.

Anyone tuning into the BBC Home Service on 9th April 1947 would have enjoyed the very first episode, originally called ‘How does your garden grow?’. The programme was inspired by the wartime, ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, which encouraged families across Britain to dig up their flower borders and lawns, replacing them with vegetable patches.

Shortly after the…

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More than a day out

Imagine a time when just one week’s holiday a year was considered a treat, with many British workers never managing more than a day trip to the seaside…

Outset Publishing

Nowadays, for many people, an annual holiday – or even several annual holidays – are not just welcomed, they are accepted as the norm. Indeed, when the Covid pandemic meant that we were restricted to our home territory, at times even to our home town, then we felt hard done by. On the top of many people’s wish list was to ‘go on holiday’ as soon as travel restrictions were lifted.

But it wasn’t so very long ago that the whole concept of ‘going on holiday’ was a luxury available only to the wealthier groups in our society. Anyone who has lived close to any part of the British coastline will be familiar with day-trippers and the times of year when a quiet resort in winter can explode during summer months. Queues for fish and chip shops, candy floss stalls and amusement arcades – not to mention parking spaces –…

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A newcomer in the family

Not so long ago most households in Britain didn’t even have one television and for those who could afford one it would be black and white only!

Outset Publishing

From the 1920s onwards the wireless set provided an increasing number of families with an opportunity to listen to music, drama and news broadcasts. Around half of the British population were able to settle down in the evening and enjoy a musical variety show, a comedy, or a play, while reading the paper, or doing the mending. It had become a way of life.

Then, during 1926/27 John Logie Baird showed it was possible to transmit pictures over telephone lines, first from London to Glasgow, then in 1928 across the Atlantic to America. As a result of further experiments it was in 1930 that the first British television broadcast was shown – Pirandello’s The Man with a Flower in his Mouth. It was some six years later that the BBC began showing regular broadcasts.

Cover of The Radio Times Magazine; the first issue with television listings.

When news spread that…

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