When will the snow melt?!

The terrible British winter of 1947 brought devastation to much of the country with far-reaching consequences…

Outset Publishing

Nowadays we are familiar with severe weather events – climate change has altered our seasons resulting in populations across the world experiencing forest fires, floods and droughts. But back in 1940s Britain such dramatic weather was unexpected. What’s more, there was little in the way of weather forecasting available for the average family – certainly not the extensive weather maps we see on our television screens nowadays.

And so, on 23rd January 1947, when heavy snow began to fall, with massive snowdrifts blocking roads and railways and causing problems with the transportation of coal to the electric power stations, families across Britain experienced harsh changes which affected every part of their daily life. It was the start of Britain’s most severe and protracted spell of bad weather during the twentieth century.

Winter 1947, snowbound bus, Castle Hill, Huddersfield. This was one of three single deck buses stranded for several weeks…

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What a show!

No surprise that people’s desire for escapism was as fervent as ever when the Second World War ended – theatres across Britain were packed out!

Outset Publishing

Perhaps it was the darkness of the war years that drew people to the lightness and creativity of British theatre. Although what some have called a period of ‘modernism’ started years before the 1940s – in fact, elements of modernist approaches to art, design and theatre can be traced to the period between the two world wars. The people of 1930s Britain experienced terrible hardship, with soaring unemployment and poverty. Yet a group known as The Workers’ Theatre Movement – founded in 1926 – was driven by a belief in the transformative potential of theatre. By 1936 it was integral to the establishment of the Unity Theatre, a group that staged plays on social and political issues to growing audiences. The Unity Theatre stated its aims as:

‘To foster and further the art of drama in accordance with the principle that true art, by effectively presenting and truthfully interpreting life…

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Dreaming of the ‘mother country’

Many of the passengers who arrived on the Empire Windrush in 1948 struggled with the realities of life in Britain…

Outset Publishing

In June 1948 the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury Docks bringing hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean who were hoping for a new life in Britain. During the Second World War, thousands of Caribbean men and women had been recruited to serve in the armed forces. Some had been to England during the war years and then returned home, only to find there was no work for them. So, when the Windrush stopped in Jamaica to pick up servicemen who were on leave from their units, many of their former comrades decided to make the trip, some wanting to rejoin the RAF, others keen to discover ‘the mother country’ they had heard so much about.

One man reported that he had to sell three cows to get the money together for the fare – £28 and ten shillings – before embarking on a journey of more than twenty days –…

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What’s in the charts?

The big band sound of Glenn Miller, smooth singer, Bing Crosby, and jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald delighted listeners in the 1940s and then rhythm and blues really took off!

Outset Publishing

The 1940s brought many much-loved ‘crooners’ into the homes of millions, via gramophone records and via the wireless. Families put their 78rpm vinyl record on their turntable, or tuned in to the BBC Light Programme to listen to the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como.

Amazing to think that Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (recorded in 1942) still tops the charts of favourite Christmas songs, some seventy-five years on – having sold more than fifty million copies worldwide.

Of course, once the BBC Forces Programme came on air at the start of the war, Vera Lynn charmed listeners with her sentimental and uplifting songs.

The early part of the decade saw the popularity of the Big Band sound, led by the artists such as the wonderful Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman, who accompanied crowds in the dance halls. But towards the end of the decade the sound of…

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Serving our country

The period of British National Service was a penance for some young men, but for others it meant the chance for friendships that would last a lifetime…

Outset Publishing

When the Second World War ended it didn’t mean the end to all hostilities. Britain still had a commitment to provide military support in Germany, Palestine and India. Opponents struggled with the idea that young men, just returning from six long years of a terrible war, should be called on to serve once more. And so when Clement Atlee’s Labour government presented the National Service Act to Parliament in 1947 it took some persuading to get it through.

However, despite the political disagreements, the Act came into force in January 1949, requiring all physically fit males between the ages of 17 and 21 to join and serve in one of the armed forces for an eighteen-month period.  National Service did not extend to women.

National Service government poster

Once the eighteen months were complete the men would remain on the reserve list for another four years, during which time they might…

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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…


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…


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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