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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Feeding the nation

Making the most of our land to feed our nation has been the critical focus of policymakers for decades…

Outset Publishing

During the Second World War years there was a critical need for Britain to find ways to be self-sufficient in terms of food. With enemy blockades around our shores many of the goods that were usually imported were unable to reach us. By January 1941 the usual food supply coming from overseas had fallen by half. The Lend Lease system helped, with food arriving from the US and Canada. Nevertheless it was still necessary to introduce food rationing. Advice centres were set up throughout the country showing people how to make the best of the little that was available. With the scarcity of imported wheat, bread became more of a luxury, with ‘Potato Pete’ encouraging people to eat more potatoes, a foodstuff that could be locally grown.

‘Potato Pete’ and ‘Doctor Carrot’ were characters introduced to encourage the population to eat home grown vegetables.

Home-grown carrots were also in…

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More than housework

During the Second World War women discovered a life outside the home – new horizons they were keen to keep exploring during the post-war years…

Outset Publishing

With most men of working age being called up to fight during the Second World War there were numerous industries that found themselves in desperate need of people to fill the vacancies. As a result women stepped out of the home into the workplace.

Of course, prior to 1939, some women had taken up employment, but the majority had seen their role as homemaker and parent as being their over-riding responsibility. Pre-war generations of men had grown up believing that it was their duty to be the sole bread-winner and many were strictly against the idea of their wives working. But the war changed all that. After all, men were no longer there to comment and no longer there to provide.

Many women joined the armed forces, working as mechanics or engineers but they also took on jobs to support the war, such as munitions workers, air raid wardens, bus…

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A life-saving miracle

The discovery of penicillin – modern day miracle or lucky accident…?

Outset Publishing

It’s hard to imagine a world without the life-saving antibiotic, penicillin. Yet, it was only around a hundred years ago that Alexander Fleming first realised its importance. During the First World War Fleming realised the use of antiseptics was not preventing infections, particularly in deep wounds. And it was a lucky accident in 1928 that led him to discover something that would change healthcare forever more.

Fleming had been on holiday in Suffolk. He had left some petri dishes containing a culture in a corner of his laboratory. On his return, Fleming noticed that one culture was contaminated with a fungus, and that this fungus was destroying the cultures it was in contact with.  He identified this mould as Penicillium. 

Sir Alexander Fleming

Fleming was quoted as saying:

One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928…

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Healthcare for all

Incredible to think that this July we will be celebrating 74 years since the creation of our amazing NHS!

Outset Publishing

On 5th July 1948 the British National Health Service was born. The NHS is such an intrinsic part of our country that it is difficult to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. But it’s also fascinating to note the timing of its creation. Britain was coming out of the other side of six years of war. Six years when the political focus was on protecting our country from invasion. And yet, it was during those six years that the report leading to the creation of one of Britain’s greatest institutions was published.

In 1941, civil servant, William Beveridge, was asked to chair a committee to look at the ways Britain should be rebuilt after the war, looking more specifically at existing social insurance and allied services. As a result the report, entitled Social Insurance and Allied Services, was presented to Parliament and published in November 1942.

The title…

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The voice of the people

Hearing authentic voices from the past is the next best thing to time travel!

Outset Publishing

If you are fascinated by social history, as am I, then having a chance to listen to people’s voices from past decades is more than enlightening – it’s inspiring. Such must have been the thinking behind a social research project, initiated in 1937, called the Mass Observation Project.

Three former students from Cambridge University – Charles Madge (poet); Tom Harrisson (anthropologist) and Humphrey Jennings (filmmaker) collaborated with others, including artists, photographers and journalists, in an attempt to “systematically… record human activity”.

At first they collected anecdotes and overheard comments, supplementing these with “man-in-the-street” interviews. But then, in 1939, they invited members of the public to record and send them a day-to-day account of their lives in the form of a diary. Some 480 people responded, offering diary entries that varied in style, content and length.

The concept proved useful during the Second World War when Mass Observation, on occasion, helped…

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Reaching for the sky

Learning about the bravery of all the people who fight for freedom – then and now – is quite awe inspiring..

Outset Publishing

Squadron Leader N G Pedley, the CO of No. 131 Squadron RAF, about to set out on a sweep in his Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB from Merston, a satellite airfield of Tangmere in Sussex, June 1942.

If you love watching old movies, you may well have seen that classic biopic about the incredible wartime exploits of fighter pilot, Douglas Bader. This 1956 film, entitled, Reach for the Sky, tells the story of how Bader, played by the wonderful Kenneth Moore, managed to succeed as a World War Two flying ace, despite being a double amputee.

Douglas Bader joined the RAF in 1928 and in 1931 he lost both legs after attempting some daredevil aerobatics. Bader almost died, nevertheless he survived and went on to retake his flight training. But it was only when war declared in 1939 that Bader was accepted as a pilot.

He went on to score victories…

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Keeping the spirits up

The wonders of music – where would be without it?!

Outset Publishing

Much has been said about the extent to which music lifts the spirits. It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said:

‘Without music, life would be a mistake’

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

And I for one wholeheartedly agree! So, seeing this picture of a group of women carpenters from World War 2 using saws and other implements as musical instruments during an impromptu lunchtime concert in their workshop really made me smile!

Home Front: A group of women carpenters use saws and other implements as musical instruments during an impromptu lunchtime concert in their workshop.

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Licence? What licence?!

When passing your driving test took on a whole other meaning!

Outset Publishing

When young men joined the armed forces at the beginning of World War 2 there were fewer than three million cars on British roads – compared with some forty million today!

By the 1930s horse-drawn vehicles had given way to the motor car. Motor cars now offered their drivers the chance to speed, resulting in an increasing backlog of court cases for speeding offences waiting to be heard. As a result in 1930 the 20mph limit was withdrawn.

But it was only in 1934 that drivers had to take a test before they could acquire a driving licence. Before that anyone could drive any vehicle, even if they had no experience of sitting behind a wheel. And as the majority of young men going off to war would have had little or no money to buy a car it meant that when our brave soldiers joined the front line driving…

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