Thursday, February 04, 2010

Post War Britain and All That.

I have written elsewhere about my new-found interest in post-war British history. I even followed up that post with one on baked beans on toast .
I finished David Kynaston’s book and went right to the computer to order from the library two books I wanted to fill in some gaps. I’m not sure if Family Britain could truly be called a History book: Kynaston has pulled together the strands of everyday life and wrapped them around the historical framework of postwar Britain. I had never even heard of Mass Observation, a giant undertaking which captured and preserved the views, opinions and everyday life of ordinary people in Britain. These people were the original bloggers and I was mesmerized by their accounts. Both Austerity Britain and Family Britain brought back so many memories for me—everything from politicians, radio shows, entertainers, the 11+ and the National Health Service. Some of the discussion about the latter could well be on current news programs.

Just after I finished these two volumes, around 1500 pages covering 1945-57 (the author is still writing the next), I saw a mention of Our Times by A.N. Wilson and I had it sent to our library from Michigan State. This is a history of 400 or so pages, covering 1953-2008. Much more succinct, you might say? No. Like Kynaston, A.N. Wilson flits hither and yon and pulls out various strands to examine. His is an upper-class microscope; his world is inhabited by people with names like Anthony Chenevix-Trench and Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, he decries a sermon delivered “in Croydon of all places”. He attributes the decline of the Church of England, at least in part, to the televising of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga on BBC in 1967. “So completely gripped was the nation by the unfolding drama week by week that many vicars and their congregations abandoned Evensong, never to revive it.”

Mr. Wilson has no sense of proportion. His description of the events leading up to and following the whole Profumo affair is detailed and well documented. I now know much more about it than the Suez Crisis. If he considers something interesting (Anthony Eden was the “the only male British Prime Minister known to have varnished his fingernails”), he includes it; if there is an opportunity for a purple patch, he embellishes it.

I’m not sure what I am learning from this book but, since my avowed purpose is to celebrate the absurd, let me quote a short passage. Mr. Wilson is writing of the home life of a Prime Minister who shall remain anonymous in this post:

At Birch Grove, the **********’s country house, the police patrolled the gardens by night before the visit of General de Gaulle, and were disturbed to note a light bobbing about outside the house. They were surprised to find the Prime Minister’s wife, wearing only a slip and gumboots, a miner’s lamp on her forehead and two hot-water bottles strapped to her ample midriff—“I got a bit behind with the bedding out*”.
Rule Britannia.


1 comment:

Florence said...

I read Austerity Britain last year and learned so much from it.