Brave new world

In the 1950s, Bri­tain saw a rev­o­lu­tion in de­sign. Philippa Stock­ley looks at the decade that made Bri­tain mod­ern

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

At this time of post-ref­er­en­dum un­cer­tainty, a spir­ited ex­hi­bi­tion that demon­strates Bri­tish daz­zling post­war cre­ativ­ity, en­hanced by the in­put of tal­ented for­eign­ers, is timely. ‘Bri­tain in the Fifties’, at the War­wick­shire coun­try­house art gallery Compton Ver­ney, colour­fully demon­strates how, in the decade after the Sec­ond World War, Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ers and de­sign­ers pulled to­gether to cre­ate a fresh spirit of vi­brancy, moder­nity and in­ter­na­tion­al­ism that was in­flu­en­tial at home and abroad.

this new Bri­tish de­sign was first show­cased at the ground­break­ing 1951 Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain, the orig­i­nal poster de­sign and early pen­cil sketches for which are on dis­play.

Many things we take for granted today were de­vel­oped then, with the stream­lined de­signs, dis­tinc­tive shapes and colour com­bi­na­tions that changed our aes­thetic no­tions of de­sir­able form. think of Er­col’s range of beech chairs and ta­bles or Robert Welch’s still ubiq­ui­tous steel cut­lery and iconic 1956 toast rack (a special edi­tion is on sale).

tele­vi­sion sets went main­stream in the 1950s. More than half the pop­u­la­tion watched the Queen’s Corona­tion in 1953, ITV launched in 1955 and, by 1959, there were 10 mil­lion sets in Bri­tain. this made us a more visual na­tion; we saw things and wanted them. By 1956, 86% of the pop­u­la­tion was con­nected to the Na­tional Grid, so stylish new elec­tri­cal kitchen ap­pli­ances pro­lif­er­ated. Elec­tric cook­ers, dis­tinc­tively shaped Ken­wood food mix­ers, curvy re­frig­er­a­tors and Hoovers: those then fu­tur­is­tic shapes are back, as ‘retro’ ones, today. the decade saw an ex­plo­sion of im­por­tant de­sign clas­sics, among them the Routemas­ter bus (not on show) and Sir Alec Is­sigo­nis’s Mini (on show).

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