I was surprised last week when there was very little mention of the Festival of Britain on its 60th anniversary as it was huge event to those of us alive in those days!

It was opened by King George v1 and Clem. Atlee (Labour PM) on 5/5/1951 on the South Bank of the Thames and seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the austere period after the war.

It was built to commemorate the centenary of the Festival of 1851.

Herbert Morrison the FO minister was one of its most enthusiastic patrons though he faced much criticism from the right wing media about the expense and accusing him of neglecting his duties at the FO, however the doom mongers were proved wrong as the Festival was a great success and lifted the spirits and confidence of the nation.

The Festival in London was only part of it, the event was celebrated in many ways throughout the nation with pageants, parties, commemorative buildings, new projects etc.

In my home town of Nottingham I remember sports days, a new inn was named the Festival Inn and I was in  a three day celebration on Wollaton Park.

Grandad R saw a notice announcing auditions for a Festival ballet to be held in the September of that year and suggested I try for it. I was lucky enough to be chosen and spent a very happy summer rehearsing for it. Our rehearsals were held at the Plaisance Yacht club (loaned by the Player family) on the banks of the river Trent.

The ballet was staged in the Wollaton Park grounds beside the lake. I don’t remember all the dances but I do remember one bit was from Swan Lake and as we danced huge model swans glided across the lake. Another, for the whole company, was the Ritual fire dance. It finished with a parade where we all carried lanterns, which was apparently quite spectacular in the dark evening light. As a thank you for our efforts we were given a splendid party on the last night and each presented with a new pair of ballet shoes!

My brother’s school arranged an outing to London to see the Exhibition but my school didn’t, so my mother took me to visit my aunt and her family and we went from there.

one of the most memorable things was the Dome of Discovery, this was a smaller version of the Greenwich Dome. Inside it was quite dark but all the stands were lit up, these were British discoveries in Science and Technology, modern machinery, Polar expeditions and all things British.

The Skylon was a 300′  eliptical installation made of silver metal and was suppose to represent optimism in the future. At  night it was lit up and the supports were almost invisible so it looked as though it stayed up by magic!

There was  telecinema which showed some 3D films (for which you were given special glasses with one green lens and one red one!)

There was a funfair in Battersea Park and there was dancing at night all lit up with ground level lighting which we found fascinating!  The main memory I have was that everyone seemed happy and in good spirits.

As well as the main festival in London there was a “Floating festival” on the Campaignia (which had been a convoy escort ship in the war). This was based in Southampton and fitted out specially. It had many exhibits and fashion shows etc. and then visited ten ports around the British Isles including, Liverpool, Cardiff and Newcastle  and was greeted enthusiastically everywhere.

Another scheme was the Dolhendre Farm scheme in North Wales.

The government had accepted the estate in lieu of Death Duties and they built up the farms into a model farm, which attracted many visitors from both home and abroad to see all the modern innovations.

Rationing was still in place at this time, but rations were increasing and the shops were getting fuller and I think this Festival lifted the morale of the country enormously and gave the Nation the confidence to shake off the austerity years. We didn’t know, of course, but less than a year later we would have a new Queen and be starting out on the second Elizabethan age.

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