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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Was Britain better in the 50s?
Dancing in the 1950s (actors)
The Magazine is compiling a people's history of modern Britain - featuring your written memories and photos. We've had a tremendous response, starting with the 1950s, a decade many recall for its starkly different values to those we hold today.

It was the decade of the Coronation, the end of food rationing and the Suez Crisis.

And despite the big events of the period, many of you wanted to talk about the shared values of the time.

The decade is fondly remembered as a golden age of decency and strong community ties.

But for others, it is about deprivation, chauvinism and discrimination.

YOUR HISTORY OF BRITAIN
Woman in the 1950s
Andrew Marr's story of post-war Britain is on Tuesdays at 2100 BST
Help us create a people's history by sending us memories, pictures and videos

We had an overwhelming response to our request for memories of the 1950s and it's been a great start as we begin to build our people's history in the coming weeks. Next week, the 60s.

Below is a selection of your memories of the 50s.


Mit Roy
I came to UK as a student in 1956. I mixed with white native young people without feeling any difference due to colour. Everybody was very friendly and always ready to help. Within a few months I made lots of friends, probably due to my Indian culture. I don't remember having any front door key. Locking the front door was not a usual practice. Often I used to walk home after midnight, but never felt scared. Those days were much better.
Mit Roy, Surbiton, Surrey, uk

MORE 50s MEMORIES
My memories of the fifties are of very hard times but very happy times. We only had one pair of shoes each and these had to last at least a year, with regular repairs. Coal fires, outside lavatory, no bath room, and hand washing of clothes was the norm. But what made it happy was the closeness of the society. Everyone was the same so we all helped each other with no special expectations. As children we had to make our own entertainment (no television). We could go anywhere without fear, and learn by experience about the countryside. Society was a lot calmer and there was no need to rush anywhere. School discipline was strict and it did us all good. Everyone seemed to learn very quickly and the three Rs were taken for granted once you reached the age of seven, no one seemed to struggle. Despite the hardships the late 50s/early 60s were the best times.
Richard Kerby, Kenilworth. England

People were more civil toward each other. There was a basic respect for everyone. You could leave your doors unlocked. There was joy. Having survived a war, everything seemed full of great promise. The sky was the limit. There wasn't constant irony and sarcasm. The days were long without fear and anxiety.
Kristina Stanford, West Chester Ohio USA

I remember coming across from Ireland to England in 1953, as a nervous and frightened nineteen year old. Work was very easy to find, but accommodation was a different matter. Unbelievable now, but I am sure there are many who remember the now famous signs that were placed in lodging house windows. No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs.
Mrs Kate Foley., Birmingham, England.

Frank Bowron
No cosy memories of the fifties for me. My childhood memories are of rationing and deprivation. No hot and cold running water in our houses, toilet and a cold tap at the end of the back yard. Vegetables from the allotment, rabbits kept in hutches - for food not as pets. Dinner cooked on the kitchen range - we had no gas stove. Mam and Gran washing the clothes every Monday using a Copper, "PoshTub" and a hand cranked wringer.
Frank Bowron, 1954
Washing day took the pair of them from 8am until the ironing was finished around six. All my clothes were recycled from the grown-ups' worn out items. The Co-op grocer coming round selling fruit and veg from a horse and cart. The Ringtons Tea cart with the "John Player Special" style deco that also came house to house, pulled by a beautiful Cleveland Bay. The 1950s were no Golden Age in the North East. The unemployment rate stayed in double figures for decades - 22% in Stockton when I left school and "joined up" for a 12-year stretch in the RAF. It was certainly a bygone age and in South Durham we had to wait until the 1970s before anything began to change for the better. The further "by" it's gone, the better.
Frank Bowron, Hatfield

As I look back now, one phrase from Andrew Marr's article really stands out. "It was a closed world of friends and rivals from Oxford, Eton and the armed forces, many of them related." My father considered us emigrating to Australia, and later, in 1970 I did emigrate to South Africa.
Philip Hawkins
My mother always used to tell me that I would never get anywhere in life if I spoke the way I did - with a Yorkshire accent. Everyone on the BBC wore evening dress and spoke with a plum in their mouth. But somehow - maybe because of my youth - it did seem a more innocent time than the world today. Ignorance is, after all, bliss (sigh!).
Philip Hawkins, Toronto now, Harrogate in Yorkshire in the 50s

Britain was truly an innocent land of hope and glory, where the welfare state and national health were improving the post-war quality of living, no end. In my home town, everyone knew everyone, even with a population of almost 3,000. We all helped out when the heavy snows came, as they did (even in Dorset) in those days. It was 16 miles to the nearest maternity hospital in Dorchester, which is where nearly all of us were born. We lived by true Christian values then, most of which are long gone now, (in England at least). Community spirit and friendship were placed far above self-profit and the need to excel in corporate business. If I got bullied at school, I kept quiet about it, and got my revenge by cunning! I respected my school teachers like they were God, and although I was caned most days for my own bad behaviour, I still respected them - they were what made us what we are today (good and honest citizens). If we could only bring back the attitudes of folk in that decade, the world would be a safer and friendlier place.
Gregory A Parker, Dorset

Arriving in England as coloured person from Ceylon in 1956 my memories goes back to my days in Paddington. Walking along the streets you noticed boards outside lodging houses showing "Vacancies" and below that there were boards stating "No Blacks". Others went further stating "No Blacks or Irish". My landlady in Norfolk Square was happy to take in Ceylonese but did not entertain Irish! It wasn't colour prejudice!
Bala Superamaniam, Sydney, Australia

I was born in 1950 and one of my clearest memories is of the local policeman who walked our street. He always stood for four or five minutes in one particular place and I can recall at about seven or eight years old talking to him and referring to him later to my mother as "talking to my friend". Can't see that happening now. Kids would be more likely to call him "pig" or worse. Respect is what has gone from those times both for family, authority and society.
Peter Warwick, Swindon

It's silly and very clear now, but when I was just five years old there was a tremendous excitement in our street, because someone was telling us there was a coloured man around the corner and we must hurry round to see him. I ran with, what seemed like hundreds of people, eagerly wanting to see to this "coloured man" but was I so disappointed to find he had no colour at all. In fact, he was the exact opposite, just plain black. I will never forget that disappointment, but equally I will never forget the gentleman's expression of fright, seeing all these people just staring at him. I am now so glad we have moved on in so many ways from that far off time.
Leslie Forbes, Glasgow Scotland

Certainly back in the fifties, even as kids, we had a sort of mixture of fear and respect for authority... parents, teachers, the "coppers", the doctor, the park-keeper. For sure this was in part generated by some physical abuse but it worked and did not as far as I can see produce a generation of abusers, far from it. The slipper and battledore I got at primary school ensured I was literate and numerate by the time I was 11. The bat around the ear from the "parkie" meant everyone had a clean, well-tended and trouble-free park. The thump from the local bobby was for sure a deterrent and it was little good "blabbing" to your parents for fear of a second clipped ear-hole. I`m not an advocate of violence but it seems to me that the pendulum today has certainly swung too far with very tangible consequences. My 10-year-old is living with those consequences and I rather feel she would have been better off had she been born in 1946 too, not to mention happier.
Roger Bray

My mum was bored to death with housework and quite frustrated. Children were still expected to be "good" most of the time, and as a girl, I was expected to help with the housework, even as a small child. Although I tend to deplore the explosion in consumerism that followed the 50s, I do rather see why it happened. Life was pretty dull. I think I felt pretty safe - we went to the shop for my mum and although we "never talked to strangers" I was not aware of any abductions or other, nastier events. I wouldn't go back; as a woman, who has benefited hugely from modern medical interventions (from obstetrics on) I doubt - amongst other things - that I would be in such good health. I certainly wouldn't have gone to university, had a career and my own salary. So - quiet and rather uneventful is how the fifties "felt" to a child.
Anne Grant, London

I was just leaving school and joining the workforce in an insurance company in 1951. At that time, I was obliged to wear stockings, winter and summer, call all the staff "Mr, Mrs. and Miss" no matter how young or old they were, and senior male staff were always addressed as "Sir". I was actually called in by the manager and given a severe ticking off, one hot summer`s day, as I had been spotted not wearing stockings. "Not appropriate for customers to see your bare legs!" I was told. This for the princely sum of 2.50p a week!!! In those days, morals and respect were much more important - and the world was better for it, I must say.
Pat Porter, Felixstowe, UK

The one thing that was absent from life at that time was the fear of crime. To walk the streets of London or any provincial town or city after dark wasn't considered to be risky for a woman or a child alone, burglary was a rarity and vandalism rarely encountered. When a murder occurred it was headline news, as was the subsequent execution of the offender. Christie and the murders at Rillington Place and the execution of Ruth Ellis stick in my mind. The dramatised exploits of policeman like Fabien of the Yard gave us confidence in our Police.
Barrie Carter, Sherborne, Dorset

I was a child growing up in the 50s. We walked to school, had open fires and no central heating. Sweets were a treat, not part of lunch. We didn't know what crisps were! We played in the street with our friends and were safe, we climbed trees, skinned our knees and ripped our clothes, got into fights and nobody sued anybody. We got a clip round the ear when we had been naughty, and Mum gave us a teaspoon of malt and cod liver oil each morning before school. Yum! There was no day-time TV, and we played cards and board games and TALKED to each other and our friends. We were allowed to answer the phone on our birthdays as a special treat. It was an innocent time, gone forever in these times of instant communication and blame culture. Bring back the values of the 1950S!!!
Jill Morgan, Aldershot, UK

The 1950s were wonderful. The last vestige of rationing - meat - went. Our boyfriends and husbands were back from the war. There were frustrations, such as the treatment of women, particularly married women. I applied for a job for which I had the necessary qualifications and the interviewer was giving me a time to start. Then he asked my address. When I began "Mrs..." he angrily tore up my application and said: "You have a man to look after you. I can't possibly employ a married woman. You should leave the jobs for the women who haven't got men to look after them and the boys coming out of the Forces." That didn't last, thank goodness. And once my three children were growing up I became a teacher of EFL, then a newspaper reporter and finally an author. I had the chance to live and work in another country for 10 years, even survived divorce and remarried happily so I can't grumble. The years since the 50s have brought good things as well as disasters and Iraq - and at 81 I'm still working and have children and grandchildren so perhaps the Noughties are not too bad either.
Vivien Allen, Castletown, Isle of Man

The fifties were generally a period of optimism beginning with the fight for survival, against the power of the dollar, which forced us to continuing rationing and to work to export everything we could. Things slowly improved until by the end of the decade we had probably the best education system, health care service, and society in Europe, all by the nations own efforts. The M1 and the mini were the final highlights of the decade. The "Empire" had mostly, at a cost, been given independence. I think Macmillan was right when he said that "WE had never had it so good". Sadly after things have gone downhill, and we now live in a selfish society on the make at anyone else's expense is normal and I have witnessed the erosion of freedom and social consciousness, for self aggrandisement and division which did not widely exist in those days. Born in the year of the general strike [1926]I feel that all my aspirations and life's work has been negated and wasted.
Edward Dowty, Kings Lynn

I came over to England from Ireland in 1949. I spent 8 years in a children's home in a very sleepy town called Enfield. It was like a prison compared to my earlier times in Ireland. I found this country to be very unfriendly, closed and controlling. The adults were cruel and spiteful of us kids. The saying was, kids should be seen and not heard... God, I never want to have those times again...
Louis Boyce, Kingston-upon-Thames
I was brought up quite strictly and went to a Catholic convent as a Protestant which when I think back was pretty awful but I was told to watch my manners, be seen and not heard but felt I was loved. Although Oldham in the 1950s was very industrial and relatively poor towards other areas, there was a great community spirit and kids played in the streets watched over by the other neighbours. All in all I was brought up to have respect, have high morals and be thrifty. Good times.
Julie Chandler, Oldham

My family arrived in England (from Dublin) in 1958. Like most Irish immigrants my parents came over to find good jobs and to improve future prospects for their children. My abiding memory of Oxford at that time is the shock of anti-Irish and anti anything foreign feeling. 'No wogs, no dogs, no Irish' became a familiar sight, pinned to B and B front doors. My parents suffered many an insult. I don't know how they coped. But the good to come out of that experience, I believe, is my kindness to strangers. I know how hard it is in a new land to fit in and be accepted. And I hate all prejudice. It's my reference point; whenever I feel some mean little greed about entitlement creeping in, I return to my mother, holding her hand while she proudly ignored cruel and ignorant xenophobia.
Merle Esson, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, England

Poor family, no dad, but the happiest days of my life, no muggings, loads of respect, very close families, everyone in the same boat, England no more
M Thursting, Mitcham, Surrey

What I remember most clearly about the 50s is a sense of freedom, despite being just old enough to have known the end of rationing. There was also a huge sense of relief that WWII was over, although it was talked about constantly, in every possible guise: food, clothes, entertainment, separation, loss, reunion, and so on. Later in the decade, despite continued thrift, there really was a sense of affluence on the horizon and optimism about the future. Education seemed to be improving, many girls began to realise that they would be expected to have careers, and people whose education had been curtailed during the War were attending night schools to improve their qualifications and job prospects. The years spent abroad, despite the hardships of war, had broadened the outlook of many service people, and they took the opportunity to move away from traditional expectations through training and education. They passed on this challenge to their children as well. The 50's often look drab in retrospect, and it is true that people had to think in a serious way about rebuilding their lives, but for many children born into the Welfare State, the sun shone more brightly, snow was certainly more exciting and fog was more mysterious. The rush of wind through your hair as you ran to watch the Royal Scotsman fly by to distant London remains as vivid as ever.
M. W., Cheltenham UK

Born in Nairobi a child of Empire in 1951, my memory of my first decade of life is the huge pride felt by myself and my fellow Colonials in the achievements of the Empire. An absolute belief in the Monarchy and that what we were doing was right was to be shattered as the 1960s saw everything we believed and worked for destroyed by weak politicians.
John Atkins, Bridgwater, UK

As a boy of nine or 10 years of age, in 1951/2, I remember an encounter with the local police sergeant. As I walked along the village street with a few of my pals, the sergeant got off his bike and called me over to him. His one question, "Why aren't you wearing your glasses?" he barked. "I don't know sir, I left them at home" I replied rather timidly. A prompt cuff around the ear followed by the order "get off home and put them on straight away," an order not to be disobeyed. When I arrived home in tears I was challenged by my father as to why I was crying. "Sargent May cuffed me around the ear for not wearing my glasses." "Quite right too" said my father and cuffed me again to drive the point home. What should be noted is that Sergeant May knew just who I was and even that I should have been wearing glasses. In those days we had great respect for the police. And a couple of cuffs around the ear never did me any harm at all. I fear we will never see such days again.
Keith Stenner, Fetcham, Leatherhead, Surrey

A neighbouring family was criticized for letting their daughter go to college to train as a teacher - after all, she would only end up getting married and it would all be wasted.
Doreen Knight, Salisbury

We were all so basically thankful that the war was over; so that the shortage of decent food, the deprivations we still suffered, we had got used to; and at least, we were free. I had my first child in Dulwich hospital, and all of us were made to stay in bed, or in hospital, for 10 days after: that was standard, and encouraged to breast feed, which most of us did. Shortage of dress coupons made me make my own clothes, and I wore a tiny little hat perched on top of my head, and white lacy gloves to go to work in. Yes, there was not much entertainment. My mum and dad managed to buy a television which had a sheet of magnified glass in front of it, which made it look as though in a goldfish bowl, but we were absolutely thrilled. Coal was still rationed to two or three lumps in the fireplace, and under that, house bricks to give it height. My old dad sat hunched over it, and the house was freezing. We went to bed early, just to keep warm. But no knives on the streets, absolutely unheard of, you were totally safe when you walked out of your front door. As I look back, I get a sense of affection for us all, who had come through the war, and were now allowed to relax, at least psychologically, from the danger of immediate death.
Rene Schuster, London


Thanks for sending in so many memories. Those which haven't made it to print this time could form part of the BBC's Memoryshare project, to be launched later this year. More details here.



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