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Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Friday, 22 April 2011 09:35 UK

Britain's 'idealism and optimism'

Sixty years on from the Festival of Britain, a cultural watershed in the life of the nation, how do British people see themselves?

Broadcasting live from the South Bank Centre, the Today programme reflected on the themes of British life with designer Sir Terence Conran, fashionistas Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway and foodies Heston Blumenthal and Jancis Robinson.

In 1951, explains Jude Kelly, artistic director of the South Bank Centre, those fighting in WWII "came back from the war thinking about how to create a new Britain on behalf of those who didn't come back".

What the Festival of Britain showed, she said, was that "for a short period of time, it is amazing if you can get a whole nation to share an idea together".

But Britain "felt much more conformist, much more deferential" 60 years ago, says cultural historian Robert Hewison.

"Since then we have become much freer... but we have definitely become more fractious, probably more unhappy".

And Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, one-time chief executive of the Millennium Dome - and a self-described "frog", still finds it annoying that "you guys look all the time at the glass half empty".

"You're spending way too much time to decide what is about being British. You're British. Full stop."

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