Waterloo Sunrise: London from the Sixties to Thatcher by John Davis - review by Gillian Tindall

Gillian Tindall

Last Orders at the Dockers’ Inn

Waterloo Sunrise: London from the Sixties to Thatcher


Princeton University Press 588pp £30

There is much to be said for John Davis’s enormous book about the time before yesterday. The two and a half decades between the end of the postwar restrictions and the arrival of Thatcherism were a time of great and irreversible social change, even though many aspects of this change were, in themselves, transitory. The postwar visions for London, the coming of mass car ownership, the arrival and unforeseen settlement of immigrants, the Carnaby Street phenomenon, the evolution and then degradation of Soho, inner London deindustrialisation, Mary Quant, the Beatles, the misperceived ‘classlessness’ of Antony Armstrong-Jones, property developers, gentrification, the 1967 devaluation of the pound, the Motorway Box fiasco, the oil crisis, the rise of the conservation movement, books by Steen Eiler Rasmussen and Jane Jacobs, the ups and down of the Labour Party, profound changes in socio-sexual mores – all these and more Davis explores here. He brings to his task an academic’s enthusiasm for quotations from the media of the times and what appears to be a personally felt interest in the fate of political parties when faced with a fickle public and complex changes in the popular mind. Many subsequent chroniclers of 20th-century London will be grateful for this energetic survey.

But what they will be looking at is history, because that is what Davis, a fellow of the Queen’s College, Oxford, is writing. He did not start life as an undergraduate until the mid-1970s, so – unless his educational career has been very unusual – during almost all of

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