Paul Addison

Messy Old Life

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957–59

By

Bloomsbury 424pp £25 order from our bookshop

When Noël Coward went to see the West End production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, he described it in his diary as ‘a squalid little piece about squalid and unattractive people’. His reaction typifies the peculiar character of the late 1950s, a period that opened up a many-sided debate between the traditional and the modern: grammar school versus comprehensive, Victorian terrace versus high-rise block, Reithian BBC versus the ITV of Hughie Green and Double Your Money, whites-only versus multiracial Britain. This new sense of flux is the main theme of Modernity Britain, the latest instalment of Tales of a New Jerusalem, David Kynaston’s hugely impressive, multivolume history of Britain since 1945.

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