Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957–59 by David Kynaston - review by Paul Addison

Paul Addison

Messy Old Life

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957–59


Bloomsbury 424pp £25

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.

As in previous volumes, Kynaston revisits the headlines, discusses landmark events in the arts, the social sciences, pop music and sport, and explores working-class and urban history in considerable depth. Stupendous research has equipped him with a wealth of archival material, including the diaries of a number of ‘ordinary’ people.

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