How drab Britain burst into colour
The House The 50s Built C4
"IN THE Fifties," says engineering Professor Brendan Walker, "a black and white Britain was transformed into a technicolour wonderland." Which was a surprise because I thought LSD came along in the Sixties.
"It was the decade," added Walker, "when Britain became recognisably modern." And indeed it was nice to see women using Bisto for cooking rather than tanning their legs.
"It gave us designs and inventions," he said, "that are still at the heart of family life today." Although if you're still doing the washing in a twin tub you might want to think about heading down to Currys this weekend.
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However, at the start of the decade, noted Walker, most people still lived in a world that was "drab, dark, and austere". In many ways it was similar to 2012.
"Everybody seemed to have cream and brown," a woman noted of the furnishings. Not so much a living-room as a carpeted chocolate éclair.
"When they took the pictures off the wall for spring cleaning," she added, "you could see where they'd been because of all the tobacco that stained the walls."
Good idea that – makes it easier to put them back in the same place.
"However," said Walker, "after the harsh years of the war, people were looking for bright colours in everything." Uplifting wallpaper was all the rage. Red setters were like gold-dust.
Instead of getting tradesman in, men started to do their houses up themselves. "Back then you weren't a bloke unless you did DIY," recalled Janet Street-Porter, whose voice came in handy for stripping floorboards.
However, some jobs came with a health warning. "Mixing household paint," revealed Walker, "was difficult and dangerous – a high octane mix of lead (toxic), linseed oil (combustible), and turps, which was flammable." What some thought was the start of World War Three was in fact Bert from number 15 dropping his brush while painting the privy door.
TVs, instead of today's 44-inch wall-hung versions which offer you the priceless treat of Countdown in high definition, had a stylish wood finish to blend in with other furniture. Although if we had one we'd probably have to get the cat to scratch it for it to blend in with ours.
"If you wanted to watch a programme," recalled Tim Rice, "you turned it on five minutes before because it took that long to warm up." I wouldn't mind one of those now. With any luck, by the time EastEnders came on I'd have missed it.
Real fires, meanwhile, were replaced with electric replicas. "It's lovely to have a real fire," said Walker, "but do you want something so dusty and dirty in your room every day?"
I've got a five-year-old. Wonder if they do an electric version.