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Youthful Britain

Like much of post-war Europe, Britain had become economically dependent on the United States. Thanks to the US Marshall Aid Programme, Britain was able to recover quickly from the war.

Working people now had a better standard of living than ever before. There was enough work for everyone. Wages were about 30 per cent higher than in 1939 and prices had hardly risen at all.

People had free time to enjoy themselves. At weekends many watched football matches in large new stadiums. In the evenings they could go to the cinema. They began to go away for holidays to low-cost "holiday camps". In 1950, car production was twice what it had been in 1939, and by 1960 cars were owned not only by richer people but by many on a lower income. It seemed as if the sun shone on Britain. As one Prime Minister said, "You've never had it so good," a remark that became famous.

It was also the age of youth. Young people had more money in their pockets than ever before, now that wages for those just starting work had improved. The result was that the young began to influence fashion, particularly in clothing and music. Nothing expressed the youthful "pop" culture of the sixties better than the Beatles, whose music quickly became internationally known. It was no accident that the Beatles were working-class boys from Liverpool. They were real representatives of a popular culture.

Young people began to express themselves in other ways. They questioned authority, and the culture in which they had been brought up. In particular they rebelled against the sexual rules of Christian society. Some young people started living together without getting married. In the early 1960s the number was small, perhaps only 6 per cent, but it grew to 20 per cent within twenty years. Improvements in birth control made this more open sexual behaviour possible. Divorce became much easier, and by 1975 one marriage in three ended in divorce, the highest rate in Europe. Older people were frightened by this development, and called the new youth culture the "permissive society". Perhaps the clearest symbol of the permissive age was the mini skirt, a far shorter skirt than had ever been worn before.

But there was a limit to what the permissive society was prepared to accept. Two cabinet ministers, one in 1963, the other in 1983, had to leave the government when their sexual relationships outside marriage became widely known. Public disapproval could still be unexpectedly strong.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 864

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