Sunday, May 09, 2010

From the archives of the Central Office of Information

It's time for a new featured book on Washed and Ready. I've managed to get hold of a copy of Wendy Hall's 1962 classic This is Britain - Everyday Life, which used to grace the shelves of the Library & Information Centre of the Central Office of Information. The last person to borrow it, 21 years ago, was a lady called Margit, who worked in the typing pool. She was anxious to discover exactly what made the British tick, but hopefully took seriously the warning of the author that 'no two of Britain's fifty million people behave in exactly the same way'.

In the opening chapter, Ms Hall tells us that we can gain entrance to some 500 historic houses for the princely sum of 2s.6d a time. 'The English are snobs,' she writes, 'and they love to be able to tell their friends that they have visited the home of the Duke of Blankshire...' The good thing is that we're not envious of the blanking Duke. The average Englishman, according to the author, is 'quite content with his six-roomed castle in a suburb'.

So what goes on inside the typical six-roomed castle? We're given a glimpse of Police Constable Tarrant's home. He sits on one side of his living room happily repairing a wireless set, while his wife reads to their young boy. It's an idyllic picture, to be sure. But when we turn the page, we're greeted by the austere world of the typical stockbroker. 'The head of the house,' reveals the commentator, 'likes his home furnished in the traditional way, and scorns the modern style which younger people favour.'

Overseas readers can rest assured that little has changed over the past half century.

Next time on WARTE: DIY and gardening, circa 1962.

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