If the 1940s in Britain could be described as the decade of austerity, then by contrast the 1950s was a period of affluence. During the decade the average weekly wage almost doubled, from £6.8s. (£6.40) to £11.2s.6d. (£11.13) while the standard rate of income tax fell from 9s.6d. (48 pence) to 7s.9d. (39 pence) in the pound. ‘Money doesn’t chink these days; it crackles louder than a forest fire’, reported Queen magazine in September 1959.
Britain in the 1950s and 1960s may have had its problems with housing, inflation, racism and youth rebellion, but it was also a time of increasing affluence. This fuelled major social changes in the home and created a new breed of consumer with more money, more choice and a growing awareness of their influence through the power of consumption.
The growth of technology for the home was expressed in the take-up of both gas and electric labour-saving appliances to lessen the drudgery of household tasks. The kitchen became the focus of an intense debate about how best to organise its layout efficiently in order to take full advantage of the new materials, fittings and appliances.
Here we look at the impact of radio and later television in changing our physical and mental lifestyles within the home, and the craze for DIY which gripped the nation in these years. These phenomena created new kinds of ’togetherness’ expressed through conspicuous consumption and consensus mass culture, and was based upon family, rather than community.