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Tonic for the nation

The Festival of Britain aimed to lift the spirits of a depressed and diminished country. The 60th anniversary celebration is a triumph—with some horrors

By Andrew Roberts   June 2011

The 1951 Festival of Britain was exactly that: a celebration of the country’s artistic, design and scientific achievements 100 years after the Great Exhibition. Centred on the newly-opened Southbank site, not far from where the Crystal Palace had stood in Hyde Park in 1851, it was intended to show Britons that their sacrifices in the second world war had been worthwhile, and that they were indeed moving towards what Winston Churchill had in 1940 termed civilisation’s “broad, sunlit uplands” of peace, progress and prosperity. Hugely popular, the festival succeeded in this, and provided what Herbert Morrison, the home secretary of…

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