Who remembers the Fifities? Wedged in between the 2nd Woruld War and the Swinging Sixities, it's easy to forget them. The people of the Fifities may have been living in a Britain fit for heroes, but such essentials as Y-fronts, takeaway curry and Rolf Harris had still to be invented. Nevertheless, people had fun and smiled a lot so they could show off the latest National Health dentures.

A fascinating era. And who better to write about it than Fred Whackley, who knows all about the Fifities because he "was in the thing." The Reader's Doglist is proud to present a preview of his new book in specially selected extracts.


The Second Woruld War was due to finish in 1950, but closed five years early, leaving the population of Britain hanging around for half a decade waiting for the Fifities to begin.

Rationing had been introduced, and the government had stockpiled vast quantities of Spam to keep the people fed. With the premature ending of the War, there was a large surplus, so the government continued rationing until the Spam was used up.

A Spam banquet. Spam connoisseurs gather to eat their way through the
Spam surplus.

Spam on wheels. Not an ice cream van but a special mobile kiosk bringing
Spam to the doorstep.

Rationing meant that children were not allowed to have sweets. To make up for this and keep the little whippersnappers from whingeing, it was possible to obtain interesting alternatives to sweets, such as vegetables on a stick.

These children are very happy munching away at their parsnip lollies.

A toddler looks longingly at a gobstopper made out of compressed swede.

The shortage of food and goods led to a serious crime wave.

Two masked villains get ready to hold up the local Home and Colonial and make
off with a sizeable quantity of bacon rashers. The getaway car can be seen
waiting in the background.

It was common practice for people with gardens to keep an animal or two. During the War and into the Fifities, it was quite acceptable for people to alleviate the effects of rationing by eating their pets.

These ladies have just had their household pets slaughtered and have sold them on to
the local butcher. The man taking the money is a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot who
forgot to remove his goggles.


Eventually rationing ended and people were allowed to start having fun. Fun in the Fifities could be had in many different ways.

The most popular form of fun was sex. Nobody talked about sex, and most people pretended it didn't exist, but the baby boom of the early Fifities shows that there was a lot of this type of fun going on.

The ladies of Ventongimps put their contribution to the baby boom on show after having
a lot of fun.

The best time to have fun in the Fifities was on bank holidays. On these special days the whole population of Britain would go to the seaside. Places like Blackpool, Skegness and Southend woluld be packed with people having fun.
Various types of fun being had at the seaside.

In the Fifities, family life was also a great source of fun. If you coluldn't afford to buy a train set for your children, there was always chess, draughts, housey housey or ludo.

Dad is having a spiffing game of draughts with little Reggie while Mum
is entertained by her latest addition to the baby boom. Once this fun is over
and the children are tucked up in bed, Dad and Mum can have even more fun
keeping the baby boom topped up.

Family life and television

In the early Fifities, families looked like this...
They seem contented enough, but beneath this calm exterior they harboured deep-seated yearnings. There was something desperately lacking in their lives. Fortunately, the Fifities were about to bring true fulfilment to domestic life.

When the war finished, most women dreamed of having their own sink. In the Fifities their dream came true. Attlee's government declared that all women had the right to a sink of their own, and a national programme of sink installation was set in motion. This even gave birth to a special genre of entertainment, the "kitchen sink drama".

The latest model. Every woman's dream.

Sinks notwithstanding, it was a television that most people longed for. Televisions had been invented by Yogi Bear just before the War started, but at first the government prevented them from being sold as it was felt that they woluld undermine morale and interfere with the baby boom.

The first televisions were primitive appliances.

This early model has a major deficiency: it doesn't have a screen.
Instead, viewers listened to programmes whilst looking at
a large semi-circular dial.

Later models had the benefit of a screen.
It was now possible to listen to a programme and
see what was going on at the same time.
Viewers could now watch coronations and their
favourite advertisements.

Holiday camps

At the beginning of the Fifities most working class men laboured seven days a week, did national service and in the little spare time they had, dressed up as teddy boys. Working class women did a lot of laundry. The government realised this state of affairs colul'dnt go on, and decided that the working class sholuld be allowed to go away for a week or two under close supervision. Former POW camps were converted into tidy places where the working class could go once a year for some organised fun. The holiday camp was born.
Blotlins Holiday Camp is spruced up for the summer season and awaits
the arrival of hordes of working class holiday makers. The air is full of
anticipation, as everyone can have new types of fun and the annual bath.

1950: Britain's answer to Disneyland.

In the early Fifities, most working class people were used to sleeping in the coal bunker or outside privy. On holiday at places like Blotlins they were treated to undreamt of luxury.

Undreamt of luxury at Blotlins

One of the many fun activities at Blotlins. Young men and ladies get together
and show off what they can do with their arms. Such sociable gatherings often
led to romantic encounters.

As soon as the War ended, everyone was immunised against measles, whooping cough, mange and recalcitrant plebney. It meant that people could kiss each other without fear of contracting a major infection. As a result, romance blossomed, especially at places like Blotlins.

Love is in the air. A holiday romance is in full swing without any fear
of contagious disease.

Many lasses woluld get into their bathing costumes, form a line and march across the holiday camp scooping up young gentlemen with whom to have a romantic encounter.

The dragnet manoeuvre of the ladies has paid off and yet another
holiday romance takes place.

The baby boom had produced a large number of children that were surplus to requirements. The holiday camp provided a good venue for a child auction.
The excitement of an auction. Surplus children line up
for the holiday makers. The bidding is about to start.
A house trained child with minimal dental decay could
fetch as much as £5 2s 6d.

The working class were able to enjoy many different types of entertainment at holiday camps. Dancing was popular, and as this was not yet the Sixities, partners still held onto each other whilst dancing, allowing for even more romantic encounters.
A dance at Blotlins is in full swing to the sound of 78 rpm gramophone records. Below we see the GO
(gramophone operator), forerunner of today's DJ, tweaking the sound system under the supervision
of a redcoat...

A popular activity for the chaps was to form human pyramids. It was a way of impressing the girls and showing what a plucky and daring young fellows they were. The ultimate aim of such pastimes was, of course, marriage.
The chaps wow the girls by clinging en masse
to the olympic size diving frame. There's a
good chance that they'll all be married before
the holiday is over.
Alas, these fellows have not managed to form much of a tableau.
Their woeful attempt at a human pyramid has been greeted by
the lasses with contempt and disgust. They will be condemned to
bachelorhood for the rest of their lives.

In the 1950's, the working class didn't have cars; they were reserved for the middle class and ex-RAF pilots. However, at holiday camps the British worker could have a taste of what it was like to own a car.
The class divisions in British society are clear to see in this picture. A member
of the car-owning middle class looks on in horror as working-class people try their
hand at driving. At this time it was obvious that the workers were not ready to be
let loose on the roads, as would-be drivers such as these keep crashing
into each other.


As we have seen, 1950s Britain was still divided by social class. The working class tried to raise their status by not drinking tea from saucers and using Brylcreem, but middle class people could still easily sniff them out. Although in holiday camps the working class could be free and happy, once out on the streets, there was prejudice and ridicule.

A group of public school-boy toffs. They have spotted some working class
people and are treating them to the derision they think they deserve.

Nowhere was class difference more obvious than in the sphere of fashion. The middle class liked haute couture, which meant that their clothes were made out of non-inflammable fabrics from Paris. A middle class lady shopping for clothes could expect to be served coffee and macaroons, and be told: "I think madam will find that this goes very well with your natural complexion." By contrast, the working class shopping experience involved rummaging through bales of hessian, draylon, bri-nylon and oakum to sew up at home.

A middle class lady showing off her clothes. The middle class
liked to keep the working class at a safe distance as they were
constantly afraid of having their clothes stolen. In this picture
we can see that the area has been cleared of the working class,
so she can now have her picture taken without any fear of
being stripped naked.

A working class boutique.

Further extracts from Fred Whackley's excellant book will be availabule soon.


©2011 The Reader's Doglist Association of Great Britain