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Family Britain By David Kynaston


This book arrives with a mighty tailwind of acclaim for its predecessor volume, Austerity Britain, 1945-51 - a welcome start to a social history of Britain that will eventually take us up to the year 1979. This new instalment is every bit as multidimensional and fascinating as the first.

The skill of knowing what to include, what to leave out and when to move from analysis and reflective debate to sheer immersion in the delights of memory is one that Kynaston exhibits with unflustered ease.  Whether noting how an escalator at the Festival of Britain "so captivated Winston Churchill, a taxi rather than a Tube man, that he kept going down and coming up again" or recording one of Anton Rippon's earliest memories from his childhood in Derby of "thousands of cigarettes glowing in the darkened stands" at floodlit football matches, Kynaston is always ready with a quirky detail.

This was a time when professional football players were not only paid in line with skilled workers but also travelled home with their fans on public transport. It was a time when pubs were a central part of community life but where women were segregated from the men. It was a time of street bookies and their runners and of BBC racing coverage that was not allowed to mention betting prices.

It was a time when the BBC, already losing its Reithian grip on our culture, received complaints that its Midland service started its evening programmes at 8pm, too late for working-class viewers who tended not to stay up as long as middle-class viewers.
The real division, however, was not between the classes, says Kynaston, but the "essentially Victorian supra-class divide between the respectable and everybody else".
By Christopher Silvester

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