Unlike the Global theme of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Festival in 1951 was specifically focussed on British achievments.
Labour politician Herbert Morrison saw the Festival as a means of giving the British people a symbolic pat on the back for their post war achievements and sacrifices. Gerald Barry, the Festival’s director general, claimed that the Festival would prove a ‘tonic to the nation’, however, not everyone was convinced.
Sir Thomas Beecham described it as ‘a monumental piece of imbecility’. Others claimed that the site on London’s South Bank would be a death trap because of overcrowding. It has been alleged that the Festival’s switchboard girl answered the telephone with, ‘Festering Britain here!’
Despite the high-profile criticism and economic gloom, due to the mass rearmament programme of the Korean War (1950-53). The Festival was actually a far more popular success than prophesised. In the five months that it was held (May – September 1951), around 8.5 million people visited the South Bank site.