To view this media, you will require Adobe Flash 9 or higher and must have Javascript enabled.

Duration 9:26

Festival in London

A documentary re-creation of the 1951 Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition


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. Unlike the Global theme of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Festival in 1951 was specifically focussed on British achievements. 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!’

Interesting or important points about the film

The film opens with an image of the Great Exhibition of 1851. This is significant as the film is very much a celebration of the link between past and present achievement in Britain. The tone is highly positive and optimistic and suggests unity in this post war world based on beliefs in tradition, peace and justice. William Alwyn (1905-1985) wrote the film score, a composer who produced many scores for feature films and documentaries. The music here is called “Festival March” and closely matches the spirit of the film.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We will not be able to respond to personal family history research questions on this platform.
See our moderation policy for more details.