Describe popular culture in Britain at the beginning of 1960’s Essay

In this essay, I will describe popular culture in Britain and discuss how it developed and modified throughout the 1950’s to the beginning of the 1960’s. Additionally, I will be looking at how media such as fashion, music and TV had a high influence on this change. Popular culture is the culture of mass population, i. e. the culture within the working class. In Britain, popular culture can be summarised by a renowned quote: ‘in the 1950’s, daughters tried to look like their mothers, in the 1960’s mothers tried to look like their daughters.

This shows that 1960’s was an incredible period of rapid change throughout Britain. It was a decade where a huge change in the society was evident throughout the nation. One area of popular culture is music. In the 1950’s, the popular genre of music was Jazz and the most common styles of Jazz were bebop and swing. Crooners (artists) such as Frankie Laine and Perry Como were the two main vocalists of the 1950’s. Factors of this genre were seen through these artists’ and many other artists’ songs.

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Examples of these characteristics are firstly, artists used to always perform and record with full orchestral backup; secondly, formal dressing during performances was always compulsory and finally the lyrics of the majority of songs were purely made to entertain. The songs that were released during this period of this time were mainly family orientated as the demand from the audience was for both generations (parents and children) to like the songs. Focusing on this idea, songs were written not only to entertain but also to educate.

Tommy Steal, one of the first teen idols, is a great example of this time in music. In 1959 Tommy steal made a number one hit called ‘little white bull’. This was educational as one may say it taught the society, metaphorically about the race difference that was occurring through the nation: “very sad because he was a little white bull. All the other bulls called him a coward because he was white”. Furthermore, this song was written and released during the period of Martin Luther King; an African American who protested for black rights.

Through this we can see how much of an influence America had on Britain, because the politics that was occurring in America had a high impact on the media in Britain such as the lyrics to this particular song. As time moved on, so did music. One of the big factors for this change was the popular catch phrase and actions of the prime minster at the time of 1957-1963: Harold Macmillan. Harold’s phrase used in 1959’s election “you’ve never had it so good” increased the average weekly wage from i??6. 40 to i??11. 2 and lowered the income tax from 47 pence to 38 pence.

This had an impact on society because it meant that working class which were the mass population of Britain, had more power and independence to do what they wanted, as they had more money in their pockets to spend. This individual power also gave the younger generation (teenagers) more command and freedom so it meant that they no longer had to follow their parents. This affected music in many ways as the power of society allowed the formal rules of jazz that was to be seen in the 1950’s to be broken.

This meant that it was time to say goodbye to the orchestral backups and smart suits as rock and roll was now introduced. However this change in music did not happen suddenly, it gradually grew upon the British society. An example of this would be the introduction of Elvis to Britain. When Elvis was first publicly aired on the television from the United States, the government would only allow his upper body to be viewed, as his pelvic thrusts and movements were seen to be inappropriate and insulting to the public eye.

But progressively as time moved on and understanding of foreign music broadened, Elvis and his performance became entertaining, inspirational and welcoming. Britain was yet again influenced by America. Therefore, the musical material British artists such as Cliff Richard were creating was enthused and some say ‘practically copied’ by Elvis’s music and performance. Artists such as Elvis and Cliff became social icons; people wanted to sing like them, dance like them and most of all look like them. As a result, we can say that the change in music had an influence of the change in fashion.

As much as this is true, the creations of the designer Mary Quant also had a significant impact on society’s taste of fashion. In the 1950’s before Quant’s creations, the idea of fashion was to look sophisticated, mature and be a miniature version of your parents. At this time, fashion required women to force themselves into corsets and girdles in order to achieve a particular shape. Skirts were kept long and hung down to the calf whilst being puffed out with layers of petticoats. Mary Quant’s work was against all of this.

One writer described her shop as: “a shop that’s aim is to look childishly young and naively unsophisticated”. Everything the 50’s fashion was not. The faces of the sixties were Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. Both models advertised youthful cloths and were tall and slim. Again, they were the complete contrast with the models of the 1950’s, who were perfectly groomed women that publicized a reserved and elegant image. The Mary Quant look was at first statement of the individuality of youth. Like music, the change in fashion did not occur overnight, it too grew upon British society.

An example of this would be when model twiggy was pictured wearing a mini skirt four inches above the knee to the most important horse race in Australia in 1965: The Melbourne Cup. This instantly hit the newspaper headlines in Britain for up to a week. This highlights the fact that the change in fashion initially shook and surprised the public eye. However, the most well known fashion of the sixties was ‘the mini’ even when it did provoke such strong reactions. Another figure of importance within the fashion industry that also rebelled against the fifties trends was the Teddy Boys.

Their style was designed to shock parents. This attracted many teens as it was an opportunity to not follow the older generations fashion style and to have individuality; now that they had money, it gave them freedom and a sense of social power. What both fashion figures ‘Mary Quant and Teddy Boys’ had in common was this sense of breaking away from old styles. As popular as both styles was, their trends became uniform like many other fashion trends. It is said that the most important aspect of the fashion revolution of the 1960s was that nothing lasted for long.

What is more is that by the late sixties, women could wear almost anything and the word ‘unisex’ came into use. As a result it became extremely difficult to differentiate women’s and men’s fashion. This alteration in fashion from fifties to sixties was beyond belief; no one would imagine that such segregated styles of fashion of the fifties would enclose as one in just under a decade. However this was not a sign that women had any sort of equality with men. It purely stated that the fashion in the 1960s was young and new.

Television also started to become very popular at the beginning of the 1960’s as the young people had more leisure time. In the 1950’s television was mainly educational. Channels such as cookery and gardening were the most popular channels viewed and broadcasted on BBC. In 1955 commercial television was introduced. They were mainly to entertain and not to educate so it allowed people to sit back and watch TV without needing to concentrate. As time moved on, new shows were introduced on television. Some of the new shows appearing included Coronation Street and Z Cars.

Both of these programmes were criticised at first for their content and affect on viewers as it showed life as it was, and not as it could be. But it became an increasingly trend on television in the 1960’s. An additional TV show that became outstandingly popular in the early sixties was The Jukebox Jury. It was based on a show which began on US television in 1945. This yet again shows us how America had such a high impact on Britain, that even years after the programme was created in the US it was imitated on BBC more than a decade after.

Jukebox Jury was a pop themed panel show, (screened every Saturday) which was first broadcasted throughout the nation on BBC on the 1st June 1959. It featured stars such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Seekers. This made it exceedingly popular as these famous bands were roll-models for the youth, therefore teenagers wanted to look and sing like them and programmes on TV such as Jukebox Jury made it easier for the teens as it gave them a clear image as to what to look like.

Seeing that the wages increased, teenagers now had the power to not follow their parents, and now that they had an image as to what to look like, it influenced them onto buying cloths just to look like these artists. So this pop programme not only played a big part on television but it also played a part in fashion for teenagers. Television developed vastly; from cookery programmes to pop themed panel shows. It was evident that television had a significant force on the society as it was described as the success of working class people to break out of their routines.


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