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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

module:Britain between the wars

The decline of the old industries and the rise of the consumer market

page:Post-war entertainment and the media

For those in continuous work, this was a period of improving standards of living. In 1938 real wages (wages in relation to items of expenditure) were up 30 percent on their 1913 figures. There was money available for entertainment and leisure.

Consumption of alcohol was down but spending on smoking rose. In a world in which people were not familiar with the health risks of smoking, 80 percent of men and 41 percent of women smoked. Gambling on horses, dogs (more accessible to an urban population than horse racing) and football (the football pools were very much a development of the period) became popular.

Newspapers and the press

Explore the following scene charting the technologies behind the development of print media:


STORY: Mass consumption
SCENE: Printed media
launch scene


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A brief timeline of UK newspaper publishing
  1702 First daily paper produced, the Daily Courant.
  1712 Stamp Act introduced; newspapers subjected to tax and price increased. The stamp tax was a tax on each newspaper and thus hit cheaper papers and popular readership harder than wealthy consumers (because it formed a higher proportion of the purchase price). It was increased in 1797, reduced in 1836 and was finally ended in 1855, thus allowing a cheap press.
  1785 The Times founded as the Daily Universal Register.
  1814 Steam presses used to print The Times allow much greater and faster production.
  1821 Manchester Guardian, later The Guardian, founded.
  1837 Invention of electric telegraph greatly facilitates collection of news. Subsequently growth of railways makes national distribution of newspapers much easier.
  1843 The News of the World founded as a Sunday newspaper.
  1870 Education Act gives boost to creation of mass reading public.
  1896 The advent of a new range of popular mass circulation newspapers. Daily Mail founded by Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922). This was the first mass circulation newspaper, priced ½d.
  1900 Daily Express started by Arthur Pearson (1866-1921).
  1903/1904 Daily Mirror refounded as ½d. An illustrated newspaper, it was the first to make regular use of halftone photographs.
  1914 Press censorship introduced during First World War under Defence of the Realm Act of August 1914, censorship was subsequently strengthened but then removed after the war.
  1932-33 Growth of sales of popular press. Major circulation war between main newspapers. Daily Herald and Daily Express achieve circulation of over two million copies each per day.
  1937 Total sale of all national dailies estimated at 10 million copies per day. Parallel to this growth was the decline of the provincial daily papers, which fell; from 41 in 1921 to 28 in 1937.
  1939 Restrictions upon the press re-introduced during the Second World War under Defence Regulations.
  1949 First Royal Commission on the Press recommends setting up of Press Council to oversee all aspects of the press and handle complaints from the public. The Press Council is actually set up in 1953; its role is subsequently modified.
  1950 Total sales of all national daily newspapers reaches all-time peak of 17 million copies per day.
  1982 Mail on Sunday becomes first photo-composed national newspaper.
  1986 News International titles (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The News of the World) move to Wapping from Fleet Street, followed in the next few years by The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Evening Standard, Financial Times and Express Newspapers. This move is part of the process of transforming the production of newspapers using new technology.

 

Cinemas


Boys standing outside the 'Ideal' cinema, Lambeth, c.1930s. The silent film showing is Don Q Son of Zorro. picture zoom © Daily Herald Archive/Science & Society Picture Library

Moving film was developed simultaneously in France, Britain and the USA in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Cinemas grew, and reached a mass audience of both those in and out of work. They served both to generate common values and an influx of American ideas and values. The 1920s and 1930s was a heyday of cinema building, structures were now on a much larger scale.


Before cinema building took place on a wide scale, other buildings were repurposed to show films. picture zoom © Hulton Archive



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Early and interwar growth of film and cinema
  1896 First commercial film showing in Britain.
  1901 First story film showing in Britain.
  1907 The first purpose-built cinema arrived in Colne, Lancashire. Initially, films had been shown in converted shops and other locations. There was rapid building of cinemas in the years before World War One.
  1914-37 Number of cinemas increased from 3500 in 1914 to 3000 in 1926 and 4800 in 1939.

 

Cinema-going was also on a much larger scale. By 1936, there were 1,000 million admissions per year. In Liverpool in 1937, 40 percent of the population went to the cinema once a week and 25 percent twice. In York almost half the population went to its seven cinemas.


The Piccadilly News Theatre by night, 1934, showing ‘Actual pictures of the assasination of King Alexander’. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

There was a shift from silent films (interspersed with text on screen and with musical accompaniment) to films with sound. By 1928, Britain had experienced its first talking picture, and just a year later, the first British-made talking picture was released.


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Post-War decline of the cinema
Year Number of cinemas Number of admissions ('000)
1946 - 1635
1951 4597 -
1952 - 1312
1962 2421 395
1966 1847 289


 

Open question

Why did cinema-going decline after the war?

Radio

Radios were now mass-produced and became a cheap, accessible and everyday feature of life. Find out more about the early development of radio in the following scene:


STORY: Mass consumption
SCENE: The invention of radio
launch scene


Women workers at Perivale Philco radio factory, Middlesex, 20 April 1936. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

By the coming of war there were nine million radios registered in nine houses out of ten. In the early 1930s Currys were selling a cheap two or three valve set for £1 to £3, which, with a hire purchase agreement, meant 1-2s per week.


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A brief history of radio in the UK
  1901 First transatlantic radio message.
  1922 Radio broadcasting begun by British Broadcasting Company.
  1926 Foundation of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), as a public corporation to take over all radio broadcasting from the British Broadcasting Company.
  1947 First radio party political broadcast (by Clement Attlee).
  1947 Discovery of transistor. When its use becomes widespread, they allow creation of much smaller cheaper radios and television sets.
  1967 BBC’s first local radio station opened (Radio Leicester).
  1972 Sound Broadcasting Act, allows creation of commercial radio stations.
  1995 Digital radio broadcasts begun by BBC.

 

Woman building a radio set on an assembly line at the HMV (His Master's Voice) works at Hayes, Middlesex. c.1930s. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Radio began to shrink the world. At Christmas time reports came in from throughout the Empire. A Gentlemen v. Players cricket match was held each year and duly reported.

Gramophones


HMV portable gramophone, UK, c.1931. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Even though each record only played for a few minutes, the gramophone offered a flexible method of bringing the dance floor or the concert hall into the home. Sales rose, from four to 26 percent of musical instrument sales between 1907 and 1926. In 1929 the Times commented that ‘in every street, in every block of flats it is usual now to hear half-a-dozen or more gramophones all making different noises at once’.

Television


Women welding radio and television valves, c.1930s. picture zoom © Daily Herald Archive/Science & Society Picture Library

Television represented a major technical breakthrough during this period, but it did not yet impact on the lives of many people. Even in the southeast, few people had television in 1939 when television broadcasting stopped for the duration of the war.

Find out how more about the invention of television in the following scene:


STORY: Mass consumption
SCENE: Seeing by electricity
launch scene

However, from the 1960s onwards, television became Britain’s most widely used form of media. The introduction of a variety of terrestrial channels as well as satellite TV has meant that the viewer now has an almost infinite number of programmes to watch.


BBC TV’s first broadcast of a football match – Arsenal in September 1937. picture zoom © Hulton Archive


Look at the timeline describing developments in television and broadcasting history below.


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A brief history of TV in the UK
  1924 Baird transmits first successful television pictures.
  1929 Experimental television broadcasts begin.
  1936 First regular TV broadcasts made from Alexandra Palace, North London. By 1939 there are 20,000 TV sets in Britain. Much is done from the studio but recording from outside is also beginning. The development of the TV is stopped by the World War Two and services are closed down from 1939-46.
  1946 Resumption of broadcasting initially to London area (from Alexandra Palace transmitter), then in 1949 to the midlands (from Sutton Coldfield) and in 1951 to northern England (from Holme Moss).
  1954 Commercial television starts under the TV Act, under the overall control of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). The companies and programmes are to be financed by advertising and programmes are to be transmitted by regionally based companies. Transmission begins in 1955.
  1964 BBC2 begins transmitting.
  1966 Colour TV introduced.
  1972 First Philips video recorder.
  1982 Channel 4 provides national television service under the control of the IBA to provide for minority and educational interests.
  1983 Cable Authority established to supervise cable TV networks.
  1984 Sky TV launched on cable.
  1990 British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) begins transmission in April. It merges with Sky (November) to form BskyB.
   
Sources: A.H.Halsey, Trends in British Society since 1900, Macmillan, 1972 558-9 and C.Cook & J. Stevenson, The Longman Handbook of Modern British History, Longman 4th ed 2001.

 

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TV Licensing and usage , 1947-68
Year TV licences issued Percentage of adult population with TV at home
1947 - 0.2
1950 382 4.3
1955 4651 39.8
1960 10,554 81.8
1965 13,516 -
1964 - 90.8
1968 15,506 -


 

Open question

Why did the growth in the number of licences fall off? For the historian of the interwar period, why are the radio and the cinema of more interest than the television?


Television outside broadcast from an archery range, 13 July 1938. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library



Television broadcast on beekeeping, 9 June 1938. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library



Welsh miner in a television broadcast, 19 May 1938. © Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library


Resource Descriptions

Boys standing outside the 'Ideal' cinema, Lambeth, c.1930s. The silent film showing is Don Q Son of Zorro.
Before cinema building took place on a wide scale, other buildings were repurposed to show films.
The Piccadilly News Theatre by night, 1934, showing ‘Actual pictures of the assasination of King Alexander’.
Women workers at Perivale Philco radio factory, Middlesex, 20 April 1936.
Woman building a radio set on an assembly line at the HMV (His Master's Voice) works at Hayes, Middlesex. c.1930s.
HMV portable gramophone, UK, c.1931.
Women welding radio and television valves, c.1930s.
BBC TV’s first broadcast of a football match – Arsenal in September 1937.
Television outside broadcast from an archery range, 13 July 1938.
Television broadcast on beekeeping, 9 June 1938.
Welsh miner in a television broadcast, 19 May 1938.
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