With 1,197 employees and friends of a large Bradford store, I arrived back in Bradford at 5 o’clock yesterday morning. Our eyes were very tired and we had mixed feelings about the Festival of Britain.
Some of us thought it was good, some of us thought it was bad – and probably the great majority of us thought it was indifferent. This, I think, covers everybody except Kate. Kate had her own opinion – as, I gather, Kate usually has. Kate thought the Dome of Discovery was a dull, dark, dismal hole, and as for much of the rest of it . . . well, she assures me you can see better things in Bradford any day of the week.
We were talking, of course, of the South Bank Exhibition. To most of the thousands of Yorkshire men and women who are going on their firms’ outings to London every Saturday, the South bank Exhibition is the Festival of Britain. A day trip leaves little time for anything else; indeed, the complaint of almost everybody is that it does not give nearly enough time for that. When will exhibition organisers acquire the sub-editor’s mentality and realise that probably 90 per cent of their patrons will have only a day to spend there?
Some of us got to the Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens and some to the London Palladium. And hardly any of us were disappointed with either. But few got to anything else. That is really a pity, for it means that some of the purest gems of the Festival are born to blush unseen. The delightful Sherlock Holmes exhibition in Baker Street, for instance, with its perfect reproduction of the room the immortal detective lived in, complete with the recorded music of hansom cabs trotting down the street. To Holmes addicts like myself, this little show steals much of the South Bank’s thunder.
But to return to that dazzling display of skylon, dome, hall and pavilions in which I have been pushing my way and straining my neck and wearing out my feet for five whole hours without sighting a vacant chair.
Enjoyed every minute
Let us start with the people who thought it was good. Most of them find it difficult to say why it was good, but they enjoyed every minute of it. Many of them had never seen an exhibition like it before. Some had never been to London before. They were captivated by the pictures of Britain two million years ago, just as they were captivated by the model of a modern coal-mine. And although they confessed they could not understand half of them, they were intrigued by the futuristic mysteries of the Dome of Discovery. Their only regret, in short, is that they cannot go back again tomorrow.
Next, the people who thought it bad. They have been very disappointed. They found it all too technical, and scientific and miles and miles above them. There were far too many explanations to read and far too many diagrams to study. And when they had read them and studied them they were little the wiser. It was, as one of them put it, too much like school. Their only regret, in short, is that they did not go to the Pleasure Gardens straight away.
A hint for visitors
Thirdly, the great majority who thought it indifferent. They liked the Land of Britain and the People of Britain and a few other pavilions because they gave them a clear picture of interesting aspects of their own country – although they hadn’t time to do them justice. They liked the Sea and Ships, because they served in the Navy in the war. They liked Transport because it showed cars and aeroplanes in bits – and they like taking things to bits. But they thought Minerals were boring and could not make head or tail of Power and Production.
In other words, they liked those things which appealed to their special interests – and did not much care for anything else. Their only regret, in short, is that they did not spend more time in those pavilions which interested them, and less in those which did not. And that is a very good plan for future visitors to follow. For in many ways this is a specialised rather than a popular exhibition. Nearly all the people who had been to Wembley said they liked Wembley much better.
But although most people fall into one of these categories, there are a good many general likes and dislikes. Everyone who queued successfully for the telecinema liked it immensely. Everyone liked features of the Lion and Unicorn pavilion – particularly the one which allows cartoon sketches of typical scenes from English life, illustrated by a few lines of amusing dialogue spoken over a gramophone. Why, one wonders, are there so few of these catchy novelties which everyone likes?
On the other hand, everyone disliked the fact that there were no television sets working in the Television pavilion, and almost everyone disliked the uncomfortable-looking modern furtniture in the Homes and Gardens pavilion. Nearly everybody said the guide-book should be a guide book and not a vague commentary, and everyone said the sign-posting was so poor that they saw some things twice and missed other things altogether. Nearly every woman said it was too much of a man’s show, and every child who had been there liked the Regent Park zoo a hundred times better. And everyone said there were too many steps, and too few chairs, and oh! too many people.
And yet although many were disappointed, none would have missed it. Not even Kate.
Food for thought
And even the severest critics found something to attract them, often rare delights which I am sure Mr. Gerald Barry and his assistants never contemplated. The two men who spent half an hour in the Country pavilion, for instance, arguing excitedly in front of a large glass case containing hundreds of new-laid eggs. I thought there must be some mystic significance about those eggs, and went up to see what interested them so keenly. “I tell you, George,” I heard one say emphatically to the other, “if a hen and a half lay an egg and a half in a day and a half it’s perfecty clear that . . .” Or the man who, when I asked him what had struck him most at the exhibition, replied: “Seeing them make sticks of rock down at the seaside show. I still can’t make out how they get the letters in.”
And being Bradfordians (1,197 of us), we had our fun. The conscious humour of the man and his wife in front of the picture of Britain two million years ago, “Eh, Fred,” said the wife, gripped by the romance of it, “think of that now! Two million years ago!” Fred looked at the picture gravely “Aye lass,” he said slowly “it’s afore your time is that.” The unconscious humour of the girl who was looking for one of her companions – a very popular occupation on Saturday. “I can’t see Dolly anywhere,” she announced to the other members of the party. She stood on tiptoes and looked over the milling crowd. “Eh,” she said, “there’s Dolly’s hat there in front.” What foul fate had befallen Dolly I never discovered.
The fun fair
And so on in the evening to the colour, gaiety and strangely Oriental flavour of Battersea Park, with its fantastic tents and awnings, its floodlit fountains, its flowers and its rollicking fun fair – shining out dramatically in the darkness. Its flying cars which loop the loop and make you sick with fear just to watch; its Big Dipper which cowards say only fools go on; its Rotor which lifts you bodily in the air.
Here, factory workers of Yorkshire, is the Festival of Britain you cannot help but enjoy. Don’t stay too long at the exhibition and miss it. Don’t be like that poor young man on the train coming back, who listened in bitter silence to the Pleasure Garden exploits of his pals. “Didn’t you go?” they asked him. “Nay,” he replied sadly, “I spent all t’afternoon at t’exhibition and I thought t’Pleasure Gardens’d be as bad. So I went to a show.”