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Popular culture in Britain at the beginning of the 1960’s Assignment

Popular culture in the early 1960s was very different to life in the 1950’s, but many factors of the 1950s such as music, fashion, the media and changes in society greatly influenced the change of culture in the 60’s. During the 1950s Britain was still recovering from an economic hardship, often referred to as “The age of Austerity”, which had been caused by the Second World War.

However, nearing the end of the decade, things were starting to change rapidly as taxes dropped while the rate of employment steadily rose meaning more of the people of Britain had money in their pockets, this was particularly convenient for teenagers as they had no responsibilities such as bills to pay therefore benefited the most out of this newfound wealth. By 1959, the average weekly wage had risen from £6. 40 to almost double at £11. 12. As money and the employment rate grew, so did the countries prosperity.

This extra money meant that ordinary people could easily buy things that they would have previously considered luxuries such as cars, TV’s and other household appliances. In 1935 there had been 2,000,000 cars in Britain, but by 1955 it had increased to 3,500,000 and was still escalating by the 1960s. This was also partly due to tiny down payments on the products. In 1960, the deposit on a new car could be as little as £5. 00. Working young people would receive their wages and be able to spend it on leisure, free from the responsibilities and prices of adulthood.

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Now that they had more money and less liability, a new market was created, bringing youth culture into popular mainstream. The growth of consumer sales created lots more job opportunities and a whole new industry which was new to Britain – advertising. Advertising had a huge impact on the British culture in the 1960’s, as there was more money in pockets to be spent. Commercial TV was established in 1955 therefore new products could be publicised far more effectively than before, as it was now common to have a TV in the household.

Companies were paying channels money to advertise their goods, as they were fully aware of youth spending power and were advertising to appeal to the younger generation. As a result, the TV popular TV companies such as the BBC had more money to invest in their programmes, and this proved instantly effective. Television was immediately successful and a study showed that 60% of British adults tuned in for an average of five hours a night in the winter and three and a half in the summer. However, the most regular viewers were the children of Britain as 85% of them watched TV frequently.

This was a huge influence on the culture change as the television was a means to communication for the advertising companies. This was because television programmes were evolving from john Reith’s educational to entertaining so the amount of younger viewers rose dramatically. Not only had the new era of advertising affected television, but magazine’s had also greatly benefited. In 1938 “Women” magazine sold 75,000 copies a week, but by 1952 the figure was up to 2,250,000 and in 1957 it was 3,500,000.

This was because woman now had the money to spend on their appearance so they wanted to know exactly how to do it properly. This was around the time 1960s fashion emerged. Throughout the fifties, fashion required women to force themselves into uncomfortable garments such as corsets in order to achieve a particular shape; skirts were puffed out with layers of petticoats and hung down to the lower leg. The best word to describe fifties fashion would be impractical. That was until Mary Quant was discovered.

Mary was born on 11th February 1934 in Kent, England. She studied illustration at Goldsmiths College before taking a job with a couture milliner. In 1955, Quant teamed up with her husband and an accountant to open a clothes shop on kings Road in London called “Bazaar” – this was the beginning of a new era in fashion. Quant was famed for her work on pop art in fashion, and had great influence on skirts getting shorter since about 1958 – a development she considered to be practical and liberating, allowing women the ability to run for a bus.

For the first time in history, young woman were no longer trying to look like their mother’s. The miniskirt, for which quant is arguably most famous, became one of the defining fashions of the 1960s. There is much controversy about whether or not Quant came up with the original idea of the miniskirt, but she was definetely seen as the designer of the sixties, and to model her simple but beautiful clothes, twiggy and Jean shrimpton were perfect for the job, with twiggy’s “girl next door” look and jean’s (also known as “the shrimp”) ability to make the most basic clothes look fantastic.

This was also the perfect opportunity for teenage girls to move away from what their parents wore. It was fast fashion, an instant success. Quant’s successed was shortly followed by polish fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki who set up a mail order business and shop in south Kensington called “biba” in 1964. As the skirts got shorter, it became more noticeable that Mary Quant and other designers of the sixties were catering more to the younger generation, styles that challenged traditional ideas. These designers were challenging the establishment.

Quant once describing the new fashion once said, “it grew out of something in the air which developed into a serious effort to break away from the establishment” she then went on to say, “it was the first real indication of a complete change of outlook. Quant had admitted that the rebellion against establishment had begun with fashion. This was a massive development from the 1950’s, as the clothes that were now being produced allowed young people to be themselves rather than miniture version of their parents.

Not only has the fashion industry revolutionised, but musical influences had also gone through radical modifications. Through the majority of the fifties, the most popular type of music was easy listening, often-acoustic ballads with sentimental lyrics of the “boy meets girl” variety. Artists like Perry Como were a big hit with harmless lyrics that adults could enjoy and didn’t disapprove of. However, near the middle of the decade, teenagers were taking a new step towards independence and idolising American heroes such as James Dean and Elvis Presley who seemed to challenge traditional social views.

James Dean, born in California in 1931, was an attractive young film star whose film “Rebel without a cause” was widely cited as an accurate representation of teenage angst. His role in “rebel without a cause” was the typical teenager stuck where no one, not even their peers, could understand them, which was a feeling at the time that a lot of british teens were experiencing. Another newfound idol was Elvis Presley, born in Tennessee In 1935. Elvis, often referred to as “Elvis the Pelvis”, provoked the most profound reactions of disgust and delight with his onstage performances and gyrating hips.

However, he managed to produce a number of amazingly popular records before and after his discharge from the army. All his releases went straight to number one and he even managed to influence British pop stars such as cliff Richard, Martyn Wilde and others- all of which underwent the same transformation that Elvis went through in the late 1950’s. Nevertheless, the two stars influence proved to be short lived, as their iconic lifestyles contributed greatly to their premature deaths.

Although deceased, Dean and Presley’s influence was still played a huge part in British culture, as the lyrics and popular style of music began to change and appeal more to the youth culture, and as the media was introducing new television shows showing middle-class life, this was a perfect time for a fresh new look, an unlikely combination of four talented individuals from Liverpool – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The Beatles, guided by manager Brian Epstein, were transformed from an indistinguishable act to the most famous pop group in history.

They wore suits with no lapels, cut their hair into a pudding basin style, and unlike many British performers at the time, wrote and performed their own music – a combination of rhythm and blues, rock and roll and Tamla Motown. The Beatles began their success as a clean-cut and cheerful group, with playful lyrics such as “I want to hold your hand” and “Love me do”, Not long after the Beatles came the Rolling Stones, who began similar to the Beatles, but then developed their own style. In conclusion, popular culture in the late fifties/early sixties had changed dramatically from what it was in the fifties.

I believe this was mainly influenced by the youth’s increased spending power and independence, as a whole new market was created in order to sell new music and fashion to them. The use of advertising was particularly successful because the age of austerity was finally ended, therefore more households could afford what they had previously considered a luxury, for example a television set. Slowly the British media accepted both changes in TV and music. Therefore television and popular music boomed. The 1960’s popular culture had been born and things would never be the same again.

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