Look Back in Anger

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HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL BACKGROUND Look Back in Anger closely reflects the climate in Great Britain in the mid-fifties; therefore making a study of the specific historical, political, social and cultural context proves to be extremely pertinent. Following the Second World War, British politics and society underwent a period of rapid changes. The following timeline table shows the most important events that would change Britain: 1944 Education Act created several red-brick universities that broke away from the Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge) model; for the first time in British history, university education and study grants were widely available to working-class students; 1945 the war ends; United Nations is created; Clement Atlees Labour Cabinet came to power and implemented the Beveridge Plan (Lord Beveridge aimed to combat Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness and therefore create a better society); the newly created Welfare State provided many social reforms: social and medical benefits for all social classes; 1946 nationalisation of the Bank of England and of the mines; Between Cold War begins; 1947-1948 the dissolution of the colonial Empire came about with India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, Egypt, and the Sudan gaining independence; the result was a loss of political and military power for Great Britain; Britain vastly diminished its size and lost plenty of resources; Railways are nationalised; 1948 The National Health Service begins; National Service Act around 160,000 young men were called up each year to undergo basic military training and military service for a period of two years, sometimes in hot places such as Malaya and Korea; the Marshall Plan is implemented; Gandhi is assassinated; 1949 the Atlantic Pact is established; 50s the culture of Britain became a youth culture: going to the theatre or the opera was no longer popular, but to go to the cinema or watch TV; this youthful influence had a great impact on every aspect from life, from fashion to entertainment; the development of technology during the two wars increased productivity and created more jobs; many workers came to the city in search of employment and the suburbs were developed; people started to realise that the Socialism Utopia was not to be: reforms held the promise of a more democratic society, but class barriers remained firmly in place; many young intellectuals suffer from a sense of betrayal and futility, and are caught between contempt for and conflict with authority; they are alienated from society, and deflect their frustration in apathy, self-pity and sarcasm; on the one hand they lose touch with the working class, on the other hand they fail to find their niche in a new class; the black-and-white divisions of morality and politics turned into shades of grey; actions that needed to be taken turned into thoughts and political stands, and frustration inevitably followed for those who felt they needed to actively participate in

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shaping the world around them; the English society of the time de-emphasised the importance of individual achievement in favour of more widespread reorganisation; The Korean war starts; the Conservative Government came back to power; there wasnt many differences between those parties and a feeling of disillusionment with the politics set in; King George VI dies; Queen Elizabeth II came to throne, and the pomp and ceremony of the Coronation momentarily created the false euphoria of a new Elizabethan Age, which quickly faded; rationing introduced in the 40s ends; Churchill retires and Eden becomes Prime Minister; Commercial television starts; the first British hydrogen bomb is tested; in Egypt, President Nassar decided to nationalise the Suez Canal and the British Government together with France and Israel opposed his decision with a military invasion post-war peace was broken; Britain and her allies were forced to retreat from the Gulf following a United Nations ruling, a clear sign that Britain was no longer a great power; Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest (Hungary) bringing another terrible blow to world order; John Osborns Look Back in Anger and Alan Sillitoes Saturday Night and Sunday Morning are issued; Britain was deprived of her former international prestige; she was in the middle of a Cold War between two World Powers, the USSR and America; international spying became widespread, especially in the field of nuclear research programmes, with famous spy cases, like that of Burgess and Maclean, hitting newspaper headlines; Macmillan becomes Prime Minister; the Treaty of Rome is signed; Bill Haley and his group toured the country rock and roll music hit Britain and older people hated the new music; a campaign for Nuclear Disarmament begins;

THE LOSS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE After the First World War the German colonies of Africa, as well as Iraq and Palestine, were added to Britains area of control as mandated from the League of Nations and Britain was supposed to help these territories towards self-government. At its peak (20s-30s), the British Empire covered nearly one quarter of the worlds land surface and contained almost one quarter of its population. Although to some extent destabilised by the growth of nationalist movements in the non-white territories, as for instance, in India due to the mistrust and misunderstanding between British rulers and the Indian people, the empire remained of considerable economic and military significance. After the Second World War the United Nations Charter also called for progress towards selfgovernment. Britain had lost control of colonial possessions to Japan during that war and it was felt that the British Empire couldnt last much longer. British rule in India could no longer continue. How far, and at what point, a majority of the British people had digested the fact that Britain was no longer a major world power is difficult to determine: probably not till the 60s, though, objectively, Suez is the watershed. In the imagery of newsreel, press, radio and television, Britain continued to be

presented, along with France, as a big country. Undoubtedly a pervasive sentiment was we won the war. Newsreels in the later forties had made something of a fuss over the granting of independence to India, quite possible because Churchill took an aggressive position on this issue (not that Britain had any choice anyway). There has been much theorising about the impact the loss of empire ought to have had on the British psyche; the empirical evidence is that it really had very little. The most notable consequences were felt by members of the upper and upper-middle classes who no longer had the Raj as a territory in which to exploit their natural gift of leadership. Apart from a few Victorian regrets over India the official line was one self-congratulation that Britain once more was leading the way in granting independence to former colonial peoples. Prime Minister Clement Atlee is determined to disassemble the British Empire as a luxury, which cannot be afforded any longer, as well as of dubious moral value. However, Britain saw its empire as an important asset in the post-war period and sought to maximise its value in a number of ways: the granting of independence to India and Pakistan, leaving Hindus and Muslims fighting (1947); the British departure from Palestine/Israel, leaving Muslims and Jews to initiate the long-time Middle-East conflict (1947); the granting of independence to Burma and Ceylon (1948); fostering the emergence of the Commonwealth as a method enabling it to continue to exercise informal influence as a formal empire receded; preserving a worldwide system of naval and military bases, for example, the Suez Canal Zone, Mombassa, Aden, Singapore and Hong Kong. One by one, British colonies around the world become independent nations. The Commonwealth of Nations, founded by Britain, becomes dominated by her former colonies. By the mid-60s, the notion of Commonwealth as a world force was at an end, although the concept had succeeded in disguising the British retreat from empire. THE MAKING OF THE POSTWAR CONSENSUS (1940-55) Britains world role In the years between 1940 and 1955, a broad policy consensus emerged between the two major parties. It was a joint product of the Labour Government of 1945-51, which laid the foundations of post-war policies, and of the Conservative Government of 1951-55, which in broad terms accepted Labours key legislation and policies. But some inter-party differences remained, with Labour, for example, more public sector-orientated and the Conservatives more sympathetic to the private sector. Foreign policy was based on the view that Britains special relationship with the United States, leadership of a multiracial Commonwealth, possession of nuclear weapons and large conventional military capability gave the country a continuing leading status as a world power. Britains post-war role in the world was powerfully shaped by Labours Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. He based his policies on two principles first, that a vigorous British foreign policy was vital to world peace; and second, that Britain was still a great power with important global interests to protect. To these ends, he presided over the development of a system of treaties for the global containment of communism (in alliance with the USA); the emergence of a complex imperial policy combining the development of the empire, thee creation of the Commonwealth, and a system of global bases and strong points; and a powerful defence forces backed by a British Atomic Bomb. After the first British hydrogen bomb in 1955 a more crucial issue stole the scene. Throughout the second half of the fifties opinion polls indicated that between one quarter and one third of the British public favoured Britains unilaterall