The Second World War was over. In Britain, the National Health Service was newly created (1948) and the coal industry and the railways were nationalised.
Advances in medicine, extensive immunisation programmes and improvements in housing and hygiene put a spring in everyone’s step, and by 1957, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan could truthfully say “most of our people have never had it so good”.
Much of the drudgery of everyday life was removed by a new sophisticated network of electricity and mod cons in the home, while the arrival of mass car-ownership brought greater mobility and independence.
2 June 1953 marked the dawning of the new Elizabethan age in Britain. A 25-year-old princess was crowned Queen Elizabeth II amidst scenes of national celebration. The Coronation was the first great television event in 20th century Britain with more than twenty million watching the ceremony on their black and white televisions.
Yet in the early 50s, there were few signs of the youthful explosion that was to emerge in the Swinging Sixties.
Britain was still a grey country dominated by austerity. Everything was still rationed, from sweets to shoes, and clothes had to be bought with coupons saved over many months.
The young found the post-war culture restricting and regimented. Fathers and elder brothers who had spent several years in the armed forces returned home and reasserted the old discipline that had been relaxed while they were away.
The sexual permissiveness and loosening of moral standards that had been a feature of the war years also ended abruptly when family life resumed.
Young men of the 1950s were confronted by the daunting prospect of National Service; called up at the age of eighteen to undergo two years of military training and duty – the first time compulsory military service had been seen in Britain outside wartime.
National Service eventually became unpopular with the new breed of teenager and was abolished in 1960.
The first youth explosion was rooted in the growing confidence and affluence of the young generation. Wages had been gradually improving since the early 50s and young people were beginning to enjoy the fruits of their new-found affluence.
The driving force behind the new youth movement was music – especially the rock ‘n’ roll music that was emanating from the United States. It featured electric guitars and was loud, brash and aggressive. It became the music of choice for a young generation.
To the old, this music seemed discordant, disturbing and dangerously sexual. But the explosive sounds of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley captured the mood of the young and their yearning for freedom and excitement.