Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A Tonic to the Nation

A MoDiP Celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Festival of Britain – a local tribute

‘The Arts at Bournemouth – with her parks and promenades, hotels and Winter Gardens, Bournemouth has grown to serve those seeking comfort, health and entertainment’ – so went the headline for the Festival of Britain’s Official Book which outlined the festival activities of different towns and cities during the months of May to September 1951. It would be wrong if the Museum of Design in Plastics housed at the Arts University Bournemouth did not acknowledge the 65th anniversary of this great festival. Timed to be the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and as ‘Tonic to the Nation’ following the austerity endured during the Second World War. The Festival was as great as it was controversial.

Bournemouth played its part, largely dominated by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra under the direction of the conductor and music director Rudolf Schwarz who joined Bournemouth in 1947, having been released from Belsen in 1945. The Festival of Britain concert was jointly arranged with the Arts Council of Great Britain, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic with a festival choir of 300 voices. The Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet appeared at the Pavilion, and the local cinemas showed a season of film classics. Meyrick Park held English Folk Dancing events, and there was a national brass band competition, a national sea cadet display, and a large number of sporting events.

Poole Pottery had suffered from the same wartime restrictions on decorative pottery as others, which  had the effect of bringing design in the pottery industry to a standstill. However with the Festival’s design approach dedicated to modernism a flurry of new shapes and patterns emerged from Poole Pottery. The impact of medical discoveries, science, and organic abstract forms found in Scandinavian design influenced much of the work. Commemorative wares for the Festival were made by Poole for the Festival of Britain but few were sold due to licensing problems.

For MoDiP, the collection largely concerns itself with plastics and not necessarily souvenirs of the Festival but I am allowing myself some indulgence here with a range of items from my own collection, not all plastic, but demonstrating the range of items that were available as keepsakes of the Festival of Britain. The festival symbol/logo designed by Abram Games was unashamedly attached to nearly everything and  ordinary and pre-war merchandise was represented as a souvenir.  A Souvenir Committee was set up jointly with the Festival Britain Office and the Council of Industrial Design and  items were choosen that they thought were the most original and the best designed and of  best value. Fortunately, those chosen by the Souvenir Committee allow us to identify the manufacturers even if aesthetic taste was left to one side. As far as manufacturers were concerned, the Festival gave a new impetus to manufacturing and a focus on economic development. The advertising throughout all the festival literature pays homage to new discoveries and new opportunities all endorsed by the festival symbol and demonstrates a great sense of optimism particularly for the plastics industries, as the main MoDiP collections demonstrate.

Tobacco Box: Metal Box Co. Ltd
Horse Brass: Max Gate Ltd. Birmingham
Richard Wheen and Sons: Fine Soaps

AIBDC : 006967

Professor Emma Hunt (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Arts University Bournemouth)

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