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Festival of Britain

Winston Churchill and the 1951 Festival of Britain

Finest Hour 174, Autumn 2016

Page 22

By Iain Wilton

Iain Wilton recently completed his Ph.D. at Queen Mary, University of London. He has also written a major biography of the English sportsman, writer and politician C. B. Fry; among much else, it covers each of Fry’s key encounters with Churchill.

Artist’s view of the Festival on London’s South BankArtist’s view of the Festival on London’s South BankThe Festival of Britain has certainly earned some interesting and pithy descriptions in the sixty-five years since it was staged. In the words of its Director-General, Gerald Barry, it represented “a tonic to the nation” after twenty years in which Britons had successively endured economic depression, total warfare and acute post-war austerity.1 In the case of Winston Churchill, however, several historians have claimed that he saw the Festival in a very different and darker light. In particular, various commentators have alleged that Churchill (then Leader of the Opposition) was vehemently opposed to the venture and regarded it as “three-dimensional socialist propaganda.”2

While this dramatic phrase has been used repeatedly, it is equally striking that it has never been properly sourced. As a result, it is surely high time to consider whether Churchill was as hostile to the Festival as this alleged comment suggests and a number of historians have asserted. Alternatively, does any firmer evidence exist to show that his stance towards the project was actually conciliatory or even supportive, in sharp contrast to the historical consensus that has developed since the Festival took place?

Expected Antagonism?

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