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Historian seeks public perspective on post-war era

Posted Thursday 11 November 2010

Historian David Kynaston will be gathering material for his latest book when he hosts a discussion on post-war history at Kingston University.

Dr Kynaston, a visiting professor at Kingston, will be talking about some of the themes of 'Modernity Britain, 1957-63', the third in his five-volume history of Britain from 1945-1979, at the event at 5:30pm on November 15 at Kingston's Penrhyn Road campus. The first book in the series, 'Austerity Britain 1945-51', was named book of the decade by the Sunday Times.

Panel members Sir Peter Scott - Vice Chancellor, Brian Cathcart - professor of journalism, Dr Jeremy Nuttall - senior lecturer in modern history, and journalist Katharine Whitehorn will discuss the themes with Dr Kynaston before the discussion is opened to members of the public. Participants who are too young to remember the50s and 60s are just as welcome as those who lived through those years and can offer memories and observations of a pivotal period in British history.

"I rely mostly on contemporary sources because they're usually richer and truer but I'm always interested in people's recollections," he said. "I'm keen to do this talk now, before I start writing, because this is the moment for input while I'm still shaping ideas." The book is due to be published in 2012.

The redevelopment of city centres, the emergence of shopping centres and supermarkets, and the start of the motorway network were among the changes that heralded what Dr Kynaston described as the "modernity zeitgeist". The period was characterised by an increase in consumerism, with shoppers tempted by an ever greater range of products. Most people were better off than they had been in previous years, although the British economy was not growing as fast as rivals such as France, Dr Kynaston explained.

He said he also wanted to explore the way the lives of the working classes became a fashionable theme in films, television and novels such as 'Billy Liar', 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning', 'Room at the Top' and 'This Sporting Life'. "I'm particularly interested in the tension between the often idealised view of the working class held by progressive intellectuals and the realities of people's lives," he said.   

Although Dr Kynaston, 59, was a schoolboy in the late fifties and early sixties he said he had clear memories of television programmes such as the BBC current affairs programme 'Tonight' hosted by Cliff Michelmore as well as radio and television programmes starring his favourite comedian, Tony Hancock. He also recalled that in the summer of 1963 while a pupil at a Shrewsbury boarding school, the teachers tried to shield their pupils from the salacious details of the sex scandal involving War Secretary John Profumo by cutting any references to it from the newspapers. "Because the affair dominated the news at the time we were left with newspapers with huge holes in them," Dr Kynaston said. He added: "It's a period of history I cherish because it reflects my childhood years but while I hope the book will be evocative, as an historian I want it to offer an unsentimental picture."

The event is one of a series to celebrate the launch of Kingston University's new Centre for the Historical Record. The centre will research, digitise and disseminate historical records on a broad range of subjects including medical history, law, crime, gender, politics and human rights. When the centre officially opens to the public next year it will be based at Kingston's Penrhyn Road campus.  

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