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Postwar Youth Culture Explored in New Book by Historian

05/15/2009 11:29:44

Juke Box Britain by Dr Adrian Horn
Juke Box Britain by Dr Adrian Horn

A Lancaster University historian has called into question the postwar Americanisation of British society in a new book called Juke Box Britain.

Dr Adrian Horn said British teenagers following World War II witnessed immense cultural change. There were fewer than 100 jukeboxes in Britain in 1945 and over 15,000 by 1958. The first ones were made in Blackpool – by the Hawtin’s factory from 1945 and later by the Ditchburn Company of Lytham St. Annes. They were hugely popular particularly in the seaside resorts of the Fylde Coast.

He said: “Over the same period, there was a similar unprecedented expansion of casual youth venues in the form of cafés, snack, milk and coffee bars where young people could hear the sounds of American jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. Teenagers were earning more in real terms than ever before and spending it on commodities ‘of no lasting value’ like make-up, clothes, records and juke box music. These new forms of youth culture were seen as American, gaudy, a waste of money, un-British and socially retrogressive by culturally entrenched ‘Establishment’ bodies like the BBC, police, magistrates and school authorities. The generational frictions were stretched further by the Teddy Boy subculture which led to a moral panic and general social indignation.”

Salford’s Chief Constable warned in 1952 that: “It is our experience that far more immorality among young people comes from milk bars than from pubs. My officers know that dances and milk bars, where the girls and boys gather, are the place where they tend to go astray.”

One interviewee in the book, Valerie Tome, remembered that her family shared one radio but no one was allowed to tune into Radio Luxembourg.

She said: “My father claimed that tuning it into Radio Luxembourg would seriously distort the mechanism and ruin the membranes and blow up the tubes. But Rita, who had everything, was bought a portable radio, and I can remember us lying on the floor in her bedroom and screaming to Radio Luxembourg. I would scream when Frankie Vaughan came on and Rita would scream when Dickie Valentine came on.”

But Dr Horn disagreed with a common assumption that British youth between 1945 and 1960 underwent a period of massive ‘Americanisation’.

“Juke Box Britain contests this view maintaining that American popular-cultural influences were not examples of cultural domination but simply influences that combined with existing styles to create distinctly British style fusions that may now be viewed as quaint and of the period.”

Dr Horn’s book is recommended by David Fowler of the University of Cambridge who calls it an “innovative and scholarly work...which sheds much needed light on the cultural worlds of 'the juke box boys' and youth cafes of postwar Britain.”

“Juke box Britain: Americanisation and youth culture 1945-60” is published by Manchester University Press.