After the trauma of the Blitz and wartime restrictions, London embraced the arrival of a new decade. Austerity was slow to loosen its grip, but the Festival of Britain pointed a tentative way forward. Two years later saw the birth of a new Elizabethan era that was greeted with an almost naive enthusiasm. This was a time when class still dominated and divided. Despite the introduction of the welfare state, grinding poverty still existed. The rich were also suffering under a barrage of punitive taxation. The artistic community set out to challenge the bounds of perceived decency. As always, London spearheaded change. Twin sets and pearls gave way to a new elegance in women's fashion, while young men ditched their cloth caps in favour of Teddy Boy suits. A new teenage culture arrived along with coffee bars and rock 'n' roll. To a background of grisly murders and organised crime, often shrouded in fog, London lurched into the unknown. It was loud, brash and chaotic, yet also sophisticated. A city of opportunity and dangerous temptation, it set the agenda for others to follow.
Huge success and degrading humiliation were of passing interest only as the world's greatest city hurled itself restlessly forward seeking its next distraction.
Mike Hutton is a London history author. His previous book include The Story of Soho and Life in 1940s London. Now retired, he lives on the borders of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.
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