31st December 2000. Showcase Britain.
Today in 2000 the Millennium Dome closed after a year of damaging criticism and a political storm over cost. Six million had passed through its gates in the year, much with the aid of free and subsidised school childrens’ tickets.
The forecast had been twelve million; the 1951 Festival of Britain in five months managed 8½ million.
It is one of history’s ironies that the Dome latterly came under the aegis of Peter Mandelson MP, grandson of Herbert Morrison MP, a guiding light behind the Festival of Britain which showcased science, technology, design, architecture and art.
Then King George sententiously remarked: ‘I see this festival as a symbol of Britain’s abiding courage and vitality’, followed by the banality of Britain deserving, ‘a pat on the back’, by Morrison, ‘after the years of war and austerity’.
The Festival of Britain (a celebration to commemorate the centenary of the Crystal Palace Exhibition) was closed on 30 September in 1951, having been opened by the King in May.
It was centred on the south bank of the Thames on twenty-seven bomb-blasted acres near Waterloo Station.
It is remembered for the slender illuminated elliptical Skylon designed by Sir Philip Powell, soaring 300 feet, symbolizing the new Britain, the exciting colours of the funfair, fabrics and flowers after years of wartime vegetable growing and drabness.
Thus, after the austerity of war, and with its spindly designs and mixture of colourful, modern materials the Festival influenced 1950s colour and design, contrasting with the heavy International Modernism of the 1930s.(1)
Certainly it was a tribute to Hugh Casson who had been appointed Director of Architecture in 1948.
However the Festival like the later Millennium Dome, was not without its critics. Churchill called it socialist propaganda, whilst the Tory, Beaverbrook Press called it extravagant.
Noel Coward sang: ‘Don’t make fun of the Festival’, whilst writer Evelyn Waugh said that there was little enthusiasm for the ‘monstrous construction’ on the South Bank’.
Then 96 years old Max Nicholson responsible for the Festival later said on its 50 anniversary of its opening that people later turned their back on its ideals and became a ‘mob of selfish people’, and blamed the Millennium fiasco on politicians and their cronies.
The 365-foot Festival, Dome of Discovery was a forerunner of the Millennium Dome, though ironically today it is the Millennium Wheel, which has caught the public imagination.
Today all that remains of 1951 is the Royal Festival Hall as Churchill, back in power, had everything else cleared, though the Marquis of Bath did have visions of the Skylon being moved by helicopter to Longleat!
(1) One product which was used exclusively in the Festival Hall was Sanderson’s Wallpaper, which set design patterns for the decade.
Ref: wikipedia.org/millennium_dome/Pic Image.
Ref: wikipedia.org/festival_of_britain//Pic Image.