Halfway to Paradise

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from Chapter One - BRITANNIA RAG

In 1954 the Fourth of July was celebrated not only as Independence Day in the the United States, but as Derationing Day in Britain. This was the official end of post-war austerity, the day that bacon and meat finally came off the ration, marking an end to all wartime food restrictions.

Members of the London Housewives’ Association congregated in Trafalgar Square to celebrate, people gathered at venues around the country to burn their ration books – although Gwilym Lloyd George, the Minister of Food, announced that he would be keeping his as a souvenir – and Wilfred Pickles marked the occasion in a special programme on the wireless.

The same day, for those who had access to television, the only channel then available was beaming in live coverage of the World Cup final from Switzerland, where West Germany won the Jules Rimet Trophy for the first time, beating the Hungarian team led by Ferenc Puskás 3–2 in a match that the Germans dubbed ‘the Miracle of Bern’. (England had been knocked out in the quarter finals by Uruguay, despite goals from Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney.) The programme that followed the football, however, was perhaps more characteristic of the conservatism of the period: Last Week’s Newsreels.

It was that sense of déjá vu, rather than the thrills of the World Cup, that was reflected in the record charts that week. At #1 was ‘Cara Mia’, a faux-Neopolitan ballad by the Yorkshire tenor David Whitfield, with accompaniment by the orchestra of Mantovani, while the rest of the top 10 was filled by other light-entertainment singers, including Doris Day, Max Bygraves, Perry Como and Billy Cotton and his Band.

But, for those seeking something a little more raucous, hope was at hand. Just a few short months later, the last chart of the year saw the entry of ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’, the debut hit by Bill Haley and his Comets. And the country would never be quite the same again...

Bill Haley and his Comets
Bill Haley and his Comets
Harry Hammond (© V&A Images)