London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins
First published 1945; this edition Penguin 2008
No tasteful old jacket here, I’m afraid – this is an old book, but a recent favourite. The cover photo looks north up Charing Cross Road, from the entrance to the old Astoria. Almost everything you can see has since vanished.
London Belongs to Me isn’t great art, but the definition of a Modern Classic is pretty broad these day; it’s a well-written, well plotted, big old-fashioned saga, built around the intersecting lives of the tenants of a Kennington lodging house, before and after the outbreak of the Second World War. If you enjoy RF Delderfield, or movies such as Millions Like Us, you’ll enjoy this chunky and unpretentious read.
The book was a massive success, and was swiftly filmed. Norman Collins was primarily a broadcaster – he created Dick Barton, was a television pioneer, and went on to join the board of ATV and later ITN.
Austerity Binge by Bevis Hillier
Studio Vista, 1975
Decorative arts, 1945-51 – feeling our way towards the 50s, through a curious blend of nostalgia, modernism and kitsch – this was one of the first assessments of the applied arts from that period. Comedian Stuart Lee stole the title for his recent stand-up festival on the South Bank.
Age of Austerity, 1945-1951. Edited by Michael Sissons and Philip French.
Hodder & Stoughton, 1963; this edition Penguin, 1964.
An early entry into the ground now tilled so effectively by David Kynaston and others. On the sixtieth anniversary of the Festival of Britain, a look back to the time when we never had it so bad.