Monday, May 03, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Festival of Britain Opened

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On this day in 1951 George VI opened the Festival of Britain on London's South Bank; not only was it a celebration of the centenary of the first world's fair - the Great Exhibition of 1851 - it was intended to aid in Britain's postwar rebuilding.

Ironically most of the buildings on the Festival of Britain site - save for the Royal Festival Hall itself - were later demolished by that noted architecture critic, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who felt they were too 'socialist' (whatever that means). All construction at the site had been overseen by Hugh Casson, although the hall itself was built by the firm of Holland, Hannen & Cubitts; despite the destruction of his masterwork, Casson was later knighted for his efforts.

On a less festive note, the crowds that gathered to greet the King, Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, and other assembled senior members of the Royal Family, were shocked by His Majesty's gaunt appearance that day; his speech, never confident, was now halting and airless. If he looked not long for this world that day, it's because he wasn't; in September* he would secretly have his left lung removed, and by the following February he was gone.

*One week to the day before the Festival closed, as it turns out.

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