Oct 23 2011: Postwar Exercises from Design Drawing One by John Rolfe (EUP, 1975)

This set of exercises selected from a 1975 schools textbook for students of technical drawing contains many vanished emblems of postwar British design, ranging from British Rail, Leyland and other nationalized industries to such (then) hyper modern consumer products as the transistor radio, electric toaster and fan heater. The Post Office Tower, pylons, the distinctive decorative bricks that appeared on newly built estates all over the UK: the intention here is clearly to present a selection of neutral design exercises for students to carry out, but the result also serves as a kind of time-capsule of probably the last historical moment in which the post-war settlement felt securely grounded.

The year that this set of exercises was published saw Margaret Thatcher take the leadership of the Conservative Party with free market ideologues like Keith Joseph at her side. We’re often reminded about the Labour Party’s difficulties with Militant left groups during the later 1970s and early 1980s: what’s less often noted is that the Conservative Party had already been taken over by its own Militant Tendencies in 1975: bent on scrapping the settlement consolidated in 1945 in favour of a return to the free market Liberalism that had preceded it, largely discredited by two world wars and the long Depression of the 1930s. In 2011, it looks as though, having denied the lessons of that history, today’s advocates of neo-Liberalism are determined to have us repeat it.

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