Jan 6 2012: Six Photographs and a Map from The Festival of Britain (South Bank Exhibition Programme, 1951)

Last year saw the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain and, by coincidence, I happened during 2011 to find a copy of the South Bank Exhibition’s official souvenir programme, featuring a huge amount of information on the exhibits and general context in which the Festival took place. Between today and Monday I’ll be posting galleries of exhibition maps and advertising, but to start, here are a handful of other relevant images. The programme’s distinctive cover, a colour map of the South Bank site, an advert for the Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens, plus models, photographs and drawings of various Festival buildings under construction.

It’s clear that the programme was sent to press long before construction was complete, so the exhibits are represented in its pages by a series of graphic floor plans rather than actual documentation: presumably, this is also why some of the iconic structures – including the Royal Festival Hall and Skylon – are represented by design sketches rather than photographs. The programme itself is sandwiched between two full colour arrays, of 32 pages each, of advertising placed by companies involved in the exhibitions: these will appear here on Sunday and Monday.

All in all, the brochure is something of a time capsule of its historical moment, one that is both progressive (an aspect captured in the wonderful film Brief City, included on the BFI’s Design For Today collection of postwar COI short films) and yet clearly contains many of the seeds of its later corruption: the advertising placed by arms manufacturers, the colonial aftertaste of Outspan, advertised here even as apartheid was being imposed, prototypes of mass consumer capitalism, with the banks at the centre of recent financial collapses referring cosily back to their historic roots. As such it’s a fascinating document and these first few samples from it can hopefully pave the way for what will follow.

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