The New School
In 1950, the British literary magazine Nine asked its readers whether ‘the BBC and the literary periodicals are carrying out their responsibilities to poetry’. The readers replied that the BBC ‘should encourage more new poets’. The idea of the ‘new’ was a constant theme of the decade. Britain emerged from the war years with a desire for national renewal, expressed by the Festival of Britain in 1951, with its celebration of contemporary art, design and science.
Lines of Loss
New buildings – including the BBC Television Centre in London – were going up everywhere, but a sense of loss also lingered in the air, and the poets of the period were attuned to it. Charles Causley, who served in the war and came home to Cornwall to be a schoolteacher, makes a dark joke by calling his ‘Timothy Winters’ a ‘blitz of a boy’; Frances Cornford’s short poem ‘The Ruin’ describes ‘a home split in half’ as the ‘scene / Where our angry lives have been’; and Dom Moraes implicitly reflects on the end of British rule in India as he contemplates the ‘wrecked’ traces of an earlier empire at the Kanheri Caves in Mumbai.
Angry Young Men
In Fifties theatre and fiction, the Angry Young Men – such as John Osborne and Kingsley Amis — came to prominence. They railed against the old-fashioned, class-bound limitations of the country they had inherited but were also suspicious of the optimistic politics of progress and renewal. In poetry, their parallel was The Movement, a grouping which included Amis and his friend, Philip Larkin, whose ‘Church Going’ captures a mood of national disillusionment about both past and future.
The critic Al Alvarez said of ‘Church Going’ that its speaker is ‘the image of the post-war Welfare State Englishman […] an attempt to show that the poet is not a strange creature inspired; on the contrary, he is just like the man next door – in fact, he probably is the man next door’. Alvarez, however, wanted a different kind of poetry to Larkin’s ‘gentility’, and in his influential anthology The New Poetry (1960) would promote two young poets, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, who in the Fifties began to write the poems of strange inspiration for which they would become famous.
BBC 100 articles written by Sandy Balfour, David Nowell Smith and Jeremy Noel-Tod.