Friday, 1 June 2001

J.B. Priestley: Festival at Farbridge (1953)

Edition: Heinemann, 1976
Review number: 829

I had never really thought about the 1951 Festival of Britain, and had assumed that it hardly amounted to much outside the South Bank. Virtually every town and village in the country did something to mark the event, however, and Priestley's comic novel is about the preparations for this in the small town of Farbridge.

The main difficulty for me in 2001 is to try to think of the 1951 festival as something different from the limp and banal celebrations of the Millennium which have just concluded. The situation is different; the Festival of Britain was in part a reprieve following the years of self-denial of the War and its aftermath, and in part a celebration of a hoped for future, not just a coincidence of the way that the calendar works. People's lives are different; we now live in a world where just about every household is centred around the then rare TV; education is considered far less important, and there is no longer any serious attempt to consider traditional high art as better than popular culture; the idea of a duty to others is much less important in politcal and commercial life.

All this means that Festival at Farbridge is interesting as a historical document. It is not really successful as a comic novel, particularly when compared to, say, Low Notes on a High Level, and could not have been thought particularly funny even in the early fifties.

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