le_redacteur | Monday July 20th, 2009
Did Britain’s permissive society start with swinging London? This exciting new account of 1950s London challenges the sexual myth of the 1960s, arguing that its roots lay further back in the city’s dramatic cultures of austerity and affluence that marked the post-war years. A series of spectacular scandals profoundly disturbed London life during the 1950s in ways that had major national consequences. These transgressive events centred on the collision between high and low society that characterized London as a city of social and sexual extremes. Patrician men-about-town, young independent women, go-ahead entrepreneurs, Westminster politicians, queer men and West-Indian newcomers were centre stage in a series of dramatic encounters that opened up a new phase of post-Victorian sexual morality. These influential narratives of pleasure, and danger, were played out not just in the glamorous and shady entertainment spaces of the West End but in Whitehall and in adjacent twilight zones of the inner city.
Frank Mort reveals how they transformed the geopolitical contours of the national culture. Two exotic districts, Soho and Notting Hill, functioned as moral flashpoints for public anxieties about the changing sexual meanings of cosmopolitanism and the cultural consequences of decolonization. Longstanding forms of European migrant culture and the enlarged presence of the Caribbean in London acted as important factors in repositioning sexuality within the collective social imagination. Mort charts the interaction of sex, politics and city cultures and produces a new account of the modernization of post-war British society. Generously illustrated with a wide range of visual material, written in an accessible and lively style, and dramatizing its focus on sex and urban culture via a series of arresting historical narratives, this book will fascinate the reader on both sides of the Atlantic who knows London either first hand or through films and books and wants to know more of its history.
Yale University Press
Frank Mort is Professor of Cultural Histories at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures, University of Manchester. He has written and edited many books and is the author of Cultures of Consumption: Masculinities and Social Space in Late-Twentieth Century Britain (1996) and Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 (1987).