Did mass media undermine deference and promote the growth of a permissive society in Britain?
1 Was there a cultural revolution in Britain 1954-69?
1.1 The legal context
1.1.1 There was liberal legislation passed by
the government between 1959 and 1969,
these laws dicriminalised certain acts
and relaxed laws on other crimes relating
1.1.2 Just because the laws regarding
homosexuality or abortion changed
does not mean that the attitudes
towards them changed.
1.1.3 Most people, young or old, did not
welcome more relaxed laws on
homosexuality, divorce and abortion.
1.1.4 Demand for these laws came from certain MPs who based their
private members' bills on campaigns. These were issues that went far
further back than the 1960s. many MPs now agreed that laws should
be based on practical consequences of legislation, rather than on the
grounds of moral ethics.
1.1.5 Rather than debate whether abortion was intrinsically
wrong, the government considered the high number of
deaths related to 'back street' abortions, which was
about 40 deaths in 1966. The conservatives were
worried this would create a permissive society.
2 The context of greater affluence
2.1 The huge growth of wealth across the Western world allowed people in
these countries to afford more luxuries. In Britain, almost every household
had a television by 1970. Ownership of cars doubled in the sixties.
2.2 The number of supermarkets
grew from 800 to 5000.
2.3 Men and women spent around 23% of their
free time watching television. There was now
a domestication of spare time, class divsions
that had been reinforced by by public leisure
pursuits, became more blurred.
2.4 Television undermined the separation of elite and
popular culture: working class people could watch
shows with artistic merit
2.5 Television, together with a general rise in wealth
and consumerism, also spread certain fashions
more quickly; it became less obvious which class
someone belonged to by simply looking at their
2.6 Designers such as Mary Quant with their boutiques, made
mass production of fashionable clothes possible in high streets
across the country. It was almost impossible to tell what class
a young woman was from the way she dressed.
2.7 Mary Quant, through fashion, attracted
so much attention because she reflected
what was really going on, the growth of
affluence, consumerism, the new
confidence of youth and the changing
role of women.
3 The technological context - the pill
3.1 In the 1960s, there was a widly held view
that young people were having a "Sexual
revolution" because young people were
thought to have sex more often and with
3.2 The pill was developed in America during the mid-1950s and as a
rule by the family planning association, the pill was restricted for
married women until 1970. It was not until almost the 1980s that the
pillrivalled the condom as the contraceptive choice for most Britons.
3.3 In reality, the notions of a sexual revolution were greatly
misleading, surveys found that 18% of girls and 10% of boys in a
sample of 2000 teenagers had had sex with more than three
people. Only 17% of girls and 33% of boys had had sex by the
age of 19. The normal behavior was that people got married,
95% of women were married by the age of 45.
3.4 Most people still held conservative attitudes
towards divorce and homosexuality; the only
significant change was that young people
were more tolerant of sex before marriage
than their parents' had been.
4 How far did mass media undermine rigid social hierarchy 1954-69?
4.1 Television developed rapidly after the Queen's
coronation in 1953. In 1955, the BBC monopoly on
television ended when 14 independent companies
were allowed to begin broadcasting funded by
4.2 The 1954 television act
gave ITV a licence to
broadcast for 10 years.
The government set up
a committee to assess
the impact of television
thus far, and to make
recommendations for its
4.3 Richard Hoggart was particularly worried about the effects of 'vulgar'
American style shows on TV, he though these would erode traditional
British culture. The crime dramas and westerns would make people
more violent. He also worried that materialism and commercialism of
British people and popular culture would increase.
4.4 Writers made social realist plays that were hard hitting and
focused on abortion, films were now shot on location and mixed with
studio fotage and this made films more realistic While plays
discussed controversial topics, they did not portray or inspire a
rebellion of working-classes or change their opinion aginst their
4.5 The programme that most working class people identified with was coronation street,
this had a weekly audience of 20 million within the first year. These were identifiable
with popular backdrop drama, strong female characters evoked a sense of wartime
nostalgia becasue Coronation street represented a genuine working class community.
4.6 That Was The Week That Was represented the pinnacle of the
'satire boom' that combined current affairs with stand up comedy.
Harold Macmillan recognised that the damage that would be done
by attacking a popular culture programme, even though most of
the jokes were aimed at him.
4.7 Tw3 did help to make
journalists less deferential
to politicians. This paved
the way for investigations
into political scandals.
4.8 These programme inspired
Mary Whitehouse to launch her
clean up TV campaign and she
started to attack all sorts of
programmes but toned down
the christain basis of her
criticism to attract more
4.9 'New wave' films were hard, gritty films about the everyday
lie of working class people. The films presented a
stereotyped view of middle class men as earthy and
4.10 The press
4.10.1 In a bid to boost sales,
and attract some of the
huge advertising revenue
that had gone to
there was an introduction
of colour supplements in
4.10.2 In the wake of the satire boom,
tabloid newspapers became
more scathing in their
treatment of politicians and
4.10.3 It was increasingly no longer
the case that politicians could
keep their private lives out of
4.10.4 Not only had profumo had an affair with a 'call girl', Christine
Keeler, but she also had an affair with a soviet spy. The
exposure of the scandal in march 1963 led labour politicians
to demand that Profumo deny the allegations in parliament, he
did this, but resigned the next day, making the scandal even
4.10.5 Readers were amazed by such scandalous
stories about political elites such as "The man
in the mask", a member of cabinet serving
dinner at a private party naked except for a
mask. This did a great deal of damage to the
reputation f the conservative party.
4.10.6 Politicians had generally not been
held in high regard by the British
people since 1945, but this was
usually what people saw as
untrustworthiness. because of the
increased willingness of the press to
attack political elites on a personal
5 How far did mass media change British attitudes to sex between 1954 and 1969?
5.1.1 Mary Whitehouse also
complained about "sexy
innuendoes, suggestive clothing
5.1.2 There was no sex on
television during this period.
Possibly the only sexualised
elements of all broadcasting
were the advertisements on
5.2.1 The biggest British hits of the 1960s, the
carry on comedies and James Bond films,
these were overtly sexual in very different
ways. The powerful glamour of Bond, and
the scantily clad Bond girls, contributed t
the film's success.
5.2.2 Another British film that had a sexual focus were A Taste of Honey.
In terms of their influence on British people's attitudes to sex, it is
highly questionable whether these films had much of an impact at
all. Such films are usually about escapism and the values depicted
on screen are certainly not the values which people lived by in the
5.3 The press
5.3.1 The launch of colour supplements,
sexualised adverts and scandalous news
stories contributed to a generally more
permissive air in the media. however it was
not until l1969 that the first female nipple
was exposed in a newspaper.
5.3.2 It is questionable how far the press
altered British attitudes to sex.