Book – The Great British Dream Factory by Dominic Sandbrook

Book – The Great British Dream Factory by Dominic Sandbrook

This book should be in the school curriculum. It’s also a great one to give to anyone moving to the UK, even if some of it may have them asking more questions rather than getting answers, like why were people snooty about giving the Beatles MBEs?
It opens with cinema and how Mr Rank, a millers son put his wealth into British cinema. In late 1930s, 20m people went to cinema every week majority women and there were 110 cinemas just in Birmingham. In fact Birmingham is mentioned a fair bit in this book that celebrates Britain’s rich cultural heritage and the part it’s played in the world through music, art, film and more.
At a time when Britain was dominated by American films. Britain was trying to prop up it’s own industry by forcing cinemas to show British films that apparently no-one wanted to see. In 1956, Germany had taken over as car exporter but the rise of Beatles at least marked the end of American music dominating the UK too. Hence MBEs.
We hear of people sending back/refusing Queens honours. The furore coursed by Beatles getting theirs prompted a similar reaction. I never understand why people get these awards for doing their job anyway, but I those who go beyond.
So America had dominated for some time. During WW2, Roosevelt warned Churchill he had no intention of helping Britain to ‘hang on to it’s archaic, medieval Empire ideas’. When the Union Jack started coming down across the world, ‘Britain’s critics could see it as less of an ‘arrogant, domineering bully’.
Then we started selling Britain to America. The Avengers’s Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg was deemed as woman of tomorrow, ‘of Imperial Stock born in India’ as her father was in the Indian Government Service. Whereas her co-star Eton Educated Patrick McNee was cousin of David Niven and descendent of Robin Hood – old stock. The mix of the old and new aimed at the US market.
In more recent years, Four Weddings and a Funeral had this mix of traditional and new, the Richard Curtis formula selling the sparkling summery/snowy winter London with no poverty, everyone studied at Oxford and no-one does any work. From Curtisland to Avengersland, where everyone can easily afford to live in London and US still laps it up.
Talking of big imports to the USA, I knew but had forgotten about writer of James Bond, Ian Fleming’s connection to to Island records. He lived with Blanche Blackwell, another with a colonial background, from a wealthy Jamaican plantation family (is there any other kind?) who was formerly married to someone from the chutney family. Ironically, her son Chris Blackwell who started Island and supported blues and reggae music by bringing records over from the US and selling them to British black people. I loved reading about how he signed Bob Marley in London for £4000 (now £100,000).
Like James Bond, Doctor Who is also popular stateside and it hadn’t occurred to me that we  regard both as bit rebellious and the  as rebels but actually dressed like the establishment – back in the day
Some facts for good dinner party discussions
Having had a career in media myself, it’s interesting to read that colour TV arrived in the UK in 1967 and whereas British advertising folk were leading with pictures, America were still writing boring text.
Phantom of the Opera seen by 130m people
Alan McGee set up Creation Records using Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Viz magazine started the same way.
After  the emergence of Emin and Hirst, artists were creating work they thought Charles Saatchi would like and so they’re worth sky rocketed immediately.
Grand Theft Auto was born while the creators were at Oxford and the University were shareholders in the company making money from every disc sold.
24m people watched the finale of the first series of To the Manor Born which was the biggest audience of any non-live event of the 1970s. The book credits the show’s popularity to the rise of membership for the National Trust, from 1000 people in the 1920s to 200,000 in 1970 to 1 million in 1980.
The influence of the Great War (why do they call it great?) on Tolkien’s work. ‘By 1918, all but one of my closest friends had died’.
Voter turnout for General Election in 1950 was 84%
In 1980 we had the highest divorce rate in Europe, thanks to new laws.
A lot is mentioned about Britain’s obsession with class over the decades. I’d never looked inside a Catherine Cookson book, but I thought it was chick lit but actually, the main topic is the working classes in poverty. However, she was the most popular novelist of her age with 123 million books sold. At the other end of the class scale, Agatha Christie is estimated to have sold 2 billion but records weren’t really kept then were they? Plus she has been in publication a lot longer but she had sold 50m by the time she reached 60.
The book compares the books and films I grew up with such Saturday Night/Sunday Morning and A Kind of Loving with the success of equally working class Coronation Street. People were apparently harking back to an age of terrace streets, crowded pubs and smokey skies. There’s a fair bit in the book about authors writing hugely successful semi autobiographical novels depicting a working class world that they had in fact not been bought up in but working class sells. Just ask millionaire Catherine Cookson who never stopped writing about her northern routes in poverty while living in the south in luxury. Although you can argue that Bruce Springsteen does the same
Probably my favourite part of the book was the large section on the hugely materialistic, work-shy John Lennon, for whom I’ve never gotten the adulation for. (Totally get Macca, though.)
Imagine’s lyrics just ‘what a Miss World would say’ a quote from one of my favourites Robert Elms. Sitting with all their fur coats singing about no possessions.
As a teen he had a summer job at the airport that now bears his name where he apparently spat in the cheese sandwiches.
LSD followed Lennon’s MBE who we learn always craved money, although he had a comfortable upbringing in the first place and it’s refreshing to see the author point out he never showed any signs of political activism in the his early days and was known to be homophobic and mocked the Jewish. Well I never.
And finally I loved reading about Elton John – a sentence I never expected to utter back in the 1980s. He achieved ‘huge success without what are regarded as two essential ingredients – good looks and overpowering charisma’.

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