ALEX BRUMMER: The Second Elizabethan Era Could Leave a Glorious Legacy

Even now, 70 years later, my memories of that first trip to London to attend the coronation celebrations in 1953 are still fresh.

I remember descending into the bowels of the earth at Victoria station for my first ride on the Tube – and the thrill of the Tube walls speeding by and the occasional flash of light.

Then off to lunch at Lyons Corner House in Marble Arch, the flagship of the then still vibrant J. Lyons dining empire, still a port of call for my parents due to a family connection to the name above the door, Sir Joseph. Lyons.

The London Underground is still around and one of the great legacies of the nation’s paternalistic, liberal and imaginative Victorian ancestors.

Seven decades later, the new Elizabeth line, opened just in time for the Platinum Jubilee, shows that with the right commitment – and deep pockets of government investment – the UK is still able to leave a legacy to the next generation.

Over budget and way behind schedule, the Crossrail development is an example of modern engineering genius and is graced with brilliant architecture at key stations, such as Farringdon.

It demonstrates that despite a tendency to denigrate the country’s post-industrial society, great engineering – from the Elizabeth Line to the sprawling Hinkley nuclear site in Somerset – is still within our reach. Opponents might prefer more local buses.

As for J. Lyons & Co, the first company in Britain to adopt computers to manage its business, it is no longer with us.

The ‘nippy’ – the cheerful waitresses in black dresses and white pinafores who served the tea affectionately described in Patrick Hamilton’s novels – were sacrificed on the altar of self-service in the 1950s and 1960s.

Like so many great British brands of the second Elizabethan age, J. Lyons has been swallowed up by modern capitalism.

It first merged with Allied Breweries and became Allied Lyons. After a merger with the Spanish sherry producer Domecq, the Lyon name is exorcised.

The rump was bought by France’s Pernod Ricard in a £7.4bn takeover in 2005.

All that remains of one of the mainstays of the 1950s is Lyons Walk in Hammersmith, the former headquarters of the catering giant, the iconic Lyonnais name for coffee brands now owned by Nestlé, and – in the bathroom of our family home – a tin can The Lyons Maid ice cream shop sign was bought at a flea market for £25 as a memento of the family heirloom.

In many ways, the 1950s seemed like a boom time for the UK. The Festival of Britain in 1951, just before the accession of the Queen, saw the opening of the Royal Festival Hall in London – still with us – and now surrounded by the brutalist architecture of the National Theater (opened in 1963) and the artistic complex that surrounds it.

Across the country, a sense of optimism reigned as food rationing ended on July 4, 1954.

The legacy of Clement Attlee’s post-war Labor government was the nationalization of our great industries, coal, electricity, steel and even aerospace, providing job security and production that underpinned fragile prosperity in the industrial strongholds of the Midlands and North. Cars roll off the production line. Jaguars for the sportsmen, Rovers for the established classes and Morris, Austin, Ford, Vauxhall and Hillman for the middle classes and workers.

In the 1950 Conservative election manifesto, which brought Winston Churchill back to power in Downing Street, the emphasis was on saving and investing, as well as home ownership.

There was a surprising lack of commitment to unraveling the nationalizations of the post-war Attlee government or the welfare state.

Radical ideas such as the liberation of the pound or the abolition of exchange controls – mentioned on the stump – were avoided.

The nation will have to wait another three decades for the governments of Sir Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher to be adopted.

In 1957, Churchill’s penultimate successor (after the interlude of Anthony Eden affected by Suez), the Tory patrician Harold Macmillan felt confident enough to declare that “most of our fellow citizens have never had it so well lived”.

In many ways he was right. New houses, many built by local councils, were constantly being produced at the rate of 200,000 a year.

The ‘cradle-to-grave’ protection welfare state and the NHS, the result of the wartime Beveridge Report, were implemented at a rapid pace, and the mass unemployment of the 1930s was banished.

But while Britain focused on public investment in social care and the NHS, other countries focused on industrial recovery.

The post-war Marshall Plan of American aid to Europe, together with the cancellation of Germany’s debt from both World Wars in 1954, freed up funds to invest in modern steel installations. , automotive and shipbuilding.

Across the Pacific in Japan, rebuilding with American support, there was the emergence of new-wave automakers and world-class ship production.

Britain’s underinvested pre-war manufacturing industry became increasingly uncompetitive as West Germany, Japan and Europe rose from the ashes of war.

Britain’s oldest industries struggled. The UK’s underinvested education system produced fewer skilled workers, and the country’s banks were far more interested in trade and international expansion than supporting domestic industries.

After the industrial disputes of the 1960s, the UK’s trade balance deteriorated and the pound crashed in the foreign exchange markets.

Britain was forced into the hands of the International Monetary Fund in 1976 and government support for the industry collapsed.

Shipyards closed, auto factories were on perpetual strike, and high inflation ultimately hurt competitiveness.

When Mrs Thatcher declared war on unions in the 1980s, first the coal mines and then many steel mills were closed, a trend accelerated by privatization. Northern towns like Bishop Auckland (pictured graphically in the book There Is Nothing For You Here, by Fiona Hill, a former adviser to Donald Trump) have become industrial wastelands bereft of opportunity and hope.

From this abandoned landscape has developed a new economy.

Manufacturing, which accounted for 33% of national output when the queen came to the throne, had fallen to just 10% by the turn of the millennium.

I spent much of the 1980s abroad as a foreign correspondent. When I came back to Britain in 1990 it was a very different place.

The attraction of London and finance and the demand of citizens for services has propelled it to the rank of the most important economic sector, accounting for 80% of GDP. Instead of selling ships and carts overseas, Britain sold insurance, banking and other professional services.

It was no longer necessary to wait six months to a year for a new phone line – it took weeks.

And the streets were festooned with café terraces.

Holidays abroad had almost become a right for those who worked. High-rise buildings were adorned with satellite dishes as a new era of television was born.

But large swaths of the country were still manufacturing and economic wastelands.

A second IT industrial revolution saw crowded city centers as online shopping supplanted traditional retail.

The department store, the social hub of many regional towns, is a thing of the past.

The old industrial cities began to recover. In the 1980s, Environment Minister Michael Heseltine’s support for Liverpool saw a brave restoration of its waterfront.

Manchester has been transformed into a modern metropolis. Leeds lost its textiles but became a financial and commercial center of the North etc.

Nevertheless, underinvestment and low-paying jobs – unlike those in shipyards and mines – have not replaced the manufacturing engine of the past.

Britain is a much wealthier nation than it was in 1950 and, remarkably for a small, overpopulated island, remains the world’s fifth largest economy.

No longer a superpower perhaps, but capable, according to some economic forecasts, of remaking Germany by the mid-2030s.

In these days when the national conversation is focused on energy prices, energy poverty and inequality, that may seem unlikely.

The Queen’s reign was marked by great leaps forward in the 1950s and early 1960s, and setbacks in the 1970s and 1980s. But the Thatcherite Revolution made the UK a more enterprising and entrepreneurship and our great research universities, with their skills in life sciences and technology, a source of great hope.

With the right investment, the second Elizabethan era could be seen by historians as leaving a legacy just as glorious as its predecessor.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on it, we may earn a small commission. This helps us fund This Is Money and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any business relationship to affect our editorial independence.