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Littlewoods Catalogue Home Shopping
1950s: THE YEARS OF CHANGE

RISING PRICES

The Littlewoods catalogue of that year showed how tight money had become, with manufacturers starting the unwelcome trend of slipping an odd shilling on to a round figure sum -or, even worse, moving up to just under the next round figure.

Thus, the box camera of the year was 51/-, a bicycle came priced at 51/-, and the traditional lightweight tent was yours for 69/- Cultured pearl necklaces that cost 20/- a few years before were now 27/6.

There were, on the other hand, new and exciting purchases on offer: electric shavers for 60/- and 97/- and an exotic combined infrared and radiant heat lamp for 5 3s 6d. A decent chair could cost as much as 6 15s and a small, cylindrical electric vacuum cleaner, with attachments, was now 10 l5s. The best quality pram in the catalogue was listed at 6 9s 6d. Above all, home shopping remained what it had always been keenly competitive.

littlewoods catalogue cover 1950

Research of the time indicated that women's self-perceptions, and thus the attitudes which they influenced, were slow to change after the enormous impact of their wartime experiences. They believed their status and success were dependent on men, and the other members of their family still came first.

Typically, the "dream" career of a young girl was to be an air hostess, providing a channel for escape .from a humdrum life to an admittedly largely fantasy world "outside".

LEISURE AND THE LABOUR SAVING DEVICE

In the home, the potential for growth in labour-saving devices was massive. In the early 1950s the majority (60%) of homes still had no electric vacuum cleaner, and 14% were even without an electric iron, though plenty of cheap old-fashioned irons were available.

When it first appeared, the ballpoint pen was expensive (1.74), and the introduction of the long-playing record caused consternation among collectors of cherished 78rpm classics.

There was a deep hunger for class entertainment and top sporting events, and although radio was king, the stage was being subtly set for the advent of television.

littlewoods catalogue 1950

The steam had gone out of the post-war Labour political machine and Clement Attlee, tired and disillusioned, saw the country return to Conservative rule. At the age of 77, Winston Churchill once more became Prime Minister. In 1952, King George VI died and his elder daughter, Princess Elizabeth, inherited the throne. "She is", Churchill remarked, "only a child". Her coronation the following year set, as Philip Ziegler remarked, "new standards for the splendor of its spectacle and the total involvement of the people".

For most spectators, it was their first contact with royalty on so grand a ceremonial scale and it was made all the more novel and tantalising through the medium of television.

THE TELEVISION AGE

Suddenly the age of television was born. The coronation was watched by almost half the population on an estimated 2.7m TV sets, at what must have been an average of seven or eight people to each set.

The nation, fed up with its vanishing empire, austerity and post-war decline, was both united and delighted. By the middle of the decade the flourishing social research industry had discovered that the poor of Britain were better clothed, better fed, better cared for medically and better housed than before the war.

Yet the richest 1% of the population still owned 43% of the private wealth in the country and the richest 10% almost 80%. There were nearly 200,000 domestic servants in large private homes.

Tea did not come off ration until 1952, with sugar and sweets following a year later. Butter, cheese, cooking fat and meat stayed on ration unti11954. Typically, as soon as there were plenty of these previously rationed foods available consumption actually went down.

But the public appetite for television was unstoppable. Even as late as 1949, two out of three Britons had never seen a television set. After the coronation it was only a matter of time before TV licences outnumbered radio licences.

And by 1954, when the commercial service started in opposition to the BBC, the die for the future was cast.