1949 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1949.

1949 was a relatively light news year. The principal event of the year happened in China. In January, Chinese communist forces entered Beijing. By the end of the year, the civil war in China had progressed to the point where the communists under Mao Zedong had more or less gained control of the Chinese mainland, and the nationalists had been forced to retreat into Taiwan. The state of affairs there had essentially reached the point of partition that there is today. Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China in Beijing on October 1.

In April the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - NATO - was formed, largely to counterbalance Soviet military expansion in Europe. In May, recognizing that the air lift was working and sustainable, the Soviets lifted the Berlin blockade.

The grandiose old British white fiver.
In August, countering any hint of weakness, the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb, as close a copy of the Nagasaki/Trinity "Fat Boy" US plutonium bomb as they could contrive. Details of the weapon had been provided by pro-communist British spies in the Manhattan Project.

The Irish Free State - actually a flavour of British constitutional monarchy - declared itself as The Republic of Ireland.

In September the UK government devalued the pound sterling from $4.03 to $2.80, recognizing the reality of Britain's economic situation after the war. It may also have been influenced by the availability of dollar funds from the Marshall Plan - this way Britain would get more pounds from those bucks! Rationing of clothing ended, though food was still to be rationed for some time.

In the same month, the areas of Germany that were not controlled by the Russians became the Federal Republic of Germany.


Another stored-program electronic computer was designed and built at Cambridge University in the UK - they'd be ten-a-penny soon.

In the US, the then National Bureau of Standards announced the world's first atomic clock using the ammonia molecule as the source of vibrations.

The other striking invention of the year was apparently cake mix - I'll bet the earth shook for that one. For me, the name Betty Crocker conjures up images of the sort of girl you might have tangled with behind the bike shed at school.


By now, I was seven, and in the next class at school, a crucial one at that. This school year included the critical push toward literacy - learning to read and write. I took to it like a duck to water, and am eternally grateful to the forgotten woman who taught us in that year.

Soon I was reading the Wind in the Willows for myself, having had it read to me earlier by my parents. If you never read this story as a child, I recommend you get it and read it right now. I guess we also started on the basics of arithmetic at this point.

Social groupings evolved within the children of my year. Mine were reinforced by attendance at Sunday school. My parents had sent me on Sunday afternoons as soon as I was old enough, probably when I was about five. There were other children there who were in my class at school, and their younger and older siblings. Some were from the village, but most were from the new estates, the area of privately owned, mostly pre-war housing to the north of the school, that extended down the slopes into the bottom of the Aire valley.

My friend John Wordsworth did not attend. I think his father may have been an atheist, but nobody ever advanced a reason for his non-attendance. So it was with this group that I became bonded. Also, since John had moved into the council house, we spent more time in the Rec, playing on the swings and the roundabout, where we bumped into the kids from the new estates approaching from the opposite direction, thus reinforcing the connection. There were confrontations between our group and bigger lads from the new council estate over the swings and roundabout. They would get on the roundabout and make it go very fast and swing about precariously. Often we'd have to retreat when outnumbered.

I don't remember doing much in the way of exploration at that time. I suspect that my new addiction to reading meant I usually had my head in some book.

The Third Man.

The Oscar winning movie this year was "All the Kings Men", directed by Robert Rossen and starring Broderick Crawford. It was the story of the rise of a country politician from obscurity and innocence to fame and corruption. The part of the politician had been offered to John Wayne, who turned it down. He did pretty well the same year with the war movie "Sands of Iwo Jima", which was at joint number three on the top-grossing movies list. Wayne got the best actor award. The top grossing movie was "Samson and Delilah", a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic starring Victor Mature.

In the UK, the top films were "The Third Man" directed by Carol Reed, and starring Orson Welles and Trevor Howard - this film is rated by the British Film Institute as their number one. It's a murder mystery set in Vienna just after WW2, and may well be most famous for its theme tune, "The Harry Lime Theme".

It was a strong year for British films, with other contenders like "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "Whisky Galore!", and "Passport to Pimlico".

Music was dismal again this year with the exception of the Third Man music, which was something completely different.

The top two US hits were "Riders In the Sky" by Vaughn Monroe, and "That Lucky Old Sun" by Frankie Laine. Rising above the murk, the musical "South Pacific", by Rodgers and Hammerstein opened in New York in April of this year. It was to spawn a number of hit tunes.

British hit songs are still inscrutable for this year.

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