Observations Medicine and the Media

Attitudes to healthcare—then and now

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6205 (Published 03 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6205
  1. Peter Davies, freelance journalist, London
  1. petergdavies{at}ntlworld.com

A season of documentary films from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s on topics such as family planning, polio, and epilepsy give insight into the social attitudes of the time, writes Peter Davies

Were the 1950s a lost golden age of social solidarity, buoyed by peace, prosperity, and universal welfare provision? Or was Britain then still dominated by class-bound attitudes, the dreary rules of petty officialdom, and a shabby, monochrome austerity that accompanied the second world war’s economic hangover? Did the nation really blossom into colour only with the new affluence and freedoms of the 1960s, before lapsing into a harsher mood in the 1970s, one still familiar today?

The British Film Institute’s project Boom Britain showcases 32 short documentary films made between 1951 and 1977. There could hardly be a more vivid way of examining the nation’s postwar social history, and among them is a clutch of films with health related themes, all dating from the 1950s and 1960s. These were commissioned mainly by charities, although one was funded by the NHS and another by a drug company. Some of their topics were controversial in their day, others are more controversial now. Some films were widely screened, others only ever reached a select audience. One won an Oscar. As with most documentaries, they …

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