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The House the 50s Built

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An examination of the ingenuity and life-changing technology behind the 1950s inventions that launched drab, black-and-white post-war Britain into a Technicolor-drenched world of the future

About the Show

An examination of the ingenuity and life-changing technology behind the 1950s inventions that launched drab, black-and-white post-war Britain into a Technicolor-drenched world of the future

Series 1 Summary

The House the 50s Built celebrates the science behind the inventions and innovations that transformed the way we lived and made 1950s Britain modern.

Engineer and showman Brendan Walker sets out to discover the ingenuity and life-changing technology behind the inventions that launched drab, black-and-white post-war Britain into a Technicolor-drenched world of the future, under its new young Queen Elizabeth II.

Brendan learns from practical, hands-on experience what it took to bring about the 50s revolution by reconstructing a house. Each programme focuses on a room and fast-forwards it through the 1950s, showcasing how progress in the home triggered a wave of social change.

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    Episode 1

    Professor Brendan Walker begins his exploration of the inventions that transformed drab post-war Britain into a Technicolor-drenched world of the future in the kitchen.

    The 1950s housing revolution replaced free-standing units, mangles and larders with fitted units, twin tubs, food processors and refrigerators.

    The programme hears from people who lived through the decade, including Maureen Lipman and Fay Weldon, as well as designers such as Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, and also Kevin McCloud.

  • The House the 50s Built

    Episode 2

    Professor Brendan Walker continues his exploration of the inventions that transformed drab post-war Britain into a Technicolor-drenched world of the future, focusing on the living room.

    A dramatic transformation reveals how science and technology banished the dark, formal, barely-used front room and replaced it with a bright, colourful beacon of 50s style that became a hub of family entertainment.

    Out with bulky sofas made of hessian and horse hair and in with comfortable, light chairs made of the 50s wonder material - foam.

    Out with lead-based paints that only came in camouflage colours and had to be mixed by a professional decorator, and in with vinyl emulsions in thrilling bright colours that could be bought off the shelf in a tin.

    This was the decade that offered a new democracy in colour and launched interior design. For the first time ordinary people had the materials and the money to make their homes truly their own.

    Along the way Brendan experiments with everything from the surprisingly simple ingredient that makes modern paint safe, to how to make your own designer chair with school glue.

  • The House the 50s Built

    Episode 3

    In the 1950s the bedroom played host to one of the biggest changes of the 20th century: the birth of the teenager. Before 1950, children were children until they left home and started their own families, and their bedrooms reflected that.

    But in the 50s that started to change. The booming economy meant money in the pockets of kids leaving school at 16, and science was providing things for them to spend it on.

    Five key inventions turned the bedroom into a place where a child could become a teenager.

    Nylon and other synthetic fabrics made clothes cheaper, stretchier and more colourful, transforming the wardrobe and helping kids develop their own style.

    The advent of water-resistant man-made fabrics gave men cheap drip-dry suits that were easily cleaned: a vast improvement on the hard-to-wash woollen variety that invariably went through months of wear before the smell became too much.

    These synthetic fibres also revolutionised women's lives - the elasticity of nylon created a new type of lingerie that worked with the body, unlike the restrictive, harsh natural materials that had been used before.

    The transistor made music players smaller and more portable and for the first time teenagers could play music in their bedrooms.

    The petrochemical industry gave them PVC, which meant records were no longer the expensive and fragile 78s of their parents' generation but the cool, stronger 45rpm singles that graced every Dansette in the land.

    Hairspray allowed hairstyles to grow into massive quiffs, paving the way for beehives in the 1960s, and, of course, the new electric guitar meant British kids could copy their American counterparts and create their own music - rock and roll.

    By the end of the decade the bedroom was a place where kids could celebrate their individuality, and a culture completely separate from their parents' could develop.

  • The House the 50s Built

    Episode 4

    In the final episode, experimental engineer Brendan Walker steps outside the house to discover how the inventions and innovations of the 50s improved our leisure time. He reveals how pesticides and lethal chemicals created in wartime transformed the garden from a muddy 'Dig for Victory' vegetable patch into a multicoloured vision of floral perfection.

    Brendan also takes to the road to uncover the simple but brilliant secret that made a British motorcycle the world's first superbike and gave Marlon Brando his defining rebel image.

    Celebrities, including Tony Robinson, Maureen Lipman and Tim Rice, recall the impact the car had on family holidays, whilst Brendan tests out the bizarre and dangerous lengths people went to in order to obtain the most coveted of status symbols - a sun tan. And this obsession for sunnier climes eventually led to holidaying Brits making for foreign shores, a goal made easier by the introduction of the de Havilland Comet - the world's first passenger jet and another British invention.

    Back at 21 Coronation Close, Brendan holds a garden party for his neighbours to celebrate the scientific leaps that gave Britons their first truly modern decade, and the defining qualities of British ingenuity and lateral thinking. He also finds out how Britain coped with the arrival from America of the tea bag on a string for dunking...

The House the 50s Built synopsis

An examination of the ingenuity and life-changing technology behind the 1950s inventions that launched drab, black-and-white post-war Britain into a Technicolor-drenched world of the future

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