The saloon bar of my local in Woodford is a shrine to Sir Winston Churchill, who represented Woodford in Parliament from 1945 until his retirement in 1964. My eyes are always drawn to one item, a framed cover from Picture Post dated 4 October 1952, featuring a dour-looking Churchill, entitled “The Tories: a portrait of the party”. I don’t know what is so fascinating about this particular item: perhaps it’s a reminder of the black and white world we all inhabited in years gone by (the first colour cover appeared only in 1952). I do have memories of seeing copies of Picture Post in doctor’s waiting rooms in my childhood. Now I realise they are spurious memories, since I was less than two months old when they published their last issue, but they are still so recognisable that I can’t help feeling a certain familiarity.
I was quite excited a month or so back when I learned that the digitizing goblins at Gale Cengage had scanned the whole run of Picture Post and proposed to make it available to libraries via the Internet. The magazine set a benchmark in photo-journalism, and did so much to capture the spirit of the world that so many of us grew up in; and I knew that it would be in great demand from the users of our wonderful 24/7 library of digital delights.
Because I knew the magazine so well, I was quite surprised at how short its span was – 1938-1957 – less than 19 years: but what years they were! The second issue featured Neville Chamberlain on its cover, looking smug and claiming to have done everything possible to prevent a war. The succeeding years saw how mistaken he was in his complacency, and Picture Post recounts the years of war, deprivation and austerity which were only starting to lighten when the magazine ceased publication.
Of course it’s the articles and photographs which are what Picture Post is all about – quintessential photo-journalism. From its pages you will find that fears of global warming are not so new: an article in February 1950 proclaims “Winters are really warmer”, and envisages Mediterranean climates in Britain by the mid-70s. In October 1946 it asked: “Is a footballer worth £12 a week?” – and that is a maximum wage. The perspective changes, but the concerns remain the same.
It all makes for a fascinating read. And crowning it all are the delightful adverts for long forgotten, but easily rekindled memories of Puritan household soap, Cadbury’s Vogue, Churchman’s cigarettes and Pink Paraffin. If, like me, you’re one who turns to the readers’ letters page out of idle curiosity, you’ll find there’s plenty to spark your interest here. I found one called “Grouser’s Corner” in 1955 which struck a chord with me, and David found some gems in a previous post on the subject.
Picture Post is accessible in any Westminster Library, or remotely using your Westminster Library card number. You’ll find links to it on the Exclusive Resources page in our 24/7 Library, and in the News and Magazines section of our Gateway.