How the architecture and design of the 20s and 30s created and reflected the spirit of the age, with the fun of Art Deco next to the functionality of Modernism.
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Our 21st century obsessions are not as new as we think.
The decades between the two world wars saw a cultural revolution
so exciting, so extraordinary that it still shapes who we are today.
The British learned what modernity was,
they learned a new aspect of their own identity.
From technology and design,
to fashion and sexuality,
everything was changing at a dazzling pace.
Speed was central to the age.
The mass production line was increasing the pace of life...
the speed of communications had increased,
everything seemed to be going faster.
Hollywood came calling...
..selling a shimmering fantasy of glamour that refuses to fade.
We're fascinated by the '20s and '30s
cos it resonates with our own age.
Celebrity glamour, celebrity culture,
the cult of the personality.
These were decades of turmoil, unemployment,
political conflict and the prospect of war.
But they were also decades of optimism and aspiration.
What happened was a kind of design democracy.
For the first time, ordinary people started to get a little hint in
their lives of this new, glamorous, shiny, modern world.
This new world not only felt different, it looked different too.
We dared to dream and for a brief, brilliant moment,
our dreams became reality.
'The Queen Mary nearing New York, and those of you
'who have ever enjoyed American hospitality
'can imagine the welcome in store for her.'
In August 1938, the luxury British liner, Queen Mary,
arrived in New York, having made the fastest trans-Atlantic sea crossing
It was a sensational achievement and a defining moment.
'By how much did you smash the record, Captain?
'By one hour and 14 minutes.'
Modern, fast, dynamic
and with an interior adorned with Art Deco glitz,
she was the definition of elegance
and a focus for British national pride.
'When records are broken, the Queen Mary will break them.'
The Queen Mary wasn't just an icon of British design achievement,
she carried with her the accumulated dreams and desires
of the previous two decades.
She provided a total experience,
a combination of speed and luxury, the very qualities which defined
the Luxe Experience of Glamour's Golden Age.
It's an irony that, out of the horror of the trenches,
a glittering new age was born.
The survivors would rebuild a shattered landscape.
They would transform a broken world.
The pioneers of this new design frontier
would be artists and architects.
But for the British, there was a moment of hesitation and doubt.
After the Great War, you've got a sense of release,
I think, a sense of release and a sense of relief.
There's a notion that we're going to build a land fit for heroes,
but we're looking back to the past, back to old certainties.
So, in design terms, we've got the Arts and Crafts movement,
which still dominates 1920s' England, and the Arts and Crafts Movement,
with its praiseworthy but pathological earnestness,
wished that the Industrial Revolution would go away.
It didn't want the future.
But like it or not, the future was on its way.
No nostalgia. No regrets. Art Deco.
Art Deco was very much of the moment.
The streamlined interior.
Sharp, angular, brightly coloured.
Primitive African Art.
The Egyptian, Assyrian...
..abstract, jagged shapes.
..aluminium and chrome...
Bold geometric zigzag patterns.
Mechanical forms, cogs, horizontal lines.
The sensation of speed.
Super cool, super modern, super glamorous.
This is where Art Deco was born.
The capital of fantasy...
A place where the past was there to be forgotten.
There's a greater embrace of what it is to be modern
in a more conspicuous sense in France than there is in Britain.
Paris had become the home of haute couture
and there was a very strong sense of women consuming
and consuming modernity, becoming modern,
both in their dress but also in their homes.
Paris sold style.
Its trend-setting chic and upmarket products led the world.
Keen to promote new Parisian design,
the French government staged an international showcase in 1925.
It was a canny piece of marketing.
You've got official government encouragement to develop Paris
as this great global capital of luxury and glamour and style.
They invited countries from around the globe to come and exhibit,
but making sure that France had the prime spots, the most pavilions,
so they could outclass everybody else in terms of style and glamour.
The International Exposition of Modern Industrial
and Decorative Arts was an instant sensation.
Located in the very heart of The City of Light,
the exhibition attracted over 15 million people
who came to gaze at the exclusive products on display.
There were Makassar ebonies, shark skin and ivory shagreen,
there was white gold, wonderful Japanese lacquer work.
The important thing about Deco in its early stages
is that it's a very rich, very opulent, very elitist design style.
It's only for the rich.
The new French style was not called Art Deco at the time.
With its wholehearted embrace of the future,
it was known simply as the Moderne.
The 1925 exhibition was quite explicit. It was to portray
France as a modern nation,
and no exhibits were allowed to be shown unless they were modern.
It was very rich, very complex, no nostalgia whatsoever,
but looking outside of Europe for visual sources.
Suddenly the world was opening up in quite spectacular ways.
'A women's world. That's what it was now.
'Shooting big game with rifles or a movie camera.'
One of the key elements in Art Deco, defining it, is the exotic.
There are Egyptian elements, North African elements, there are...
Japanese elements, Chinese elements, South American elements.
All these things are reflections of our love of the exotic,
which was about the realisation that it is all out there,
we could actually see it.
Art Deco was about the glamour of travel
and the novelty of new technology.
It was about escaping the hardships of the past
and the anxieties of the present. Above all, Art Deco was about fun.
The thing about Deco is that it sucks up anything.
To try and define Deco,
to try and look for a serious intellectual purpose behind Deco
is like trying to nail a manifesto to a bubble. It just goes pop.
The British had been in Paris in 1925,
but hadn't exactly been the life and soul of the party.
Their stand had promoted stolid brands
such as Wedgwood and Doulton.
The racy new French products
left them feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
The British take on Art Deco is what you would have expected -
a load of decadent French stuff, souffle stuff.
It's rather like that idea that the British in the 18th century
would have a go at French cooking and say that the French used
these fancy sauces to disguise bad meat.
The British found what the French were doing
was like a sauce on roast beef.
Of course, the British had their own peculiar fondness for sauce.
It was in the permissive atmosphere of London's West End theatres
that sexy, salacious French Deco
first arrived to spice up our humdrum lives.
Art Deco is the quintessential good night out.
The Arts and Crafts Movement wants a moral context for its design.
It's been taught that good design is tied in with good behaviour
and along comes Deco which says, "No, it's not. Let's have some fun."
Art Deco is a supremely theatrical style.
You walk into the lobby of the Savoy Theatre
and suddenly you're living the dream.
It just takes your breath away.
It gives the lie to the statement
that so many design historians insist on making that
there is no such thing as British Deco.
You just need to look around you and you see it and you love it.
From the beginning, Art Deco had reflected
traditionally female tastes and fashions.
'The woman today demands practical things that are attractive as well.
'These facts influence the modern designer and produce furniture
'that is distinctive to our age.'
In Britain, it was women designers who led the field.
I think probably the most interesting English decorator,
as they were called then, was Syrie Maugham.
She was married to the famous writer Somerset Maugham,
but they divorced and for that reason, in fact,
she had to earn her own living and she moved into interior decoration.
Very typically, she started by designing her own interior,
a lovely room that was very much written about in Chelsea
in her own house and called The White Room.
In fact, it was various shades of cream,
but it was striking in its use of this sort of monotone.
Syrie Maugham's soft, chic and subtle take on Art Deco
was a huge hit with her upper class clients.
But it was another woman designer
who would take Art Deco to the masses.
Deco at its most colourful, vibrant and exuberant.
In terms of British Art Deco, Clarice Cliff is it.
She was the revolutionary. It's quite a romantic story.
She ran off for a romantic weekend to Paris
with the sales director of the factory where she worked.
She sees things at the Paris Exhibition,
which clearly impress her enormously and she comes back,
and she was given a pile of waste china to play with
and she began to do patterns like this which are vibrant, dynamic
and what they show is the impact of that French trip.
Popular modernism, cheap, accessible, colourful,
decorative, exciting shapes -
nobody else in Britain was doing it at that point.
By the late '20s, this stuff was selling in tons.
British designers like Clarice Cliff introduced French Art Deco
to a mass market in the late 1920s. But it would take the Americans
to truly democratise the high society style.
-It certainly is beautiful, isn't it?
Hollywood is Art Deco, Art Deco is Hollywood.
It's the place where people would have seen Art Deco.
They wouldn't have seen it in the homes of the rich and the elite,
they would have seen it on the Hollywood screen.
I think Art Deco was very attractive to Hollywood
because it represents novelty and people went to the cinema
for something that would surprise them, interest them, entertain them.
In the 1920s, the global media machine of
Hollywood was just gearing up.
Crucial to the way it projected itself was the gleaming,
up-to-the-minute style of Art Deco.
Art Deco was absolutely vital to the success of Hollywood.
A huge party of Americans came to visit the Paris exhibition.
For example, Cedric Gibbons, who's the art director at MGM,
he uses Art Deco to symbolise a sort of glamorous,
young, cutting-edge, slightly naughty and sexy character.
In Our Dancing Daughters, you see this constantly moving flapper.
You see her in the mirrors changing at the start of the movie
where her feet are constantly moving.
She's very vibrant, very energetic.
Even to change her clothes, she can't stop dancing.
It's all mirrored surfaces, the floors are black and reflective...
very geometric designs -
the shawl that she puts on is a black and white geometric design.
She's living the Art Deco lifestyle.
In Our Dancing Daughters, art director Cedric Gibbons
deliberately contrasts the raffish Art Deco interiors
of its liberated flapper heroine
with the repressive Victorian atmosphere of her friend's home.
This gleeful stylistic assault on an uptight old world
would be played out in Hollywood film after Hollywood film.
Art Deco is very naughty and very transgressive,
and that's probably why I like it.
It's a challenge to British established taste, I think,
as was the whole of Hollywood.
If we look at the film Top Hat, right at the beginning,
we get Fred Astaire entering a sort traditional English gentlemen's club
and starting to tap dance.
So we get that kind of transgression of the English upper classes
happening at that moment.
Hollywood Art Deco was revved up.
It was rapid fire.
It roared with the energy of its time.
This is the machine age.
The machine is central to the aesthetics of the period.
Busby Berkeley movies are very good examples of
where the machine becomes a kind of art.
In Gold Diggers Of 1933 for example, the routine Petting in the Park,
you see all the women running
when it starts to rain into a set of booths where they then change.
And when they come out they are dressed in robot-like costumes.
And this is like the women themselves have become machines.
Deco didn't just dominate the movies.
It also defined the new cinemas that showed them.
Art Deco was absolutely vital for the design of cinemas in Britain.
Cinema going had been a fairly dodgy thing to do.
You went to sort of flea pits.
It wasn't something that respectable people did,
so that cinema owners were absolutely hell-bent on
creating gorgeous buildings
where you could have tea with your friends and then watch a film.
This is the New Victoria Cinema built in 1929.
Really for the first time lighting was considered as
part of the architecture externally and also the interior design,
so we get muted lighting, different coloured lighting and so on.
It's inspired by the idea that we had from America of
the atmospheric cinema where you would feel you were
walking into an Arabian Night's cave
or you were walking into some underwater grotto.
The cinema interior is quite wacky,
but that's great, isn't it? Because that attracts people,
it gets the masses in to enjoy the films,
but it also adds to the experience,
it adds to that element of escapism.
Deco is about escapism
in the same way that the Hollywood musical is about escapism.
You know, the Busby Berkeley musical is Art Deco made flesh, if you like,
and that notion of escape becomes more
and more important when your present is so uncongenial and so scary.
Escape was a craving.
'The Jarrow Petition - a petition to the government
'for work for the thousands of unemployed in what is probably
'the hardest hit town in Britain,
'is being carried to London by the 200 members of the Jarrow Crusade.'
The Jarrow March of 1936 has become a symbol of the times.
Britain was scarred by the Great Depression.
Poverty was a real and grinding experience for many.
But there was a paradox at the heart of the age.
For those in work, the 1930s saw a sustained rise in real wages.
Beyond the black spots of the industrial north
there was a gradual rise in prosperity.
I think the real revolution of the Art Deco period was a social
revolution, it was about social mobility,
it was about having what we now call disposable income.
We could spend on luxuries in a way that we'd never done before.
Accessibility of consumer materials was suddenly there.
Art Deco was the ultimate consumer style.
It screamed luxury, but it whispered affordability.
Easy to mass produce
glamorous Deco was both inexpensive and highly desirable.
I think the story of the kind of democratisation of Art Deco through
the '20s and '30s is fascinating. There's obviously a kind of time lag.
The elite style is manifested first,
but the attraction of that style seen through exhibitions,
magazines, Hollywood films is very quickly picked up
by a much wider social group.
You could go to Woolworths and you could buy an Art Deco pot or vase.
The industries, the decorative arts industries,
were very quick to realise the attraction of the style.
The British have a wonderful talent for taking any serious design
movement and making it sort of you know very basic and high street.
You can see that in the suburbs around the great cities.
The British were able to take something that
had been refined and delicate and almost ethereal in Paris in 1925,
and by 1935 they've transformed it into something for everybody.
Alongside the consumer boom came a housing boom.
Architecturally the new suburbs were mostly conservative and nostalgic.
But behind the unassuming exteriors,
a more daring, democratic world of Deco was flourishing.
The house was built in 1937 as part of Metroland that sprang up from
the Metropolitan Line.
We previously lived in another 1930s house,
but it had been modernised quite a bit and we decided that
we wanted to find something that had a lot of original features.
We love Art Deco because of the interesting shapes, the colours,
it's just a fascinating period.
We had all the pieces really in our old house, so it was
just putting it into the setting and decorating each room individually.
Clive is very good, a very handy man,
so he did all the decorating.
I obviously helped with the interior design and the colour scheme.
I think a lot of people tend to forget that the 1930s and Art Deco
was actually quite colourful. People see the black-and-white films
and don't imagine that there's much colour there, but there is.
At heart of every British home was the radio.
The 1930s saw an explosion in the new medium,
turning the wireless into an indispensable consumer object.
Radio is a total revolution.
It's a revolution as big as the internet in its own way,
and radio has become, in a sense, the symbol of Art Deco because
they start as a box of scientific tricks
and they then become a very stylish piece of furniture.
You can sit there listening to live broadcasts of dance bands,
you can sit there listening to politicians speak,
you can sit there listening to the King talking at Christmas.
All these things come into your home.
But wonderful wireless delivered less welcome news too.
'Events of major importance happened in Europe today.
'This morning German troops made a formal entry
'into the demilitarised zone on the left bank of the Rhine.'
not only had aggressive political and military aims,
Nazi ideology also set its sights on art and architecture.
Hitler right from the top does not like anything modern.
Bam! So anybody working in the arts,
now let's forget being Jewish for a moment,
but anyone working in the arts of any sort
that wanted to be modern was out.
Germany had been the birthplace of the Modern Movement
in architecture and design.
Under Walter Gropius, the radical Bauhaus Art School
preached a new design philosophy that wanted to rebuild the world.
Modernism is serious and Art Deco is not.
Art Deco is a supremely commercial style.
It will take everything it can
and it will sell it back to you at the highest price it can.
The Modern Movement is very definitely ideologically underpinned.
The Modern Movement is essentially a Socialist movement
and it has a manifesto, it has a moral imperative to it.
It's about the triumph of form, it's about stripping away
useless decoration and ornament, it's about utilitarianism and minimalism.
To Hitler, Modernism's left-leaning ideals made it suspect.
The fact that many of its leading lights were Jewish
made it anathema.
Life for Jewish architects such as Erich Mendelsohn
was about to get very hard indeed.
Mendelsohn was one of the most respected modern architects
in Germany in the Weimar years just before Hitler came to power.
He had built some wonderful modern department stores
called the Schocken Department Store, a great name actually, cos
they're really about the shock of the new, they're thrilling.
He'd also been a heroic and very daring engineering
artillery officer during the First World War, highly decorated.
So, here's that great conundrum in Germany,
a great heroic Jewish officer and a great professional talent
who's about to be told he's wrong on every count.
He's Jewish and he's a Modern.
Erich Mendelsohn joined a flood of hugely talented and influential
emigres coming to find safety in Britain.
They were the Apostles of a new faith -
a faith in a Modernist future that would soon find concrete form.
The most iconic Modernist building in Britain, I guess, is Mendelsohn's
De La Warr Pavilion.
Everybody knows it, everybody's seen it in a thousand episodes of Poirot.
Everybody's seen it in any '30s documentary that has been.
Yes, it's familiar, but it's so damned beautiful.
But it caused a tremendous storm.
When the competition was won by Mendelsohn, the Fascist Week
said that this was a "contemptible and despicable betrayal of
"our own countrymen."
It aroused quite a lot of rather unpleasant emotions.
The De La Warr Pavilion shines like a Modernist jewel
on the sunny Sussex coast.
But it has its roots in a starker, more utilitarian world.
Mendelsohn began his career designing factories.
Even then, they were typically Modernist -
Like the De La Warr Pavilion, there was absolutely no surface design.
In Britain, they were building new factories too,
but the approach was different,
This was the Hoover Factory. Where Mendelsohn's buildings
strip away all ornamentation, this positively revels in it.
It's Tutankhamun for the Machine Age.
Built on the outskirts of West London in 1932,
the Hoover Building's jazzy high spirits
attracted the disapproval of Modernism's young disciples.
But the building's architect, Thomas Wallis,
wasn't the type to turn the other cheek.
Thomas Wallis was very forceful, very dynamic. He didn't necessarily seek
the limelight, most of the time he chased glamorous ladies,
this is what he did as a hobby. He was pretty fierce
and it's very interesting, when he did the Hoover Building
The Architectural Review magazine had a pop at it
and they wrote a very cheeky little poem. Thomas Wallis was not amused.
The Architectural Review decided to have a go at Art Deco
because it wasn't proper Modernism, and Wallis came round to
Number Nine Queens Anne Gate, The Architectural Review offices,
brandishing, it's absolutely true, brandishing a horsewhip,
hammering on the door saying, "Let me at those whippersnappers!"
The Hoover Factory has become an icon of Deco in British culture.
It's an advertisement, it's a brand.
'Here you see a beating-type of electric sweeper being made.
'There are 879 parts and 3,631 operations in its manufacture.'
It's also an advertisement for new technology, which is a fundamental
part of design theory and Deco design theory in the 1930s.
A belief not only in the future, a belief in new technology.
'At last milady can make light of her housework,
'hardly realising how much care energy and patience
'have been spent on her behalf.'
There's an interesting contrast in the period, I think, between
our acceptance or otherwise of modern art and design,
and our embrace of technology.
The British attitude towards progressive or avant-garde art
has always been ambivalent.
We're suspicious of it, we think it's a little bit racy, superficial maybe.
I rather like this. It's very pleasing both in rhythm and colour.
I'm very glad you like it.
Of course, you know you've got it upside down?
But when it comes to technology, we're very happy to embrace that.
We see that as our positive contribution, if you like,
to the world, and the engineer is a hero for us.
The British may have harboured some scepticism about the new styles,
but they adored speed.
Fast, functional, fabulous -
British machines would conquer the world.
In July 1938, one of Sir Nigel Gresley's A4 Pacifics,
Mallard, this wedge-shaped, streamlined locomotive,
garter blue livery with red wheels, came streaking down the hill between
Grantham and Peterborough and reached the speed,
momentarily for one second possibly, of 126 miles per hour.
It was casual, it was amateur, it nearly failed,
but the most important thing was we had beaten the world
despite being broken, despite having no money, despite being on our knees,
we'd beaten the world at a great record
and, of course, we still hold it.
The British also dominated automobile technology.
25 land speed records were set during the interwar years,
of which 21 were by British drivers in British cars.
The high Utah desert was the ultimate arena
for these gladiators of speed.
In 1935, the world gasped as Sir Malcolm Campbell
took his futuristic Blue Bird to new limits.
'Speed - 300 miles an hour, five miles a minute,
'one mile and 12 seconds, an achievement which balks
'the imagination and beggars description.'
'It's great what you've set out to do. Well done, George.'
Having set the sensational new record, Campbell passed
the baton onto two other British drivers George Eyston and John Cobb.
'It's the strangest battle in history,
'two Englishmen in faraway America fighting side by side
'to earn the title of fastest man on earth.'
On the eve of the Second World War, Cobb set a new record of more than
367 miles per hour in his space-age Railton Special.
But there was another technology, which would offer the possibility of
record-breaking speed to a growing band of international adventurers.
The luxury liner embodied this age,
it really symbolised it because it had that power, that technology,
that kind of gigantic proportion about it,
but it was also within that highly decorated,
luxurious and fashionable.
The luxury liner was where engineering and aesthetics finally
came together for the British.
Before the First World War, the interiors of transatlantic liners
had all the heaviness and fussy detail of Victorian hotels.
But a revolution was about to begin.
I think what changes in the '20s and '30s is that
people realise that a ship is not a hotel.
It requires its own dynamic, its own design principles.
And from the mid-20s ships begin to look like ships and
they have a real expression of modernity as defined by
the Art Deco styles of that period.
These stylish interiors were the product of a cut-throat competition
for new passengers.
Art Deco wasn't a stylistic afterthought,
it was ammunition in a commercial war.
There were two ships in particular,
which were locked in a duel for stylistic supremacy.
There was a fantastic rivalry between the Cunard's Queen Mary
and the French Line's Normandie.
Cunard was always a fairly sort of respectable firm and they really
hankered for something fairly traditionally British.
With the Queen Mary they tried to combine a bit of Art Deco glamour
with something more traditional.
It was a bit like walking through a fairly modern country house,
we get over-stuffed armchairs, we get paintings of country scenes,
and it was all very polite.
Whereas, with the Normandie,
I mean, it was like walking through a film set.
We get the huge dining room with the Lalique glass chandeliers,
which were fabulous.
We get the salons and they all had the most exquisite, highly crafted
lacquer work and the best of French artists and artisans and craftsmen
working on these interiors.
But style wasn't everything.
The decisive factor was speed.
Sleek, chic and superfast, the Normandie had no rival...
..or at least until 1936, when the Queen Mary appeared on the horizon.
'The coming of the Queen Mary inaugurates one of
'the greatest races of all time.
'Which ship will turn out to be the faster, the Normandie or the Queen?
'That is the question of the hour.'
In a matter of months
the Queen Mary had decisively answered that question.
She smashed the Normandie's transatlantic record,
winning for Britain the honour known as the Blue Riband.
The contest between the two ships, and the two countries,
was now on in earnest.
'The Normandie has gone into dry dock at Le Havre
'to have new propellers fitted, which it is thought may enable her
'to approach the Queen Mary in speed.'
In 1937, the refitted Normandie snatched the Blue Riband back again.
But it was a short-lived victory.
'The great French liner Normandie has had her New York triumphs
'and her record-breaking voyages, but this time it's the turn of her
'British rival the Queen Mary, undisputed Queen of the Atlantic.'
The Queen Mary was a potent projection of national identity
in an era of intense global rivalry.
It was a competition that was played out in the air
as well as on the sea.
The Schneider Trophy was the Formula One of its times.
A worldwide event that combined cutting-edge technology
with intense international rivalry.
Seaplanes from America, Italy, Germany, France and Britain
raced in front of crowds of up to a quarter of a million people.
These thoroughbreds of the skies broke record after record,
but one machine emerged triumphant over all the rest.
The Supermarine S.6B is the most, glamorous, dynamic, beautiful,
thrilling machine and object that emerged from British workshops,
British industry in the 1930s.
It's a very, very beautiful object indeed.
It sits on floats because it flies from water,
it has the thinnest possible wing you can imagine,
and it's gloriously streamlined.
In fact, it's so streamlined, and the detailings of the streamlining
are such that if you look at it in a certain way,
it looks like some sort of piece of Art Deco jewellery.
If you had said this Reginald Mitchell, its designer,
he'd have just kicked you out of his office, I mean,
literally kicked you, booted you up the bum and out of his office door,
because Mitchell was a no-nonsense man from the Black Country
and he didn't like fancy talk about art and had no interest.
He said he had no interest in styling.
His only interest was in efficiency, in aerodynamics
and he certainly got it right.
The Supermarine S.6B not only won the Schneider trophy for Britain,
but it took the world speed record - 407.5, love it,
407.5 miles an hour.
The fastest machine in the world!
The Supermarine S.6B represented the cutting edge of aerodynamic
technology and was the direct predecessor of the Spitfire fighter.
But it was American designers who would fully exploit
the consumer potential of streamlining.
Streamlining is quintessentially American. What happened was
interior designers and architects started to look to
science and technology
and take their lead from the study of aerodynamics,
and they looked at this and they thought,
"Art Deco is far too luxurious, it has too much ornament,"
they called it "an infection of ornament."
There is a sense here that what is American is this machine know-how,
this practical use of things,
this is very much about paring down from these luxury ornaments,
to making a kind of democratic art, something that was fit for purpose,
something that could speed people into the future.
There's a car produced in round about '33, it's Chrysler's Airflow car,
and it personified, or it symbolised, that streamlined idea.
Not only was it sort of curved from bonnet right through to boot,
the idea of a continuous shape that the air would move over,
it also had wonderful chrome strips on it and I think the origin of that
was probably the cartoon figures that have little lines
behind them suggesting that they're whooshing across the page,
the chrome strips again symbolic of the idea of speed.
The aesthetics of streamlining were hugely important.
It was the look that counted,
a look that had soon spread from transportation
to a dazzling range of consumer products.
Streamlining is a style that makes things look functional,
but when you see the streamline style added to say a vacuum cleaner
or a toaster it doesn't actually make it more functional.
But it actually gives it that appearance of speed and dynamism.
the ultimate static objects, were built to look fast.
Streamlined architecture was particularly popular
in new seaside developments such as Miami's South Beach.
Buildings are designed to look like ocean liners
with decks and portholes.
They even have the horizontal speed strips
originally seen in the chrome trim on cars.
Streamlining expressed the unstoppable momentum
of America itself.
This is not Miami.
But the parallels are unmistakable.
Built in 1933, the Midland Hotel
brought American-style streamlined glamour to the Lancashire seaside.
It was a great boom time for resorts.
You get the building of fantastic seaside hotels,
like the Midland Hotel in Morecambe.
If you're attracting clients, do you want to look like a Victorian palace?
Not particularly. You want to give a sense of modernity.
Buildings need to look Moderne.
The new Art Deco-styled resorts
were the product of a transport revolution.
Britain was on the move. For example, in 1919
there were a quarter of a million, 250,000 cars.
By 1929, ten years later, there were 1.5 million cars.
People were on the move and as they were liberated, as they were able
to move out, they moved to the seaside, they moved to the country.
That sense of being able to escape,
that sense of being able to get away from it, was the future.
Perhaps even more than the automobile,
the railway came to define the Deco-styled great escape.
Posters are the great evocative element of this period.
You were encouraged to travel by, you know, the Art Deco style.
Posters showing "Look how great these places are.
"This is the great train you can go on.
"Come with us. We'll take you to the English Riviera.
"We'll take you to North Wales. We'll take you to the Lake District.
"We'll take you to the Highlands of Scotland."
It was all about what we can do and the fantasy of what we'd like to do.
Fantasy was rapidly becoming a reality.
Mandatory holiday pay was introduced in 1936,
the same year as working hours were reduced.
Suddenly holidays were within the reach of ordinary families.
The British were ready to play.
You have mass recreation for the first time, you have paid holidays,
and suddenly people can get down to the seaside,
they can go for their week and they can have fun.
And above all, beyond all, Deco architecture is fun.
Fun is what places like Saltdean Lido near Brighton
were in the business of providing.
Built in 1938, it's a pure projection of
American streamlined glamour.
Saltdean Lido is a great example of that sunshine architecture.
The sort of clean lines, the white walls, the streamlined curves
of what was the coming resort.
It is sunshine architecture and lidos all over the country, in fact,
were popping up that were very heavily influenced by Deco ideas and
that I think is because along with the sunshine architecture
went a love for sunshine, for health and fitness.
'The greatest place of all for the sun-worshippers of today
'is by the sea and don't the ladies know it!
'Just look at these charming costumes.
'Our cameraman missed the last train back, but what an excuse he had.
'Between ourselves, these are the super, super models of today,
'the era of the cult of the sun.'
Swimming and sunbathing were all the rage.
In 1926, the young American Gertrude Ederle swam across the Channel,
smashing the then male-held record by two hours.
Female achievement was also celebrated by
the Women's League of Health and Beauty.
With 170,000 members it popularised physical fitness.
This obsession with the body beautiful and the fashion
for revealing costumes was more than just a superficial fad.
Machine-Age streamlining, the interconnected ideas of
efficiency and mass production, was seen as a model for human beings.
Streamlining was definitely the pursuit of an idea of perfect form
that was appropriate to the age,
an age in which speed, dynamism and modernity were uppermost.
I think that idea does extend to the human body as well,
particularly for women at this time.
I think the New Woman with the bob
and the clinging dress was a streamlined form.
In the age of glamour even pets became streamlined.
The idea of machine-like human perfection
became a kind of fetish in the 1930s.
This was an era of mass displays in which hundreds, sometimes thousands
of bodies, acted like uniform parts in a streamlined production process.
People were fascinated with the idea of the body,
strength, power and movement, and I think Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia
is a really good example of this fascination.
Entirely unconnected to the narrative of the documentary about
the Olympics, the 1936 Olympics,
the film begins with scenes of women performing calisthenics,
naked women performing calisthenics,
and it's not really that far from the kind of aesthetics that
Busby Berkeley had been achieving in Gold Diggers Of 1933, for example.
The interwar years were dominated by an idea that human beings
could be made as perfect as the machines that surrounded them.
This was the dark side of the Age of Glamour.
Eugenics seeks to apply the known laws of heredity, so as to prevent
the degeneration of the race and improve its inborn qualities.
Not all mental deficiency is hereditary,
but heredity accounts for more of the mild feeble-minded types.
If carefully trained, they can be taught simple routine tasks.
But it would have been better by far, if they had never been born.
Although the Eugenics Movement was founded in Britain,
it found its most extreme expression in Nazi Germany and the USA.
By the time of World War Two, over 40,000 American citizens
had been sterilised without their consent.
Eugenics affected many different areas of American life
including, controversially, design.
Most people would just think of streamlining as a design style,
but, in fact, beneath that is an ideology that
does connect it to eugenics.
Eugenics wanted to redesign society
and the industrial designers themselves very much believed in eugenic progress.
They would use terms like as "parasitic drag", for example,
as something that held back the object, that held back society.
They would look at pure bred forms such as the greyhound
as an example of eugenic thoroughbreds
to implement into their designs.
There are a lot of parallels between the two -
ideas of the future, the future perfect form,
a more streamlined body, a more streamlined lifestyle.
For American designers,
eugenics was a design template not a political ideology.
They had only one aim...
The vision of a streamlined consumer paradise
became real with the World's Fair held in New York in 1939.
Attracting over 44 million visitors,
it was the largest such event ever held.
The 1939 World's Fair
was a fascinating moment I think in the history of modern design.
Very, very different from Paris 1925 which had been elite, luxurious
and highly decorative.
By '39 we've moved to quite a different style. It's much simpler,
much more streamlined, even the buildings are streamlined,
rounded forms, and the exhibition is dominated, interestingly, not
by the work of architects or decorators,
but now by industrial designers.
And the designers are designing things like "The World of Tomorrow,"
the car of tomorrow.
'Safe distance between cars is maintained by
'automatic radio control.
'Curved sides assist the driver in keeping his car
'within the proper lane under all circumstances.
'The keynote of this motorway - safety.'
It's an absolutely optimistic American view of the future.
That's the most remarkable thing I've ever seen.
But while America was looking forward to "The World of Tomorrow,"
Europe was staring into the abyss.
This was not the moment for a light-hearted style.
Deco had become decadent.
By 1939 Deco is a kind of, it's an aging whore.
It's unfaithful, it's avaricious,
it's desperate for anything which will make it look young,
and it's a failing architecture
and that's because the whole mood of the times has changed.
In September 1939, just a year after her record-breaking triumph,
the Queen Mary slipped back into New York.
For her celebrity passengers,
this had been a more eventful voyage than usual.
-Well, Mr Warner I think we're very lucky getting back here safely, don't you?
-I don't know about that.
Were you worried?
-Of being torpedoed?
Why I didn't have the slightest thought of being torpedoed.
-I didn't either. I didn't sleep a second.
-Oh, I did.
It didn't bother me. Of course, I'm of the hardy type.
Yeah, but you see I'm serious, so I'm not nervous.
While the Queen Mary was at sea,
war had been declared between Britain and Germany.
The liner's luxurious Art Deco drawing rooms and libraries
had been crammed with temporary cots in case of U-boat attack.
It was an omen of things to come.
The glamorous Queen Mary
now prepared to begin a new life as a troop ship.
If you want to think perhaps of one example of that shift from
a belief in luxury and glamour
to a much more functional and rather drab world of war,
the Queen Mary is the most wonderful example.
You move from it depicting all those wonderful qualities
to it being stripped out for use in war, battleship grey.
The Grey Ghost.
The contrast is complete and I think the world has changed.
This would be an age of austerity,
an age of service and sacrifice.
But perhaps there would be one final decisive expression
of British Art Deco.
I always think ironically one of the best Art Deco objects
the British ever made was the Spitfire.
'To the man in the street perhaps the most amazing machine is the Spitfire.
'A land version of the famous seaplanes that won the Schneider Trophy.'
It is a wonderful, fluid, perfect definition of streamlining.
It's a wonderful aeroplane, probably one of the best aeroplanes made.
It's also one of the prettiest.
But in a sense, it's an indication of where things were going.
You know, we were by that time
moving towards another global conflict.
How can you have faith in a future which promises your extinction?
How can you, sort of, look for fun and frivolity
when actually what you've got to look for is survival?
What happened in 1939 is that people realised that there was no escape,
the future had caught up with us.
Art Deco's moment in the sun might have been short-lived,
but it shone all the more brilliantly for it.
Life for most might often have been grey.
It might sometimes even have been grim.
But just occasionally it could also be defiantly, deliciously glamorous.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Hermione Norris narrates a three-part series on the 1920s and 30s, which creates a portrait of a golden age so daring, so influential, so exciting that it still shapes who we are today.
The decades between the world wars saw a cultural revolution in music, fashion, design and the arts. Mass media, mass production and the resulting mass exposure to an alluring, seductive glamour saw the world changing at a dizzying pace, amid which many of our modern obsessions were born.
The first part looks at how architecture and design both created and reflected the spirit of the time. The fun and frivolity of art deco sat alongside the pure functionality of modernism and helped democratise style. Streamlining followed, making sleek, sophisticated, elegant design part of ordinary people's everyday lives. At home, the radio became a beautiful object. In the urban environment a new aesthetic changed the way buildings looked, while planes, trains and automobiles started to shrink the world.
Featuring photographs of the Hoover Factory, Saltdean Lido, the Midland Hotel, the Savoy Theatre, the De La Warr Pavilion, the New Victoria Palace cinema, plus archive newsreel of the Mallard, the Queen Mary, the Schneider Trophy and Bluebird.