Boys Costumes Depicted in English Television Shows: 1940s House (2001)

Figure 1.--While there are no TVs and video games, there is radio (the British called it the wireless) which was had become a major factor in people's lives by the 1930s.

Channel 4 did a production on a 1940s House. They took a typical British family and had them live like a 1940s family for 6 months. The Hymers were the family chosen for the program. They were of course a typical modern British family, accustomed to packaged food and the modern luxuries. The austerity of World War II was a real shock for them. The boys seemed more willing to deal with the situation than the children in the 1900 House. While there are no TVs and video games, there is radio (the British called it the wireless) which was had become a major factor in peoples lives by the 1930s. Edward's VIII's abdication and those inspiring speeches by Churchill were all heard by the British peoplw over the radio. And in America, we were listening to Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from London during the Blitz. The two boys wear 1940s styles clothes including suits, school, caps, long flannel shorts, braces (suspenders) kneesocks, and school sandals. The parents wore the common adult clothes of the 40s.


Hair Cut

A French reader writes, "Notice the hair of the boy fig.1 on right. This style hair is in fashion at present in France. One names it ' coupe anglaise ' (English cut) and is popular with boys from good families. It can be for boy till about 14 years old. This cut consists of with plenty hair on the top; and short around the sides. It gives the boy a bit air of a serious, well raised look. This cut is a slightly different of the bowl cut. My granson has got this cut." HBC notes that this was a popular style in the late 1990s in both Britain and America. A short back and sides was worn by Bitish boys in the 1940s, but this layered style seems a bit dfferent than actual 1940s British styles. An American reader mentions, "Styles rarely reappear in their original form; clothing or hairstyles only borrow from an era!"

Reader Comment

HBC has not yet seen the series so can not yet describe it in detail. We would be very intertested in any reader insight or comments on the series. A HBC reader comments, "I'd particularly like to see this series. The 1930s and 40s are of great historical interest to me. Friends and colleagues tell me that my beloved old Parker fountain pens and Hamilton wristwatch, and old style clothes make me seem out of that era. Living in a real "1940's House" would be an intriguing adventure!"

Figure 2.--The boys wear the closed-toe school sandals that were so common in the 1940s, sometimes without socks.

An Australian reader tells us, "I have seen some of the "1940s House". The two little boys did really well wearing their 1940s era clothing and did not complain. They were good at getting into the 1940s. They used the limitations of the allotment of the green stamps system and they even worked out how much water they could use because ofthe World War II limitations and rations. There were limitations on soap, ink, paper, and candles. The boys got right into the situation situation of the Blitz and why the lights had to be out at a certain time because they might get bombed. The clothing the boys wore was spot on because my mum remembers her friends at school wearing knickerbokrs and grey short trousers. Even the shoes were spot on. The haircuts were spot on too, but I do not remember if the lads objected to the close shaved short back and sides that they had to have. The two woman were not copeing to well first off but towards the end they got going and did quite well.

An American reader writes, "My local PBS station finally showed 1940s House the other day. It was quite enjoyable. Once they gave the boys puddin' bowl haircuts and dressed them in overlong shorts (with suspenders!) and peaked caps, they looked quite authentic. When the boys' mother and grandparents were given the equivalent treatment, they all looked at least a decade older than they had at the beginning of the program and had good laugh when thy sa each other. And that was before they went through their simulated war experiences!"

Other Media Recreations

1900 House Channel 4 and PBS in recent years has produced a remarkable series of programs about homes in different historical periods and settings. They place modern families in historically correct homes and ask them to live for a time as if they were in that period. The producers not only make sure that the houses are properly restored to the time period, but only household products, tools, and appliances actually available at the time are used. The different productions include a vast amount of information about clothing, fashion, and life styles during different periods of tghe 19th and 20th century in America and England. In addition to the actual recreations, we have also included some dramitizations that focused on houses.

World War II

HBC readers interested in the 1940s may want to read some of the background pages on World War II to put thi television program in perspective.

The Battle of Britain

The German initiated their long awaited western campaign in May 1940. Paris fell June 14 and France capitulated June 22. The Luftwaffe quickly established bases in France and by July 10 launched preliminary strikes in what has come to be called the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe while better trained and outnumbering the RAF was ill prepared for the campaign. They did not appreciate the critical importance of the British home chain radar network. They also had no straegic bomber fleet. The air offensive was to be conducted with two engine bombers that proved highly effective in short range tactical operations, but were not well suited for kinger-range strategic bombing. The Battle of Brirain began in ernest on August 13 with Luftwaffe raids on British airfields and aircraft factories. Hitler had assumed that the Luftwaffe could force the British to capitualte.

The British evacuations

The British Government even before war was declared on Germany in September 1939 sought to safeguard the civilain population, especially children, from aerial bombardment. The Government on August 31, 1939 ordered the evacuations to begin. Within a few weeks, 3 million Britains, mostly children had been evacuated from the cities. It was the most extensive movement of people in British history. Caos insued as the children were tagged liked parcels and shipped out of the cities. The abrupt separtaion of many very young children from their parents was a traumatic experience. The British concern was especially deep because of the Luftwaffe atracks on civilian populations. Even before the Blitz, the British watched in horror as the Luftwaffe in September launched terror attacks on Warsaw and other Polish citids. The vast majority of the children evacuated were sent to the English countryside, usually to live with individual families who volunteered to care for them.

1940s Experiences

HBC readers interested in the 1940s may want to look at the various actual experiences of British boys in the 1940s. We have collected some historical accounts as well as accounts contributed by HBC readers.

Imperial War Museum

The 1940s house has been rebuilt within London's Imperial War Museum and visitors can go into the rooms, both upstairs and downstairs. Visitors can tour a reconstruction of 17 Braemar Gardens, the pre-war suburban 'semi' which starred in the Channel 4 series, The 1940's House! It was a typical wartime home furnished and equipped as it would have been in the 1940s. Visitors can tour both floors and part of the garden with its 'Dig for Victory' vegetable patch and Anderson Shelter. The exhibition includes an introductory section on the making of the television series, a reconstruction of part of a wartime grocer's shop and displays about life on the home front ranging from the Blitz to the blackout.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 26, 2002
Last updated: November 8, 2002