Category Archives: London in the Popular Imagination

Thomas Erath on British Propaganda in WWII

Images to Action: British Propaganda in WW II and its Influence

            After the conclusion of WW I it was inconceivable to believe that Europe would make the same mistake twice in one century. All of Europe lay in ruins, especially Germany , which was subjected to Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles which blamed them fully for the war and forced them to pay five billion dollars per year to the allies along with disallowing any militarization (Professor Roberts Lecture 23, 10/29/12). Nevertheless, Hitler rose to power and by September 1, 1939 the world was once again at war. While industry and manpower are seemingly the items needed to prevail in a war, these are not achieved without help and that aid was found in Britain’s use of propaganda. Therefore Britain, and more specifically London was a center for propaganda and its images provided the motivation for Britain to prevail in WW II.

Fougasse (Cyril Kenneth Bird), "Carless Talk Costs Lives." Christie's. Web.

Fig. 1. Fougasse (Cyril Kenneth Bird), “Carless Talk Costs Lives,” circa 1940. Christie’s. Web.

Prior to the war beginning in London, propaganda helped lift the spirits of the British and this gave them the confidence they needed when the war came. Posters that were prevalent throughout London were the “Careless Talk Costs Lives” Campaign [Figure 1]. These posters were formatted in cartoons, making them easy to understand even for uneducated people. Their message was serious in that they strove for Londoners “to give nothing away that they knew or might have overheard in casual gossip” (Grant and Maddren 26). The British Government did not want its people to be spreading rumors about Germany’s advance and only further disheartening its people. Having confidence prior to entering into a war is of the utmost importance and the goal of these posters was for Londoners to continue on with their lives as if a war was not raging on in their backyard. The government’s goal was achieved because “An opinion poll, taken a few days after the news of the fall of France had reached Britain, found that 97 percent of the people questioned believed that Britain was going to win the war” (Grant and Maddren 28). While the cynics might regard this as the hubris of Britain, this confidence was aided by this campaign of propaganda. Even though one of Britain’s allies had fallen, their lack of internal communication allowed them to still have confidence that they brought with them into the heart of battle and allowed them to defeat their familiar foe and Germany in WW II.

"Grow Your Own Food," circa 1940. Web.

Fig. 2. “Grow Your Own Food,” circa 1940. Web.

Rationing and self-sustainment were important in the British war effort and it was spread throughout Britain with images of propaganda. Posters throughout Britain were used to spread the message to grow one’s own food [Figure 2]. This  is a clever image in that it places a table on top of a field connected by a hoe and a pitchfork. This image made it very easy for Londoners to understand what they had to do in regards to the war effort, which was to sustain themselves. The logic behind growing their own food was that the importation of foods would be impossible with Germany’s conquest of Europe. Many problems arose from this lack of food including “Queues [that] lasted for hours and often stretched for hundreds of yards” (Grant and Maddren 59). These queues were not only a burden to wait in, but also demoralizing because people knew this was their only means of sustenance. Everyone in London was subjected to this rationing, but alleviation of these conditions were sought through the ‘Dig for Victory Campaign’ [Figure 3].

Fig. 3. "Grounds of the Tower of London Used as Allotments, London, WWII" circa 1939-45. The National Archives/Heritage Images. Web.

Fig. 3. “Grounds of the Tower of London Used as Allotments, London, WWII” circa 1939-45. The National Archives/Heritage Images. Web.

Any land that people owned was encouraged to be cultivated and this did not stop at homes, but continued to historic landmarks like the Tower of London. As one can see in the image there are workers cultivating the land and there seems to be a child present as well showing how WW II involved all generations, translating to total war. The initial propaganda image motivated the Londoners to become involved in the ‘Dig for Victory Campaign’ which is evident through the farming of vegetables in the Tower of London. This growing of crops allowed Britain to send more food to their soldiers, enabling them to continue fighting the opposition and eventually be victorious in WW II.

With most men off in the battlefields of Europe, the women of Britain joined the factories of London to aid in industry due to the propaganda images that celebrated women workers. Once again images of propaganda motivated them to become involved in the fight against the sadistic power housed in Berlin. Women were needed in the factories and posters made strides to make them into workers [Figure 4]. This

Fig. 4. Zec, "Women of Britain Come into the Factories," 1941. Victoria & Albert Museum. Web.

Fig. 4. Zec, “Women of Britain Come into the Factories,” 1941. Victoria & Albert Museum. Web.

depiction of a women factory worker glorifies her by portraying a glow coming off her body. She also looks like a goddess controlling the planes behind her. She is idealized and in truth the women of London and the rest of England were an intricate piece to the puzzle that was winning WW II. Prior to WW II very few women worked in industry but by the middle of the war, “the proportion of women working in some industries was as high as 90 percent. A considerable number of them had left domestic service to go into industry” (Grant and Maddren 84). Women were sick of the domestic life they had been subjected to for their entire lives and they were ready to become involved in affairs that were formally a male only field. They were the workforce employed in the factories during WW II and without them Britain would not have been able to keep sending planes out on bombing raids in Germany. Factories did not have to be built above ground and some factories existed in Underground tunnels [Figure 5]. In them, the women of London would work tirelessly, building various items essential to the war effort. What started as an image of a woman on top of the world, led to women leaving the domestic life that had enslaved them and going into the life of labor in factories. Without their presence in these London factories, like the ones in the Underground, the war would have most certainly continued on for many more years and many more would have perished.

"The Plessey war time factory in the Central Line tunnels." This is Local London. Web.

Fig. 5. “The Plessey war time factory in the Central Line tunnels.” This is Local London. Web.

Three propaganda images, while seemingly simple on the surface, were able to motivate a nation and more specifically the global city of London. The propaganda images were effective in motivating its intended group and in a total war like WW II no group was left untouched. These images promoted confidence, self-sustainment, and women into the workforce. All of these ever important parts helped Britain win the war and without one of them there is no question that the war would have continued on much past its time. Propaganda did not stop at the termination of WW II though, it become even more important in the years that followed due to the Cold War. While these images did not involve Britain, its images in WW II set a precedent that defined the twentieth century.


Grant, Ian, and Nicholas Maddren. The City at War. London: Jupiter, 1975. Print.


Derek Hein on Punk

The exact origin of the punk movement is complex and often a topic for debate. Therefore, it is very fitting that the punks were prominent in London, a city with an equally complex history itself.  The term ‘punk’ was first used in America to refer to the emerging rock music scene in New York City during the early 1970s.  Notable acts that were a part of this famous scene include the Ramones, Television, the Talking Heads, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. There are two main reasons that the punk movement made its way across the Atlantic.

The first reason lies with the Ramones. The Ramones’ 1976 performance at The Roundhouse in London proved to be one of the most pivotal moments in punk rock history as many audience members in attendance soon became the new leaders of the punk movement in the United Kingdom. Those in attendance included members of future, legendary punk bands such as The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols were perhaps the first band to gain a following in London. Together with manager Malcolm McLaren, the band spearheaded the effort to introduce punk rock to the London music scene. What the Sex Pistols lacked in musical talent, they made up for with their objectionable appearance and provocative lyrics.  Bands like the Sex Pistols were often more focused on their image and creating controversy than they were on their music. Therefore, the band’s musical ability was not what people came to see at their shows. In McLaren’s master plan, he saw that what the punk movement needed was controversy and publicity if it ever expected to catch on and thrive.

Secondary to his role as band manager, Malcolm McLaren also had a job as a fashion designer. While in the United States, McLaren observed the interesting and objectionable fashion that many of the emerging punk groups had developed. Upon his return to London, McLaren and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood began selling a brand new American punk-inspired clothing line at their SEX boutique on King’s Road.  This punk clothing combined many previous fashion trends and styles of previous decades. Punk music quickly became closely associated with the fashion that many of its performers and fans were wearing.  Clothing options included, but were certainly not limited to, tight jeans, leather jackets, obscene t-shirts, and bulky boots. Furthermore, many punks, both male and female, wore makeup and dyed their hair bright, vibrant colors.  McLaren dressed the Sex Pistols in his line of punk clothes and used them as walking mannequins. Punk rock music and punk rock fashion quickly became an epidemic.

The music of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols (and punk music in general) successfully reached out to London youth and adolescents who felt that they had no place in a British society that was suffering from a devastating economic crisis and record high unemployment rates. The restlessness of the youth was channeled into punk music. The music itself also came in response to a generation of music that the youth could not relate to. They felt that the music of the 1960s belonged to their parents’ generation. Their solution was to make music that they wanted to hear and could easily relate to themselves. As a result, punk music is relatively simple to play. The beauty of the punk band was that it could be formed by people with little to no musical talent whatsoever and they would easily fit right in with the rest of the bands on the scene. Nearly all British punk bands expressed an attitude of angst and social alienation. This social alienation was maintained through their objectionable fashion sense. If their music did not make a sufficient statement, then hopefully their clothing and appearance would.

The era of punk rock in the 1970s died out as quickly as it was conceived. Punk bands struggled to gain acceptance as venue owners began to cancel shows in fear of problems that might be caused by the bands and their rowdy, unsavory fan base. The death of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in 1979 marked the decline of the London-based punk scene. As punk music began to evolve, its area of influence moved away from the big city of London to the city’s industrial suburbs. After the initial wave of punk rockers died out, punk music spawned into an endless number of subgenres as new bands continued to emerge and develop their own unique punk rock style. While the true era of the punks was very short-lived, there is no doubt that punk music continues to have its influence on the contemporary rock music of today.  The music and fashion of the punks has been deeply ingrained in today’s musical culture.


Megan Bucher on Iconic London

11308_10151511869611155_878070373_nWhen I think of London, certain iconic images come to mind: Big Ben, a double-decker bus, a red telephone booth. These images, though they are undoubtedly representative of London, only scratch the surface of what London actually is, and it is only through my experience in the FIG, Historical Representations of London, that I learned the importance of delving deeper to discover the true scope of London’s history.

LondonAlthough these images are important, our studies did not focus on the expected facets of London life: rather, we often explored the darker, less picturesque aspects of London that cut through the tourist traps and present the unpleasant realities of any big, cultural, metropolitan city. From conversations about the mysterious Jack the Ripper to dialogue about Swinging London to discussions pertaining to artistic representations of fallen women on the shores of the Thames, my previously idealistic view of London began to change into a more cultured perspective. Rather than making me less enchanted by the idea of London, the topics covered in this seminar have made London a place I will surely visit with newly refined eyes and a deeper appreciation for the sites I see. Although I can not disregard the iconic images of London, I can also now truly appreciate the historical significance of the less emblematic attributes London has to offer.

Amanda Rosso on Tea

One of the most iconic images of London, tea, is a part of culture and everyday life in England. While tea may seem trivial, an everyday object that is often over looked, it can be used to show English culture and trends.

Amanda Rosso, Collage, 2012.

Amanda Rosso, Collage, 2012.

This collage uses tea to project four different aspects of English culture and how they are both influenced and identified through the use of tea. First, the effects of England’s empire and foreign conquests in London can be seen in the importation of foreign teas in conjunction with the orientalism encompassing England at the time. The teapot shaped like a tribal hut shows an interest in foreign culture and the ways in which foreign cultures were stereotyped in London and throughout the rest of England.

Next, there is the presence of tea in pop-culture, emphasized by the logos for Harrods and major English tea companies – not only sold throughout England but the rest of the world as well, furthering the image of the English culture being one centered on tea. Gender roles were also enforced by the prominence of tea as women were expected to hold and enjoy tea parties and making and drinking tea became a societal expectation for women. Etiquette books on the subject were written and protocol was put in place, reinforcing the roles of women in English society from the Victorian era on.

Finally the collage depicts the ways in which tea contributed to class identification in England. Differences in ‘tea time’ and the quality of china and food served all suggested a level of class. Tea made by a working mother for a struggling family during the industrial revolution in London was served very differently from tea at the queen’s garden party every spring at Buckingham Palace. It is in these subtle ways that tea has become engrained  in British culture and is used to depict and define certain aspects of the culture.

Charles Adams on London Football

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: London Soccer

According to FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, over 265 million people play soccer.[i]  This number includes only registered players, and it does not include fans. Soccer is the most played sport throughout the world, and London is no exception to this popularity. Soccer or some version has been played in London for almost a millennium. Whether it is in the streets or in 60,000 seat stadiums, soccer is always being played in London, and there are over 50 professional teams in London. Between these teams and teams in surrounding areas, there are intense rivalries, and these rivalries are present throughout London. Soccer is an undeniably intrinsic part of London culture.

In order to understand the rivalries and the intensity, a brief history of London soccer is necessary. Beginning in the late 12th century, soccer has been played in London. The first reference to soccer occurred in William FitzStephen’s 1174 description of London. “After lunch all of the city’s youth would go out into the fields to take part in a ball game,” said FitzStephen.[ii] FitzStephen continues to say it was viewed as a form of entertainment, and “older citizens, fathers, and the wealthy would come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously.”[iii] Every trade had its own team, and there were rivalries between trades. Soccer was not always well received by officials in London, and one monk even called it “undignified and worthless.”[iv] A series of monarchs starting with Edward II and continuing through Oliver Cromwell banned the playing of soccer, but these bans were not successful. Young men continued to play this game, and they disregarded any potential fines.  London authority finally began to come around to soccer, and the game started coming out of the shadows around 1660. Games become more popular, and officials saw the game as beneficial for the youth.

Known hooligan and member of Chelsea Headhunters.

Known hooligan and member of Chelsea Headhunters.

Soccer started being played in London schools around 1749, and as one school official said, the game offered a “formidable vehicle for character building.”[v]  Games were also played between cities, and the field length would often be the distance between the two cities. Some fields were over 3 miles long, and these fields led to rivalries between cities and the creation of fans. The style of game varied between these cities, but for the most part, it was a very violent game. According to one player at Westminster,  “the enemy tripped, shinned, charged with the shoulder, got down and sat upon you… in fact did anything short of murder to get the ball from you.”[vi]  Often times this violence spewed into the stands, and on a few occasions, soldiers were needed to end the disturbances. In 1848, a meeting took place, and although the process “in framing new rules was slow”, eventually a centralized set of rules was written.[vii]

Man on pitch during West Ham and Millwall.

Man on pitch during West Ham and Millwall.

The game’s most significant rule change occurred in 1863. Founded in 1863, the Football Association was meant to be a unifying organization. Members for different clubs met, and they formed the best set of rules to date. These rules are closest to the modern rules, and they revolutionized the game. It was no longer one of pure physicality and brunt force; these rules turned into the game into one of skill and beauty. It established rules regarding safety and the equipment used by players, and this was the most significant advancement for soccer to date.  On July 20th, 1885, another major development occurred: the legalization of paying players. Officials decided it was beneficial to allow “the employment of professional football players”, and this increased the level of competition.[viii] This is when some of the most famous teams in London were founded: Chelsea, Arsenal, and the Queens Park Rangers all were founded in the following decades. Rivalries naturally ensued due to the proximity in the city, and the rest is history.

Injured fan attended to by police after violence erupts between West Ham and Millwall fans in 2009.

Injured fan attended to by police after violence erupts between West Ham and Millwall fans in 2009.

Surprisingly, the bitterest rivalry in London does not occur between traditionally well-known teams. It occurs between West Ham United and Millwall.  This rivalry, or derby as called in England, has a history of violence as recent as 2009 when 20 fans were injured and 1 was stabbed.[ix] This rivalry stems from the 1880s when both teams were founded, and the animosity began. Originally founded in 1885 by dockers at the Isle of Dogs, the team had immense support from the workers of the area. This unwavering support lasted for 10 years until another team came into existence. West Ham United is located on the other side of the Thames River at the Thames Ironworkers, and immediately a rivalry was born between the two sides.  The two clubs are separated by less than 5 miles, and this proximity was bound to lead to animosity.

Police separate fans of West Ham and Millwall.

Police separate fans of West Ham and Millwall.

In a sense, the Thames River is symbolic of the division between the fans. The fans live in the same neighborhood, work the same jobs, and live nearly identical lives. The only dividing factor is their clubs, which are separated by the Thames River. Yet these fans refuse to recognize their similarities. They insist the others are not true fans, and that they are more knowledgeable than the others. They call the other fans names, and as one West Ham United fan says, “They really are scum.”[x] The hatred between these fans has existed for over a century, and it will continue for many years to come.

QPR fans prematurely enter pitch.

QPR fans prematurely enter pitch.

West Ham and Millwall is not the only rivalry in London, but only the most famous. Another rivalry or derby occurs between Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers. Both of these teams are in the English Premier League, the highest division of English soccer.  This rivalry is not as prominent as the other derby, but nonetheless the West London derby is highly contested. While the derby has only been played for 45 years, it is one of the most watched as both teams compete at the highest level.  With these two clubs, wealth is the dividing factor. Chelsea is one of the most expensive areas to live in London, and it is favorably received. However, White City where QPR is located is constantly listed as “best avoided.”[xi] Chelsea is known for signing high profile and expensive players such as Didier Drogba, and Ranger supporters despise them for it. This has caused many violent occurrences between the fans of the two clubs. There were even a group of Chelsea fans called the Chelsea Headhunters that incited violence, and as one member said,” You’d come out the ground and there’d be fighting.”[xii] In other words, they did not have to look for it;   the disagreement between fans would simply be right in front of them on the streets of London.

Chelsea Father and Son address the opposing club.

Chelsea Father and Son address the opposing club.

Hooliganism has been a part of London soccer since its inception. Violence, at one point, was normal for matches between certain clubs, and their fans embraced it. The fans ardently supported their team as an escape from every day life, and it gives them a chance to unwind. The fans feel as if they are part of a bigger, collective effort, rather than just their own lives.  As one supporter of Chelsea said, “I could immerse myself in it and take out my frustrations,” and fans of all London clubs echo this sentiment.[xiii] No matter how much the London police and soccer governing bodies attempt to end hooliganism, it will always remain a part of London’s culture.