George Backhouse, Chief Executive Officer for the Festival of Britain, papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Reports and directives relating to the tour of the exhibition and the opening and closing ceremonies (1949 - 1951); correspondence (1950 - 1951); official photographs of exhibition construction, events, sites and visitors (1950 - 1951); examples of stationery (1951); exhibition catalogues (1951); marshal badges (1951); postcards (1951); press releases (1951); printed ephemera (1951); publications (1951); souvenir newspapers (1951); tickets (1951); guides to districts around Britain (1951 - 1952).

Administrative / Biographical History

George Backhouse was employed in 1948 as the Chief Executive Officer of the Festival Office, which was responsible for the personnel and the organisation of the Festival of Britain. The Festival Office was established in 1948 to undertake the organisation and management of official projects connected with the Festival. The head office was at Savoy Court in the Strand, London. Staffing was in part achieved by transfer from the Central Office of Information's Exhibition Unit. George Backhouse employed other staff recruited through the Ministry of Labour. The administrative branches were managed by personnel loaned from other government departments. In addition Backhouse was responsible for the security force for the exhibition, as well as the operational staff and supervisors. At its peak the Office employed 772 core staff, 29 industrial staff and 1,908 operational staff to work on the Festival. Staffing levels dropped rapidly as the exhibition finished. The Festival Office closed in March 1953.

The Festival of Britain was held in 1951 as a celebration of peace and to demonstrate British achievement in the arts, industrial design and the sciences. Although the main site of the Festival was the South Bank, London, it was also promoted as a nationwide event with sites in Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Festival ship Campaniavisited ports around the country and every town marked the occasion in some way, for example with a music festival or pageant. The exhibition proved to be immensely popular, attracting 8.5 million visitors to the South Bank in five months.

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Gift of George Backhouse, 1994.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Related Material

Archive and manuscript sources

See also in the AAD: Central Office of Information, Festival of Britain negatives and photographs (1948 - 1951), Festival of Britain, records (1949 - 1951).

A number of designers, whose papers are held in the National Art Library's Archive of Art and Design, contributed work to the Festival of Britain. See Guide index for further details.

Selected publications

Backhouse, George. Organizing the Festival. In: Banham, Mary and Bevis Hillier, eds.

A tonic to the nation: the Festival of Britain, 1951. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976. pp. 161 - 163, ill. ISBN 0500270791.

Personal Names