Monday, 15 October 2012


Britain may have won the war but the peace was disconcertingly grim. The late 1940s were 'The Age of Austerity', a drab time when a range of wartime controls and restrictions were still in place: for example, bread was newly rationed in 1946 and clothes were a strict utility; the government had incurred enormous liabilities to pay for the war and the country had to 'Export od Die'. By 1947 the spirit of wartime unity had faded away and life was not much fun for anyone. The year began with the worst weather Britain could remember , and coal ran out; by the summer there was a severe balance of payments crisis and emergency measures were taken; and in August the Raj came to an end and a nation that had formerly ruled over an Empire finally had to accept that its decline had begun.

Yet despite the restrictions and crises (the economist Keynes talked about a 'financial Dunkirk') the Labour Government was seeking to build its 'New Jerusalem': in a few short months it had laid the foundations for the Welfare State, set up the National Health Service and brought coal, electricity, gas and railways into public ownership. But the essential background to the stories in Minnie's Room is that it was the middle classes that were enormously and disproportionately hit by the huge burden of Income Tax necessary to accomplish these changes. In 1935 it had been 4s 6d in the pound i.e. 22.5%; during the war it rose to 10s i.e. 50%; but then, in 1945, it was kept at 9s in the pound - far, far higher than ever before in peacetime. The country was dependent on the middle classes paying taxes at almost wartime rates; but as a result they suffered a dramatic change in their standard of living that was widely and deeply resented.

Publisher's introduction to Minnie's Room: the peacetime stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, Persephone Books, 2008