Before London started swinging: representing the British beatniks

This essay focuses on a key moment of transition in the history of modern youth culture in Britain, shortly before the more spectacular explosions of the 1960s. I look at a range of films, books and other publications that almost all appeared in the year 1959. These include the films Beat Girl, Expresso Bongo and The Lambeth Boys; Colin MacInnes’s novel Absolute Beginners (and its much later adaptation into film); and the work of academics in the emerging field of Cultural Studies, including Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall. In very different ways, these texts capture a sense of impending social change, which they anticipate with a mixture of hope and foreboding.

You can download the whole essay (without illustrations) by clicking here, or if you want to read the illustrated version, click on the subheadings to read the different sections:

  1. Introduction; the beat generation
  2. The British beatniks
  3. The New Left and youth culture
  4. Youth culture on screen
  5. Colin MacInnes
  6. Absolute Beginners
  7. Absolute Beginners on screen; conclusion
  8. Sources and references