The adventurous young deserting provincial towns and villages to head for the capital in search of independence, opportunities and “a good time”. The quest for glamorous careers while living on shoestrings in poor accommodation. The lure of the West End leading only to disillusion and disappearance into destitution.
This index of concerns, with its heavy undertone of moral anxiety, is with us in a modern form today. Perspective, and with it a sort of comfort, can be had from confirmation that London’s magnetism – its “steady stream of enticement” – is absolutely nothing new, and neither are the sorts of worries caused by it.
The BBC Special Inquiry documentary embedded below was made in 1956 in response to “flaring headlines” in Sunday newspapers about girls drawn to the big city and falling into vice or worse. Along with its quaint and stilted style, it is this focus on young women, rather than young people of both sexes, that dates it – in those times, the idea of girls doing their own thing was both quite novel and inherently alarming for many.
The programme issues a stern warning about “the good time girl who drifts into sordid ways of life,” yet its conclusions are measured and formed in the context of labour shortages, the need to tackle slum housing and the value of an inflow of “new Londoners – fresh blood in the life of the capital”. It is riveting and 28 minutes long.
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