This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. This huge post-war celebration of British arts, manufacturing, design, science and technology turned a bomb-damaged landscape of decrepit warehouses on London’s South Bank into a major events centre. That legacy continues to this day, with venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the National Theatre and, latterly, the London Eye.
To mark the anniversary of this cultural landmark, the Southbank Centre have put together a programme of celebratory events and unusual installations. We’ve selected ten of the best, but would encourage you to pore over the full listings for much, much more.
The Thames foreshore can be a surprisingly sandy place. The area west of Tower Bridge was, for many years, used as a pleasure beach by London tourists, and a spot near the Oxo Tower is still used for unusual sandcastles. In that tradition, a short stretch of beach in front of the Festival site has been opened to visitors. A row of nearby beach huts contains novel diversions, such as a show of vintage swim wear and visual art recalling the 1953 storm surge that devastated parts of London.
Emin divides opinions like few other artists, but her star is most definitely on the rise once again with the recent launch of the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, which she championed. A major exhibition of her work will be held at the Hayward Gallery from 18 May to 29 August, including painting, drawing, photography, textiles, video and sculpture.
Londonist favourite Stewart Lee, and Young Ones producer Paul Jackson curate a pretty damn incredible show on 29 May, featuring the key names from the dawn of ‘alternative comedy’ (i.e. 1981).
Changing pace somewhat, on 14 May you can join in — yes, join in — with a 750-people rendition of Messiah, by adopted Londoner George Frideric Handel.
In a nod to a major folk music gathering at the 1951 festival, the Royal Festival Hall will host an evening of the best folk tunes from the past 60 years. Acts include Marc Almond, Bishi, Green Gartside, Bella Hardy, Robyn Hitchcock, Lisa Knapp, Oysterband and June Tabor. (7 May)
Perhaps the most obvious symbol of the festival celebrations, this giant canid perches on the terraces of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. ‘Urban Fox’ is made from straw bales and ‘brings the rural and urban together in a playful way’.
Head to the Royal Festival Hall on 17 July for an extravaganza of street dance. Now in its 17th year, the finals have previously featured such acts as Diversity and Flawless.
Sample up to 24 different sherries in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (9 May). Afterwards, chef Heston Blumenthal and Financial Times wine correspondent Jancis Robinson will discuss the rituals of afternoon tea and sherry aperitifs.
On a more cerebral note, great thinkers Grayling and Williams will be at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 11 May to discuss Grayling’s new ‘secular bible’, The Good Book.
As part of Ray Davies’ Meltdown, 1960’s TV pop show Ready Steady Go! will be recreated with acts from the time. Performers include Sandie Shaw, The Manfreds and members of The Animals and The Ronettes.
Find out more about the festival, including complete listings, here.