Reflecting on the past

On Saturday I attended the Revival event at Goodwood. Held every Autumn at the Goodwood Circuit, it features racing cars and motorcycles that would have competed during the circuit's original period, from 1948 to 1966.

Through the inspirational leadership of the Duke of Richmond, the event was reinstituted a decade ago, and has become one of the world's most popular motor racing meetings.

Most spectators wear period clothing, and since the British love to dress up it is a hugely enjoyable day out for the public, whether they are lovers of motorsport or not.

I was given a ride in a beautiful 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III which, despite being 82 years old, was in perfect condition and ran silently.

I was reflecting on how much things had changed over this period. When the car was first built Britain had not yet entered the Second World War which killed millions.

We had seen mass unemployment in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and there was profound poverty.

After the War, food was rationed.  The average life expectancy was about 50 (it is 80 today) and there was no NHS.  In Jarrow infant mortality was 114 per thousand births.  Even in Sussex it was around 41 per thousand.  Today in the UK it is less than 6 per thousand.

A quarter of the children in Sheffield had to be treated for skin diseases.  40 per cent of houses in Hull and 33 per cent in Birmingham had no sanitation.

Only one in eight married women worked.  Heathrow airport only opened in 1946. 

Even by 1972, less than half the population had a telephone and nearly two thirds didn’t have central heating.  Today, almost everyone has a mobile phone.

When that Rolls Royce Phantom was built, tuberculosis - the disease I campaign to beat - was still a major killer.  Penicillin, the first antibiotic, had only just been discovered (accidentally) by Alexander Fleming.  People died of infections that would routinely be cured today.

It is worth considering these things when we worry about the state of the world today.  It is right to be hugely concerned about climate change, the environment, global poverty and those who are still left behind.

We can also be nostalgic about period England.  But don’t let’s forget how much better most people’s lives are now than they were 80 years ago.

ArticlesChris Cook