Britain Can Make It
Author(s): Diane Bilbey
Year published: 28 March 2019
Publisher: Paul Holberton Publishing
Publisher Location: London
Total Pages: 224
Illustrations: Illustrated throughout
This publication will be a highly visual celebration of the massively popular, but now largely forgotten, Britain Can Make It exhibition. Organised by the Council of Industrial Design, it was held in empty ground-floor galleries of the Victoria & Albert Museum, from September to December 1946. A ground-breaking, morale boosting exhibition, it showcased British design and manufacturing.
Despite its short run, it boasted an incredible 1.5 million visitors, and remains one of the most visited exhibitions ever held at the V&A. Long before the end of the Second World War hostilities, the government’s Post War Export Trade Committee recognised the importance of promoting the country’s manufacturing capabilities. Plans for an exhibition of `National Importance’ were set in place in October 1942, for an event that would illuminate the gloom of austerity, educate the public in the value of good design, and most importantly, boost much needed foreign trade.Britain’s need to promote, manufacturer and export its goods was urgent. The job of organising the exhibition was given to the Council of Industrial Design on behalf of the government’s Board of Trade. From its early planning stages, there was a desire to create an exhibition that was full of colour, light and airy, and far removed from the browns and greens of the inter-war years.
The exhibition was also intended to work as a public morale boosting exercise and it did, attracting visitors from around the country. Mile-long queues constantly formed outside the V&A. Interviewed in 1984, James Gardner, the designer of the exhibition, commented on the motivation for the exhibition: `We’d got to get British manufacturers to produce well-designed goods quickly and to cheer the British public up.