Desperate times call for desperate measures. In the fraught European political climate, forces responsible for national security found themselves increasingly vulnerable; in Germany, as today's picture illustrates, the police force developed a primitive body armour for its officers. The year is 1931 and The Independent continues its photo-history of the 20th century in conjunction with the Hulton Getty Picture Collection.

A less alarming though equally telling indication of the West's economic fortunes was the hemline. As sociologists saw it, the world-wide recession was responsible for the fact that throughout 1931 hemlines were dropping, but this interpretation did not go unchallenged. According to some pundits, many women retained the shorter skirts and dresses that had been popular in the Twenties as a symbol of their hard-won social and political liberties. As one speaker at the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship expressed it, when in a long skirt "our legs are tied up, our minds will suffer".

Most of the country, however, had their minds on other things; the vicissitudes of fashion could be debated only by those with time and money to do so. In light of the growing international depression, a report in July recommended drastic cuts to the pay of British public servants and unemployment pay, and within five weeks a coalition party had replaced Ramsay MacDonald's beleaguered Labour government. However, neither the prime minister nor his new colleagues Stanley Baldwin and Sir Herbert Samuel could prevent Britain from being forced off the gold standard to halt a damaging run on sterling. The news prompted scenes of panic in the City and did little to pacify a workforce which had been told it was "living beyond its means". Outside Battersea Town Hall, 5,000 people rioted in protest at cuts in unemployment pay, while on the Cromarty Firth 12,000 naval ratings staged a mutiny to demand the restoration of full wages.

As part of Photo 98, the Year of Photography and the Electronic Image, Kate Sully's exhibition, 'Book of the Dead', takes the Ancient Egyptian beliefs in the body's passage to the after-world as a platform for her own investigation into our own mortal state. City Museum and Mappin Art Gallery, Weston Park, Sheffield S10 2TP (0114 276 8588), until 22 February. For details of Photo 98's programme of events and exhibitions, call 01484 559 888 or visit www.photo98.com

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