Letters: When Britain held out hope to a boy who failed at school

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Sir: Having grown up in the Fifties I was able to empathise with a great deal of what Peter Popham had to say about that decade ("Sad 1950s were hardly a golden age", 23 October). However, I found his conclusion that the Fifties were closed to outside influence extraordinary, even rural.

The Fifties were the first decade in which the working classes sent their children to university in anything like representative numbers. That's where we looked out from and when we did we saw enough outside influence to make us question the mythology we had grown up with. Despite the glories of the Festival of Britain, the Hungarians came to Wembley and thrashed us, the West Indians thrashed us at Lord's - and the Fifties generation looked on, as Peter Popham indicates, pensively.

Musically, we looked more to black America than to Lonnie Donnegan, who was himself looking to the same place. At the theatre, lashed out of any chance of insularity by Kenneth Tynan, we watched Bertolt Brecht, Brendan Behan and Errol John. We went to the cinema to see Mizoguchi, Kurasawa and Satyajit Ray. We encountered Jackson Pollock at the Tate, we read James Baldwin and smuggled copies of Henry Miller, as well as our set books.

In 1957 Ghana achieved its independence and Jack Kerouac published On the Road. The Beat Generation of the very late Fifties, far from being closed to outside influence, took off, talking about Jerusalem.

DAVID WALLACE

Hove, East Sussex

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