The Thirties began in the wake of one of the most devastating financial disasters the world had ever known. Following the end of the first world war, the war to end all wars, the twenties became a time of wild and unbridled spending. The war had created many new and ultra wealthy players on the world markets, on both sides of the Atlantic, through the means of war production.
The industrial age had advanced the means and logistics of warfare to new levels. Out with the horse and the sabre, in with the new mechanised armies with petrol driven vehicles, better and more accurate weaponry and more devastating shell and rocket rounds. Death could be delivered from a far safer distance.
Towards the mid-twenties the gulf between rich and poor became deeper and wider than ever until in 1929 the bubble burst. The Wall Street crash heralded a decade of worldwide economic depression.
In the ensuing economic vacuum authoritarian regimes began to emerge in several countries in Europe, in particular the Third Reich in Germany, and many weaker states such as Ethiopia, China, and Poland were invaded by expansionist world powers.
This would ultimately lead to World War II less than ten years later.
On Monday August 24 1931, with Britain facing the worst financial crisis in its history, a Labour prime minister drove up the Mall to Buckingham Palace to resign his office. For two years Ramsay MacDonald’s government had struggled to hold the line against the looming global depression, but in the previous few weeks the battle had become impossible.
Across the Channel, the collapse of Austria’s Credit-Anstalt plunged the banking system into chaos while at home, the May Committee had forecast an unprecedented budget deficit of £120 million and recommended savage spending cuts. When some of MacDonald’s senior ministers told him that they would not accept even a 10 per cent reduction in unemployment benefit, he decided to throw in the towel. King George V, though, had other ideas. When MacDonald made the return journey, it was as leader of a National Government including Tories and Liberals, a “betrayal” for which the Labour Party never forgave him.
But it was also a decade of optimism in which scientists and planners dreamt of building a better world. In the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, the emollient, media-friendly politics of Stanley Baldwin, Britons caught a glimpse of what lay the other side of the Second World War.
They took their new cars on outings to the countryside or the beach, spent readily on the football pools or at the greyhound races and snapped up cinema tickets, cosmetics, cheap thrillers and celebrity magazines.
The thirties also saw a proliferation in new technologies, including intercontinental aviation, radio, and film. Jazz became swing, then Delta Blues and Gypsy Jazz, of which Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli were exponents and the emergence of the electric guitar.
And Hollywood entered a whole decade. Following the advent of talking pictures in 1927 and full-colour films in 1930, more than 50 classic films were made, most notably were Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
Universal Pictures began producing its series of horror films featuring what have become cult classics, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Jekyll and Hyde, King Kong, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and other films about wax museums, vampires and zombies! Despite all that, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Tarzan, Charlie Chan and Alfred Hitchcock all remained big box-office draws throughout the decade.
All of the black and white plates on this page are from an article extolling the economic virtues of vegetarian cooking dated 1936. Many of the recipes can now be found here.