The seventieth anniversary of the groundbreaking 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition, organised by the newly inaugurated Council of Industrial Design, and held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, has recently been celebrated. This re-visiting of the physical and conceptual space of the displays, brings the opportunity for re-appraisal in the wake of earlier volumes that were sometimes laudatory in tone. Whitworth’s contribution examines the exhibition strategies deployed in Section 16 in the later stages of the route, which was concerned with ‘What Industrial Design Means’; a timely and arguably much-needed didactic intervention intended to inform and enthuse the visiting public, who numbered nearly one and a half million over the weeks between September and December.
Drawing on ideas explored in 2004’s ‘Anticipating Affluence’, the suggestion is sustained of a mismatch between display techniques and popular resonance, the messages, however well-intentioned, being weighed down with a seemingly puritan ethos. On the plus side, and in the face of huge pressures for economy, there were light-hearted and even inspired inclusions such as a man-sized egg-form at the entrance; a nursery-inspired mural; and live chickens. Archival sources underpin a discussion of the factors influencing the ‘narrative arc’ of the exhibition, and the problems this brought in its wake.