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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Exhibiting Britain > Expo '67 > The British Pavilion
 
THE BRITISH PAVILION
 
It tells a compelling story, about a people who became a great nation and helped shape the world of today.
Expo ’67 Catalogue, 126.
 
Unlike at Britain Can Make It, the designers of the British Pavilion were not given the task of creating the best setting for the selling of consumer goods or of persuading the public of the need for design. Nor was their ultimate goal the improvement of Britain’s export economy. Designing a national pavilion and its displays for a world fair was a much trickier task. The commission was from the Central Office of Information (COI), the government body with responsibility for promoting Britain both at home and abroad. Its requirement was that an image of Britain, a sense of what constituted Britain in the1960s, should be presented to the world at large. The Pavilion was to be, in effect, a three-dimensional exercise in public relations. The designers’ problem was how, through the use of specific forms and contents, they could represent their country.

But what was Britain in 1967? It was certainly a very different place from that in which Britain Can Make It was held in 1946. Austerity and rationing were a distant memory as the country enjoyed a period of prosperity and consumer supremacy. In cultural terms Britain was probably at an all-time high: it led the world in pop music; design had begun to enter the mainstream through the opening of shops such as Habitat and the fashion designs of Mary Quant; whilst the older generation seemed to have been displaced by the new phenomenon of the teenager. Socially and politically Britain had also changed irrevocably. Class boundaries were breaking down as more people from working-class backgrounds entered higher education thanks to free tuition and student grants. And the year the Expo was held saw government pass laws which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalisation of abortion and the provision of free contraception by health authorities.

This was a very modern Britain, one which many less liberal countries looked to with envy, but was this version of Britain the one which the COI wished to see displayed to the world at large? Certainly, it was not the Britain most people from overseas would have recognised. Then, as now, Britishness tended to be equated with royalty, a long history, the countryside rather than the city, and tradition. Perhaps in acknowledgement of these simultaneous visions of Britain, it was decided that the theme of the Pavilion should be ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’. This allowed the designers to refer to the traditions synonymous with Britain but also bring perceptions up to date through displays which explored the direction in which the country was heading.

The British Pavilion occupied a three acre site on the Ile Notre Dame and ultimately cost 2.5 million pounds. Designed by Basil Spence it comprised three separate edifices – steel framed structures clad in cream-coloured asbestos panels - which stood on a platform which was surrounded by water on three sides. The intention here was to represent Britain’s island heritage. Visitors entered the pavilion through an entrance tower, 200 feet (61 metres) high. The tower was incomplete; a design decision which was intended to connote that Britain had ‘unfinished business’ (Ferrabee, 1967, 27) and was topped by a sculpture of a Union Jack flag designed by F.H.K.Henrion. This and the two other pavilions contained five separate sections:

- ‘Shaping Britain’, designed by Sean Kenny, dealt with Britain’s earliest history. It comprised a revolving carousel with film and light effects which gave the visitor what was described as ‘an experience of primeval Britain’ (AD, July 67, 346)
- ‘The Genius of Britain’, designed by Beverly Pick. In this section, visitors saw a 3-dimensional mural which depicted great figures from Britain’s cultural past. This spiralled upwards inside the tower and was complemented by an Olympus jet engine which hung from the tower’s apex.
- ‘Britain Today’, designed by James Gardner. In this section a series of tableaux depicted the changing nature of British society.
- ‘Industrial Britain’, designed by Theo Crosby, was the largest display, thus clearly indicative of Britain’s future. Set in a white plastered cavernous space it combined displays of objects with films, slides and peep shows. All display apparatus was concealed, the idea being that this would demonstrate how ‘Britain in the sixties is moving into an industrial era in which man is in a more organic relationship with the machine’ (AD, 7/67).
- ‘Britain in the World’, designed by Mario Armegnol dealt with another aspect of Britain’s future: its share in the ‘universal hope for a world at peace’. It featured sculptures of figures which expressed, for example, neighbourliness and the spirit of freedom.

For the purpose of this module, the focus of discussion will be on the ‘Britain Today’ section since its designer, James Gardner, was most concerned with the representation of the Britain of 1967.
 
View of British Pavilion
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View of British Pavilion
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ESD00653 & ESD00658 View of British Pavilion
 
British Pavilion model ESD00656 British Pavilion model

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View of pavilion under construction ESD00657 View of pavilion under construction

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View of other sections ESD00651 View of other sections

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View of other sections ESD00650 View of other sections

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View of other sections ESD00652 View of other sections

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See next section - Expo Britain Today
 
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