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Dan Dare and the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain

24/03/2008, By

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The way Britain reinvented itself as a hi-tech nation after the Second World War is revealed in a new Science Museum exhibition, to open on 30th April. Dan Dare and the Birth of Hi-tech Britain will capture the essence of those pivotal post-war years, showing how Britain took striking wartime advances like the jet engine, radar and penicillin to create new industries.

This was a time when the state rolled out huge new projects for a free nationwide health service, nuclear power, supersonic flight and a radical rehousing programme - major developments which created a revolution in national affairs and personal life.

The free exhibition also looks at the reinvention of the home, the emerging importance of design and the arrival of previously unheard of consumer goods. It will show that the period, from 1945-1970, started the long climb from austerity to affluence and laid the foundations for the Britain of today.

The signature exhibit representing hi-tech is the Bloodhound missile. Seven metres long, with fins, two ramjet engines and four booster rockets, Bloodhound was one pillar of Britain’s defence against Soviet threat in the Cold War. Reaching speeds of Mach 2 (about 1,500 mph) in four seconds, it surpassed anything produced by the US. Also on display will be the British-built ‘Bomb’ – the WE177 nuclear weapon – Britain’s ticket to the top table of nations.

Some of the finest examples of British manufacturing of the time will be shown. These include iconic products from designers such as Gordon Russell, Abram Games, the man behind the iconic Festival of Britain poster, and Pye radios designed by Robin Day. It will show, moreover, a ‘lost world’ of British manufacturing – a time when many people’s first TV was a Murphy, not a Sony!

Bloodhound Missile

Eagle comic book hero, Dan Dare - a fixture in the lives of millions of children in the 1950s and 1960s – introduces the exhibition, showing the optimism, faith in technology and spirit of adventure of the times. Dan Dare is being rediscovered today and there will be a special display of original artwork, merchandise and memorabilia. One of the finest real-life adventurers from the period, Edmund Hillary, has his hi-tech oxygen apparatus from his 1953 conquest of Everest displayed – equipment which used know-how derived from the UK’s high-altitude jet bombers programme.

Andrew Nahum, Principal Curator of Technology at the Science Museum, said: “Dan Dare, pilot of the future was the emblematic hero of these times who entranced generations of kids and adults too. But while his space fleet trounced alien foes high above Venus, an equally extraordinary future was being played out on Earth.

This was a period when Britain, though shattered by the cost of World War Two, was reinventing itself as a hi-tech nation - a time of extraordinary energy and innovation for British design and technology.”

Ekco Portable

Other highlights of the exhibition include: Classics of British design, including Antelope chair by Ernest Race; consumer technology world-firsts, from food processors to portable TVs; a section of Comet 1 - the world’s first jet airliner - showing the fatal flaw in its design which caused it to crash into the Mediterranean in 1954 and rob Britain of its lead in jet airliner technology and unique furniture by the original DIY guru, Barry Bucknell, who had more fan mail than the cast of Coronation Street in the 1960s!

Also a nuclear reactor control panel for UK submarines reminiscent of Dr No, with infamous SCRAM button; Hillman Imp car, produced in Linwood, Scotland under government orders; the Roentgen IV – the X-ray machine that was the mainstay of the new NHS diagnostic service being rolled out across the UK; a selection of NHS spectacles and hearing aids, showing the effect on everyday lives of the new postwar Welfare State; Coventry Climax racing engine of type that took Stirling Moss to victory and personal stories of those who lived through the post-war years.

Science Museum
Exhibition Road
London SW7 2DD
+44 (0)870 870 4868
Nearest tube: South Kensington
Science Museum is open daily from 10.00 to 18.00
Admission to the Museum is free

Credits for Images - Dan Dare and Mekon - Dan Dare Corp, Bloodhound Missile - Jonathan Perugia, Eckovsion TV - Science Museum

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