The Story the Exhibition Tells

20160315 42What the visitor will see on the South Bank is an attempt at something new in exhibitions – a series of sequences of things to look at, arranged in a particular order so as to tell one continuous, interwoven story. The order is important. For the South Bank Exhibition is neither a museum of British culture nor a trade show of British wares, it tells the story of British contributions to world civilisation in the arts of peace. That story has a beginning, a middle, and an end – even if that end consists of nothing more final than fingerposts into the future.

The Pavilions of the Exhibition are placed in a certain deliberate sequence on the ground as chapters are placed in a certain deliberate sequence in a book. And, within each Pavilion, the displays are arranged in a certain order, as paragraphs are arranged in a certain order within each chapter of a book. This is a free country, and any visitors who, from habit or inclination, feel impelled to start with the last chapter of the whole narrative and then zig-zag their way backwards to the first chapter, will be as welcome as anyone else. But such visitors may find that some of the chapters will appear mystifying and inconsequent.

The story – as any visitor whose feet follow the intended circulation will observe -begins with the past, continues with the present, and ends with a preview of the continuing future. The belief that Britain will continue to have contributions to make in the future, is founded on two factors from which, in combination, British achievements, past and present, have arisen. Those two factors are the People of Britain and the Land of Britain. And those two factors continue.

This, then, is the theme of the interwoven serial story which is embodied in the South Bank Exhibition: the Land and the People. The land, endowed with scenery, climate and resources more various than any other country of comparable size, has nurtured and challenged and stimulated the people. The people, endowed with not one single characteristic that is peculiar to themselves, nevertheless, when taken together, could not be mistaken for any other nation in the world.

So, throughout the length of the Exhibition, there will be unfolded the tale of the continuous impact that this particular land has made on this particular people, and of the achievements that this people has continued to derive from its relationship with this land. The South Bank, then, contains a new sort of narrative about Britain: an Exhibition designed to tell a story mainly through the medium, not of words, but of tangible things.

The South Bank site is divided by the Hungerford Railway Bridge, which has been used in the layout of the Exhibition as the inner binding that separates the narrative into its two main volumes. The circuit of Pavilions that lie, in a rough semi-circle, upstream from Hungerford Bridge, tells the story of the Land of Britain and of the things that the British have derived from their land; the circuit of Pavilions that lie, in a rough semi-circle, downstream from Hungerford Bridge, relates the story of the People of Britain in the context of their more domestic life and leisure.

But even the whole two volumes of the Land and the People, taken together, must give an incomplete idea of the distinctive British contribution, unless a third volume is added: a memorandum on the pre-eminent achievements of British men and women in mapping and charting the globe, in exploring the heavens, and in investigating the structure and nature of the universe. These discoveries, together with some of the practical developments, are reviewed in the Dome of Discovery, which lies within the body of the Upstream, or Land Circuit.

Both the first chapter of the Land story and the first chapter of the People story open on the Fairway. It is from either of these starting points that visitors are invited to begin their tour of the Exhibition.

The architecture and the display, which embody the theme, were planned under the responsible direction of the Festival Office’s Exhibition Presentation Panel, which has the following membership:

Gerald Barry, Director General, Chairman
Cecil Cooke, Director, Exhibitions, Deputy Chairman
Misha Black, O.B.E. ◦ A. D. Hippisley Coxe, Council of Industrial Design
G. A. Campbell, Director, Finance and EstablishmentsJames Gardner, O.B.E.
Hugh Casson, Director, ArchitectureJames Holland
Ian Cox, Director, Science and TechnologyM. Hartland Thomas, Council of Industrial Design
Peter Kneebone, Secretary

The theme of the Exhibition was devised by Ian Cox

The Editor of the captions that accompany the displays was Lionel Birch.

The list of eminent men and women who have contributed to the Exhibition, either by advice or active planning of individual displays, is too long to be contained within this Guide. Their help has made the Exhibition a truly national undertaking. Acknowledgements are made by name in the Exhibition Catalogue which is published separately.

¶ A narrative Exhibition, such as this, develops its theme by means of things you can see and believe. Each of them is clearly captioned, so a written description of the displays exhibit by exhibit is unnecessary. What may help the visitor, however, is a summary of this theme as it is revealed, section by section, in the Exhibition. This is the purpose of the pages that follow.