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Adrian Horn

Juke box Britain: Americanisation and youth culture 1945-60

There were less than 100 juke boxes in Britain in 1945 and over 13,000 by 1958.

Over the same period there was a similar unprecedented expansion of casual youth venues in the form of cafés, snack, milk and coffee bars where young people could hear the sounds of hot American jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. And if this wasn’t enough, teenagers were earning more in real terms than ever before and spending it on commodities ‘of no lasting value’ like make-up, clothes, records and juke box music. British teenagers following World War II witnessed immense cultural change.

These new forms of youth culture were seen as American, gaudy, a waste of money, un-British and socially retrogressive by culturally entrenched ‘Establishment’ bodies like the BBC, police, magistrates and school authorities. The generational frictions were stretched further by the Teddy Boy subculture which led to a moral panic and general social indignation.

It has been a common assumption among academics and cultural historians alike that British youth between 1945 and 1960 underwent a period of massive ‘Americanisation’. Juke Box Britain contests this view maintaining that American popular-cultural influences were not examples of cultural domination but simply influences that combined with existing styles to create distinctly British style fusions that may now be viewed as quaint and of the period.

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Juke Box Britain Reviews

Few objects can match the gleaming, eternally blaring juke box as an evocative icon of 1950s’ youth culture. Hardly surprising, then, that it is taken as a key point of reference by Adrian Horn in his authoritative and eminently readable study of teenage life in post-war Britain. In Juke Box Britain, Horn uses a case-study history of the mechanical record player as an avenue for exploring the impact of American design influences in Britain between 1945 and 1960. But his deftly crafted survey not only takes in the shifting design aesthetics of the juke box itself but also extends to a fascinating and painstakingly researched account of the young people who played and enjoyed juke box music, and the greasy spoon cafés and coffee bars where they congregated and socialized
Professor Bill Osgerby, London Metropolitan University
Adrian Horn’s examination of the jukebox phenomenon is a mute, but eloquent, tribute to the sonic world we have lost. Colour plates show some of the machines in all their Art Deco glory, while the text describes their arrival in the UK and the slow growth of an indigenous industry in the protectionist conditions of postwar industrial recovery. He charts the rise of the American jukebox in the late 1950s (despite opposition from Nimbys and cultural conservatives) as part of an increasingly youth-oriented entertainment and leisure industry. Horn deals efficiently with the changing economic, political and legal context that allowed the jukebox to become commonplace in the physical and acoustic environment in Britain.

Horn argues that the Americanisation of British culture was a far more conditional, hesitant and nuanced process than the smooth story of cultural imperialism articulated – and either celebrated or excoriated – by contemporaries such as Colin McInnes and Richard Hoggart. In the dress codes adopted by young people in Lancashire towns, the corner-shop cafes and milk bars in which they gathered, or the chunky and less flamboyant designs of the British jukeboxes that provided the music in those milk bars, the British expressed themselves in ways that were local and regional as much as American. Indeed, UK culture had been open to US influences for at least a century at this point, but the differences remain – whether expressed through the music of folk rock and prog rock, the dress of skinheads and punks, or more recently the lyrical wit of UK grime. Meanwhile, however, that glamorous musical beast that was the jukebox has departed, its soundscape lost to the anodyne respectfulness of nostalgia. The causes of its departure await their historian

Andrew Blake, University of East London
This book is great, it manages to be both informative and fun at the same time. And the photographs are so cool, they capture the contradictions of the era beautifully. A really interesting read for anyone interested in the style influences of the 1950’s.
Christine Downey
Using a range of sources, from the trade press of the music industry to memoirs and interviews, and drawing on an established sociological and historical literature on postwar youth cultures, Adrian Horn has produced an innovative and scholarly work. He charts the cultural impact of juke boxes in Britain in meticulous detail, and sheds much needed light also on the cultural worlds of ‘the juke box boys’ and youth cafes of postwar Britain
David Fowler, University of Cambridge.
The phenomenon of Americanisation has long been recognised as a key characteristic of British youth culture in the period 1945–1960. In his thoroughly researched and eminently readable book Adrian Horn advances a revisionist interpretation which questions the notion of wholesale Americanisation and argues instead for a fusion of American and British influences creating a cultural hybrid which was new and distinctive. He examines in turn the juke box, popular music, youth venues and youth fashion. His work on the history, function and design of the juke box in Britain is particularly innovative and revealing. He demonstrates convincingly that between 1945 and 1955 juke boxes in Britain had a specifically British form and only after 1955 did a modified American style appear. He also argues persuasively for the role of the juke box as a disseminator of raw and undiluted American music in a business otherwise limited by the Musicians’ Union, copyright restrictions, industry practices and the generalised disapproval of American rock ’n’ roll by the BBC. His ethnography of youth venues, milk bars, coffee bars, amusement arcades and youth cafes is thorough and well documented. He thoughtfully deconstructs teenage fashions, male and female, identifying their various British and American elements. The book makes excellent use of hitherto neglected primary printed sources and a good range of oral interviews. Not only is this a significant work of scholarship, it is also a nostalgic evocation of a now lost and vanished era.
Jeffrey Richards, Lancaster University