July 5 is a red-letter day with regard to inventions and initiatives from the 1940s.
Could all that nicotine have helped move the West along in new and inventive ways in the postwar period? A case could surely be made.
Britain‘s National Health Service was born on July 5, 1948:
When health secretary Aneurin Bevan … launched the NHS at Park Hospital in Manchester (today known as Trafford General Hospital), it is the climax of a hugely ambitious plan to bring good healthcare to all. For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists are brought together under one umbrella organisation to provide services that are free for all at the point of delivery.
The central principles are clear: the health service will be available to all and financed entirely from taxation, which means that people pay into it according to their means.
The NHS isn’t perfect but it is still the best universal health care system in the world, bar none.
July 5 is also the birthday of the bikini. The year was 1946.
Men love it, women feel insecure in it and the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, banned posters of it on the Underground as one of his first mayoral acts.
A century ago, swimming costumes were wool chemises (long shirts) or long tunics and bloomers.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the style became one of a sleeveless top with shorts or bloomers. Sometimes this was a one-piece.
In 1946 two French swimsuit designers made fashion headlines.
Jacques Heim designed the first two-piece with a bare midriff. Heim called it l’atome — after the smallest known particle of matter — and advertised it as the world’s ‘smallest bathing suit’. It was a bra-type top with a pair of frilly briefs.
However, Heim’s swimsuit was eclipsed by Louis Réard’s bikini, named after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. On July 1, 1946:
the United States had initiated its first peace-time nuclear weapons test as part of Operation Crossroads. Réard hoped his swimsuit’s revealing style would create an “explosive commercial and cultural reaction” similar to the explosion at Bikini Atoll.
Of course, women wore skimpy two-piece outfits in the days of the Roman Empire.
However, the advent of Christianity put paid to revealing or form-fitting clothes for women for centuries. Even in the 19th century, women taking a bath in private often wore a lightweight cotton or linen chemise to preserve their modesty. Occasionally, historical dramas show such scenes. But I digress.
More revealing two-piece swimsuits rode the crest of a wave as suntans became more popular. Coco Chanel was the first to enjoy catching the sun in the 1920s on cruises in the South of France and popularised the practice. Prior to that, no self-respecting woman allowed her skin to darken. That was something field workers did by dint of their work. Hence the popularity of broad-brimmed ladies’ hats and parasols.
By the time Heim and Réard’s designs came along, suntans were the in thing. Women wanted more sun, not less. One-piece suits were much briefer and the skimpy two-pieces were a logical progression.
Réard’s bikini was so controversial that no model would wear it for photo shoots or public appearances. He finally hired a burlesque dancer, Micheline Bernardini, who happily wore it.
The bikini was so popular that, by the early 1950s, mayors of European coastal resorts attempted to ban its presence on beaches and the Vatican condemned it as being ‘sinful’ after Miss World used it in their 1951 competition. The pageant committee quickly replaced the garment with evening gowns beginning in 1952.
The more outrage, the greater the popularity. The rest is history.
It is interesting that Heim was a haute couture designer by profession and that Réard was an automobile engineer!
Heim (1899-1967) was the son of Polish Jews who had fled to France. Born in Paris, Heim worked in the family fur firm. He took the business over in 1923 and switched to designing clothes. During the Second World War, he managed to escape capture by giving the front of house role in his shop to a Gentile.
Behind the scenes, Heim was active in the Resistance. When Charles de Gaulle assumed the presidency, he appointed Heim as Mme de Gaulle’s couturier. Heim’s other famous clients included Mamie Eisenhower, Sophia Loren and Queen Fabiola of Belgium.
Interestingly, in 1956, he designed a bikini for Brigitte Bardot, pictures of which created a sensation around the world. So, she was wearing a Heim design, not a Léard.
After Heim’s death, his son took over the firm and sold it two years later, in 1969, to the bridal firm Pronuptia.
Réard (1897-1984) was born in France.
His mother had a lingerie firm in Paris. Although he was a mechanical engineer by training, he took over her business in 1940. On holiday in St Tropez, he noticed women rolling up the legs of their swimsuits to get a better tan.
After Heim came out with l’atome, Réard decided to make his design much briefer and more aesthetically pleasing. In July 1946, the aforementioned Micheline Bernardini modelled the bikini at the Molitor swimming pool in Paris. Bernardini received 50,000 fan letters from men all over the world. She moved to Australia to pursue her career. There she married an American serviceman and moved with him to the United States. She worked as an actress until 1970 and is alive today.
Réard then managed to combine bikini and automobile design.
He opened a bikini shop in Paris and sold his designs there for 40 years. His sales pitch was that his designs could be pulled through a wedding ring.
In the early 1950s, he commissioned car specialist Chapron to build a ‘road yacht’ by converting a Packard V8 into a yacht-type vehicle. The vehicle was not amphibious, however, for a few years it was part of the Tour de France and various parades in France. Not surprisingly, bikini-clad girls adorned it.
In 1980, Réard retired. He and his wife moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, along Lake Geneva. He died four years later at the age of 87.
Did you know that Cluedo was invented to help pass the time in bomb shelters during the Second World War?
Cluedo is a hybrid of ‘clue’ and ludo, which is Latin for ‘I play’.
Anthony E Pratt (1903-1994) came up with the idea for the board game in 1944. He was a munitions worker in Birmingham and devised the game, which he called Murder!, with the help of his wife Elva.
After the war, in 1947, the Pratts sold the game and its patent to Waddingtons. Because of postwar shortages the game — which the company renamed Cluedo — did not go into production until 1949. Waddingtons licensed the game that year to Parker Brothers in the United States. The American version is Clue.
Although Pratt’s objective was to distract those in bomb shelters from the horrors outside, Cluedo became famous as a way for children to learn to think and reason whilst having fun.
Cluedo is not entirely Pratt’s original game. Waddingtons made changes to it upon purchase, and Parker Brothers further adapted it for North Americans.
The latest news on Cluedo, published on July 5, 2016, is that housekeeper Mrs White — whom Pratt had designed as Nurse White — will vanish in favour of Dr Orchid, a PhD well versed in plant toxicology. She is Dr Black’s adopted daughter.
Please note that I played Clue only once in my lifetime. I lost miserably. It was obvious that my schoolmates played it much more frequently, which is necessary in order to grasp the strategy. Feel free to comment on the game, however, be aware that I cannot respond for that reason.
Anthony Pratt had longed to become a chemist in his youth. Unfortunately, he had problems with his eyesight which curtailed his education.
He was also a gifted pianist.
During the Great War, he was apprenticed to a chemical manufacturer in Birmingham. His lack of formal qualifications in chemistry found him resorting to a career as a musician. He gave piano recitals in country hotels and on cruise ships.
During the Second World War, Pratt worked in a Birmingham plant that manufactured components for tanks. As the work was routine, Pratt had time to formulate Murder! He was also keen on mysteries by Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie which helped him hone the concept and the characters. No doubt he chose the country hotel setting from his days as a pianist. Elva, incidentally, designed the game board.
In 1947, Pratt met Norman Watson, the managing director of Waddingtons, through a mutual friend, Geoffrey Bull, who had designed Buccaneer. By that time Pratt was working as a civil servant for the Ministry of Labour.
In 1953, Waddingtons offered Pratt a cheque for £5,000 — £105,800 in today’s money — for the overseas rights to Cluedo. As the Pratts had a baby daughter, they happily accepted the offer.
The family moved to Warwickshire where Anthony and Elva opened a tobacconist. When Elva’s health began deteriorating, the couple moved to Bournemouth on the south coast. There they began letting holiday flats. Pratt later worked as a solicitor’s clerk and retired in 1962.
By 1980, the Cluedo patent had lapsed and the Pratts returned to Birmingham. Anthony continued his love of music and mysteries. Elva died in 1990 and Anthony died of Alzheimer’s in 1994. Both are buried in Bromsgrove cemetery in Worcestershire.