Has London improved in the last 50 years? Probably not.
A recent letter from a presumably young London woman, published in a national newspaper, extolled the virtues of present day London and compared it unfavourably with what she imagined London to be like 50 years ago. I have no doubt that nowadays London does offer much in the way of entertainment and cultural activities and can provide a great social life for those that can afford it, but it is by no means a perfect city.
London of fifty years ago should be judged by the yardsticks of the time. I was in my twenties in London then. I can tell that young lady that the buses and tubes offered a better service then than they do today and you could travel on them late at night without fear of being mugged. Pregnant women and the elderly would not have to stand whilst a man sat. The festival of Britain in 1951 was a huge success and not a miserable failure like the Dome. Wembley was a national stadium in which we could take pride and the developments on the South Bank were new and exciting with concerts given by what were arguably the best orchestras in the world. London teaching hospitals were setting standards unequalled anywhere in Europe and probably as good as the best in the US.
The people were not looking grim and drab and, as was suggested, lamenting the loss of empire. On the contrary there was a buoyant spirit of excitement, hope and expectation of better times. My generation at least did not mourn the loss of empire, it was good riddance, we felt the switch to a commonwealth of self governing nations was long overdue.
Of course there were many buildings that were grotty by today's standards, but that was equally true of New York, and there were many bomb damaged areas yet to be restored as there were in the rest of Europe. It was no more perfect than today's London and it could not be compared with what we have today, but to describe the people as broken spirited and the atmosphere as gloomy, as she did, is miles away from the truth.