A Great British First - Fish and Chips in Popular Culture

Posted By: Hannah Phillips

Posted: April 18, 2013


Fish and chips

Last week, after twenty-seven years of living in England, I finally earned the right to call myself British. On Wednesday (at about half past eight) I had my first ever plate of fish and chips.

As a fast-food lover who was born and raised by the seaside, my avoidance of this dish was a source of great shame and something I had long been meaning to address. So while I may not have realised the true Brit’s experience of fending off seagulls with a wooden chip fork while sporting a knotted handkerchief (instead it was a very civilised affair with a glass of red), it was certainly a personal milestone. And it was absolutely delicious.

This revelatory evening prompted me to see what else I could find out about the great British dish, and from Dickens to the Mass Observation diaries, there are no shortage of fans out there. As one of the most popular takeaways and a classic facet of our culture, it is hardly surprising that the resource Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975 has some brilliant material relating to fish and chips. Among the eclectic documents I came across were government files discussing the fast-food diet of pop festival goers (and the concomitant need for an “iron stomach”), recipes so that Fifties housewives could make their own and fan fiction for The Avengers that ended with the protagonist running away with a cockney girl from the local chippy!

Making connections by relating historical documents to contemporary experiences like this can reveal the evolution of attitudes and practices towards even the seemingly innocuous. Whether that’s an amazing dinner, discovering the influential musicians behind your favourite band or something more profound, this material can give a fascinating insight into so many elements of ‘popular’ life that endure.

I will leave you with this wonderful page from MADCAP, a poetry and fiction zine from 1972 in a feature that celebrates children’s poetry. It may not be Wordsworth, but Patricia certainly gets her point across and I’m with her all the way. 

Page from 1927 zine MADCAP

Popular Culture in Britain and America II is due for release this month and will include important records on the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, original video footage featuring figures such as JFK and content from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Hannah Phillips

I joined Adam Matthew Digital in October 2012. Since then I've worked on a range of fascinating projects including Global Commodities, Victorian Popular Culture and most recently American Indian Histories and Culture.

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