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'Leave the Princess alone to marry whom and how she wishes.' The fact that she didn't follow her heart showed how strong the Church's influence remained on the Establishment, but it did little for the standing of the institution among ordinary people. 'But he'll give short weight if he can, and he makes plenty of "mistakes" adding the bills.' Of her 'skinflint' landlord, a housewife said: 'He'd squeeze the last penny out of anybody, and then up he gets in church on Sundays bold as brass and reads the lessons.' It is doubtful whether Britain in the Fifties could, in any meaningful sense, be called a Christian society.

'The most daring Sunday programme yet,' asserted one observer.

He prophesied the end of Sunday as a day solely of rest, church-going and good works.

But though a poll found that most people were vehemently opposed to professional sport on a Sunday, it was a moot point how Christian the country really was and how much religion really mattered to its people.

The conventional historical wisdom is that it was the Sixties which saw the great step-change to secularisation and that Fifties folk were still strongly religious. There was also widespread public outrage at the church's strong-arming of Princess Margaret over her wish to marry a divorced man.

The streets would be empty, recalls the writer Hunter Davies of Carlisle, the town where he grew up, 'as if a bomb had gone off - no shops, no pubs, no life, no everything'.

His father would not allow him to ride his bike, play football in the street, read comics like the Dandy and Beano or 'anything much that smacked of pleasure and enjoyment'.Otherwise, there was just a great external quietness meant to encourage reflection in our internal souls.' In 1953 a Labour MP, John Parker, tried to put an end to all this.But his Bill to repeal the existing legislation and allow a greater range of Sunday entertainment was voted down in Parliament by a resounding 281 to 57.The Daily Mirror came to the Duke's defence, arguing in a leader that his critics were 'as out of date as the penny-farthing bicycle'.Later that month there was a more significant straw in the wind with the start of commercial television - in the teeth of opposition from the high priest of the BBC, Lord Reith, who warned of a national disaster comparable to ' dogracing, smallpox and bubonic plague'.The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, even refused requests for a royal commission on the subject.


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