*** DEBUG END ***

British Summer Time Begins: The school summer holidays 1930-1980, by Ysenda Maxtone Graham

17 July 2020

Lyle Dennen reviews summer recollections

YSENDA MAXTONE GRAHAM’s new book, British Summer Time Begins, has nothing to do with clocks going forward, but is a warm, wise look back at the British summer holidays from the view of children during the mid-20th century.

She has done a vast number and range of perceptive interviews of those who were children between 1930 and 1980. They tell endearing and sometime disturbing stories of what it was like. When she asked Sir Nicholas Soames if his parents ever took him abroad, he replied, “Certainly not! No one went abroad except to fight a war.”

When Maxtone Graham sensed a great spiritual and physical freedom, Dennis Skinner characteristically responded: “Don’t give me ‘romantic past’. It was sheer poverty.”

This book would be an interesting read during any summer, to see how the British had been, how children were treated, what people’s values and lifestyles were, the relationship between the sexes, how the class structure functioned, and what people’s hopes and fears were. Read in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, it has a gripping, questioning, and slightly surreal quality.

The 50-year period covered by the book should include the poverty of the Great Depression, the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazis, the end of Empire, and then the Swinging Sixties; but these only slightly touch the experience of the children.

What was central to the memories of those who had been children then was the end of school; the boredom of the long summer; other children to play with; parents; home; food; the trip to the seaside or countryside, or maybe even abroad; and then the end of summer and the return to school. The author powerfully comments: “It doesn’t always matter who loves you, when you’re a child, as long as someone does.”

Maxtone Graham develops some important themes through the book. There is the contrast that the world, for children, was porous. Children were expected to go out and play; they were not to be seen for the day, and had to create their own games and use their imagination. There were no imprisoning devices of video games, laptops, or smartphones for children, and people were not, then, as fearful and protective of their children as we feel we must be. Then, there was a greater absence of materialism, of making do with whatever one had. This was not just the poor, but also “the upper-class taste for the threadbare”.


The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney.


British Summer Time Begins: The school summer holidays 1930-1980
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
Little, Brown £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10


Listen to an interview with Ysenda Maxtone Graham on the Church Times Podcast.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)