Changing attitudes to authority

Changing Attitudes to Authority: An Overview

  • The period between 1951-79 marked significant changes in attitudes to authority within the UK.
  • The shift was first evident amongst the baby boomer generation, post-war children reaching adolescence in the 1950s and 1960s, who questioned and challenged traditional authorities.

Emergence of Youth Culture

  • The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the growth of a distinct youth culture that encouraged individualism and non-conformity.
  • Popular music like rock and roll, and later, bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, played an instrumental role in shaping this culture.
  • Young people started to value peer opinion more highly than traditional authority figures.

Protest Movements

  • Various protest movements reflected the changing attitudes towards authority.
  • The anti-nuclear movement during the late 1950s and 1960s demonstrated a distrust in government decision-making.
  • The anti-Vietnam War protests symbolised a wider questioning of governmental authority internationally.
  • Women’s liberation and homosexual rights movements challenged societal norms and sought legislative changes.

Educational System

  • Changes in the educational system fostered a more critical thinking among the young.
  • Growth in tertiary education fuelled intellectual questioning and political activism.
  • The student protests of the 1960s and 1970s at universities represented a generational conflict with authority figures.

The Role of Media

  • The rise of television resulted in increased access to information and different perspectives.
  • Critically acclaimed satirical shows like “That Was The Week That Was” openly criticised political authority, marking a departure from the deferential era of 1950s broadcasting.

Discontent and Strikes

  • The 1970s were marked by significant industrial unrest and a series of crippling strikes known as the “Winter of Discontent”.
  • These strikes were indicative of the declining faith in the authority of both the state and union leadership.


  • The period of 1951-79 saw a definitive shift in British attitudes towards authority with the emergence of youth culture, protest movements, and increasing industrial dissent.
  • However, it’s crucial to understand that these changing attitudes did not spread evenly across society, with many sections still adhering to traditional values and authority figures.