‘Tea Table Politics’
Mapping the industrial working-class home
in Picturing home
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This chapter examines depictions of the industrial working-class home in British social realist film, focusing specifically on the recurring motif of the tea table. Focusing on Love on the Dole (John Baxter, 1941) and It Always Rains on Sunday (Robert Hamer, 1947), it expands on existing analysis of British realist aesthetics by contextualising the visual spectacle of the working-class home in these two films in relation to an earlier trend for social investigation in the interwar years. In the late 1930s, working-class homes were rigorously mapped – for instance, by Mass-Observation, by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier and in Picture Post magazine, which showcased a new style of candid photography. Such images of domesticity professed a level of social realism, illuminating the realities of everyday life in the working-class home. This chapter examines constructions of ‘tea table politics’ onscreen in the 1940s through a close analysis of this wider offscreen culture of social investigation, focusing on Picture Post. In doing so, it explores how Love on the Dole and It Always Rains on Sunday map everyday domesticity in a middlebrow style that combines realism with more romanticised conceptions of the working-class home, projecting idealised notions of respectability, reform and community.

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