The London Olympics in 1948 were The Austerity Games with rationing and pigeons

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It has been estimated that more than £3.8bn of taxpayers’ money is being spent on the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, while protestors claim this could have been used to improve the lives of the poorest in the city.

However 68 years ago, only a fraction of that was spent on the London Olympics in 1948. It was the first Games for 12 years (no Olympics in 1940 and 1944 because of WW2), and the first to be televised.

The Austerity Games, 19-21 August 7.30pm at Kentish Town Community Centre,  is set on the eve of those 1948 Olympic Games in London and is Tell Tales’ first play.

It follows the story of old Martha Britt. Triggered by a visitation from the ghost of her husband Victor who died in the November Blitz in Coventry, she reluctantly embarks on a Dickensian inspired journey through time to discover the true meaning of the Olympic Spirit and community.

There was still rationing in 1948 and no new venues were built. Germany and Japan were refused permission to take part. USSR was invited but didn’t send any athletes. The United States won the most medals and team GB came 12th with three gold, 14 silver and six bronze medals.

Writer and actress Emma Sian Cooper said: “The Olympics in 1948 was done on a budget. They released some pigeons in the air and that was the opening ceremony. It is a great story of everybody pulling together. It was also the year the NHS was founded. So it is based on eye-witness accounts of the Coventry blitz and also public information films that were around at the time, which we have adapted into our ingenious wireless.

“There are just two acts (75 minutes in total) and very interesting use of props and audience involvement. The audience can win Olympic medals. There was an Olympic art competition until 1948. They are the art competition competitors and there is an egg and spoon race.”

Just in case you are wondering, the Olympic art competition in 1948 had five categories – architecture (this included town planning), literature, music, painting and sculpture – that had to be of sport-inspired themes. Team GB came fourth with four medals (a gold, two silver and a bronze)!

Director and actor Taresh Solanki said: “The Austerity Games is Chariots of Fire meets Christmas Carol. We take the audience on the journey with us so we take them to Olympics past, Olympics present and Olympics future.”

The Austerity Games takes as its source oral history accounts of the 1948 Olympics and they include the public information scripts (click on link below for video) selling the ideals of the Attlee Administration in the year the NHS was founded.

It was first performed at the 2012 Stratford-upon-Avon Fringe Festival, where it won the Fringe award for Best New Writing. It has since played at the Stratford Food Festival, the Dell Festival, the Attic Theatre, the Blue Orange Theatre, Old Town Winter Festival and Bath Place Community Venture.

Using improvisation, physical storytelling and a healthy dose of audience participation to remind us that it is the coming together and taking part which matter, The Austerity Games is a must-see for all generations.

Photographs of Emma Sian Cooper and Taresh Solanki by Shay Rowan. More details and tickets are available from

The Birth of the National Health Service: Your Very Good Health – 1948 – CharlieDeanArchives:

Read more about the London Olympics 1948:

Olympics 1948 in London on YouTube:


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About Camden Fringe Voyeur

Previews, reviews, news and interviews all from The Camden Fringe
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