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    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'.If his father had been religious, young Hunter might have understood.'But he wasn't, and nor did he go to church.' It didn't matter.The consensus for keeping the Sabbath holy was all-pervading.Though most were themselves not regular churchgoers, the majority of parents sent their children to Sunday school.It was seen as a civilising influence that might help them avoid getting into bad ways.

    More than three-quarters of the English adult population assigned themselves, however loosely, to some religion or denomination.

    The writer John Fowles complained in 1955 that Good Friday was losing its religious significance, supplanted by 'strolling crowds, daffodils, spring sunshine. It was 'silly and pompous for the Church of England, which has fewer than four million active communicants, to produce rules that we are all expected to follow,' he wrote in his newspaper column. 'My boss is a great man for the chapel,' said a shop assistant.

    '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 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.

    But there is plenty of evidence that the hold of the church was already on the wane. In 1950, 15 per cent of the population went at least once a week. By 1954, the percentage who said they never went to church had climbed from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. 'Don't let the Church spoil the wonderful smile of our beloved Princess,' wrote one complainant. Let her use it as she chooses.' The grouchy commentator Gilbert Harding agreed. Never done an honest day's work in their life, most of them.' Members of their congregations were distrusted, too.

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