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BLOG: CBI@50, life-changing innovation & comedy legends

In 1965 how many people had phones?” That’s what I called out in our office the other day. “Bones?” shouted back our, slightly-confused, policy supremo.

But then she used to be an archaeologist. (And is clearly a cockney rhyming slang expert too.)

For a moment I thought I was living a Two Ronnies sketch (apologies to younger readers). In fact, the point was the CBI’s 50th anniversary year, which formally kicked-off this week with the launch of a book and, of course, a really big cake.

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The answer, to my surprise, is that when the CBI was founded in 1965 three quarters of people didn’t have a phone in their home (of course no one had a phone in their pocket or car and wouldn’t have until after Ernie Wise ceremonially made the UK’s first mobile phone call twenty years later).

Also in the mid-sixties half of UK households didn’t have a fridge. Just a quarter had central heating (closer to 90 per cent today). And only a quarter had a car (now it’s a quarter that haven’t).

Households typically spent a third of their disposable income in food. Now it averages ten per cent.

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Over those 50 years supermarkets, PCs, smartphones, affordable clothing and furniture, hole in the wall cash machines (UK’s first one demonstrated by On the Buses’ Reg Varney in 1967 – apologies even to middle aged readers there) multi-channel TV, foreign holidays, carpets that reach to the wall and so many more things have become a completely normal part of life.

And all contributing to a standard of living my parents, who were newlyweds in 1965, and their generation couldn’t have imagined.

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And my point is? Businesses, aiming to grow their market size and profits by pleasing customers, innovating, inventing and offering new and cheaper things have made a huge contribution to making that change happen. Business hasn’t got everything right over the last five decades but there is a lot to celebrate.

Richard Dodd 2011 Royal Wedding photo

Richard Dodd is Communications Manager for the CBI’s Great Business Debate

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