The English are a gregarious lot. Give them the chance to party and they turn up in their droves. For fifty years, Patrick Ward has been documenting their glorious mix of eccentricity, exuberance and quiet reserve. His early photographs show a class-ridden society still hide-bound and traditional – the antithesis of the Swinging Sixties. Only a lone image of the 1968 Isle of Wight Festival hints at that seismic cultural change. Even in the 1970s, photographs of the Eton Wall Game, a stiff city gent being measured for a hunting jacket and debutantes at Queen Charlotte’s Ball contrast starkly with Yorkshire miners enjoying their gala and whippet racers in Accrington.
In the mid-1970s, Ward switched to colour and his glorious shots give full reign to a nation’s love of occasion and dressing-up. The class divide is still there but the photographs increasingly emphasise how the English have changed as newly arrived ethnic groups claim their place with their own celebrations.
But there is a common factor; a love of tradition and occasion and in Patrick Ward, we have a photographer in the finest documentary tradition, who has assembled a magnificent, often hilarious, record of the English at play.