Even now, 70 years on, my recollection of that first trip to London to attend the Coronation celebrations in 1953 are still fresh.
I recall descending into the bowels of the earth at Victoria station for my first ride on the Underground – and the thrill of the walls of the Tube speeding past and the occasional flash of light.
Then it was on to lunch at the Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch, the flagship of the then still vibrant J. Lyons catering empire, always a port of call for my parents because of a family connection to the name over the door, Sir Joseph Lyons.
London’s underground railway is still there and one of the great legacies of the nation’s paternalistic, liberal, imaginative Victorian forebears.
Seven decades on, the new Elizabeth Line, opened just in time for the Platinum Jubilee, shows that, with the right commitment – and the deep pockets of government investment – the UK is still capable of leaving a legacy for the next generation.
Over-budget and very late, the development by Crossrail is an example of modern engineering genius and is graced by some brilliant architecture at key stations, such as Farringdon.
It demonstrates that in spite of a tendency to denigrate the nation’s postindustrial society, great engineering – from the Elizabeth Line to the vast nuclear power site at Hinkley in Somerset – is still within our grasp. The naysayers might prefer more local buses.
As for J. Lyons & Co, the first company in Britain to adopt computing to run its affairs, it is no longer with us.
The ‘nippy’ – the cheerful waitresses in black dresses and white pinafores who served the tea described in affectionate detail in the novels of Patrick Hamilton – were sacrificed on the altar of self-service in the 1950s and 1960s.
Like so many great British brands in the second Elizabethan age, J. Lyons was swallowed up by modern capitalism.
First it was merged with Allied Breweries and became Allied Lyons. After a merger with Spanish sherry producer Domecq, the Lyons name was exorcised.
The rump was bought by France’s Pernod Ricard in a £7.4billion takeover in 2005.
All that remains of one of the stalwarts of the 1950s is Lyons Walk in Hammersmith, the former HQ of the catering giant, the emblematic Lyons name on brands of coffee now owned by Nestle, and – in the bathroom of our family home – a tin Lyons Maid ice cream shop sign picked up in a flea market for £25 as a souvenir of family heritage.
In many ways the 1950s looked to be a halcyon period for the UK. The Festival of Britain in 1951, just before the Queen’s accession, saw the opening of the Royal Festival Hall in London – still with us – and now surrounded by the brutalist architecture of the National Theatre (opened in 1963) and the arts complex surrounding it.
Across the country there was a feeling of optimism as the rationing of food ended on July 4, 1954.
The legacy of the post-war Clement Attlee Labour government was the nationalisation of our great industries, coal, power, steel and even aerospace, providing a security of employment and production which sustained fragile prosperity in the industrial strongholds of the Midlands and North. Cars poured off the production lines. Jaguars for the sporty, Rovers for the established classes and the Morris, Austin, Ford, Vauxhall and Hillman for the middle classes and working man.
In the Tories’ election manifesto of 1950, which brought Winston Churchill back into office at Downing Street, the emphasis was on savings and investment, and home ownership.
There was a surprising lack of commitment to unwinding the nationalisations of the Attlee post-war government or the welfare state.
Radical ideas such as setting the pound free or abolishing exchange controls – talked about on the stump – were eschewed.
The nation would have to wait three more decades for Sir Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher’s government for those ideas to be adopted.
By 1957, Churchill’s successor but one (after the Suez-affected Anthony Eden interlude), the patrician Tory Harold Macmillan felt confident enough to declare ‘most of our people have never had it so good’.
In many ways he was right. New homes, many of them put up by local councils, were consistently churned out at the rate of 200,000 a year.
The welfare state of protection from ‘cradle to grave’ and the NHS, the result of the wartime Beveridge report, were being implemented at a rapid pace, and the mass unemployment of the 1930s banished.
But while Britain concentrated on public investment in welfare and the NHS, other countries focused on industrial recovery.
The post-war Marshall Plan of US aid for Europe, together, in 1954, with forgiveness of German debt from two world wars, saw money released for investment in modern steel, car manufacturing and shipbuilding facilities.
Across the Pacific in Japan, reconstruction with American support, there was the emergence of new-wave car makers and world-beating ship production.
The UK’s pre-war, underinvested manufacturing became increasingly less competitive as West Germany, Japan and Europe rose from the ashes of war.
Britain’s older industries struggled. The UK’s under-invested education system produced fewer skilled workers and the country’s banks were far more interested in trading and international expansion than supporting domestic industries.
After the industrial strife of the 1960s, the UK’s trade balance worsened and the pound plummeted on the foreign exchange markets.
Britain was forced into the hands of the International Monetary Fund in 1976 and government support for industry fell away.
Shipyards closed, car factories were perpetually on strike and a great inflation finally put paid to competitiveness.
When Mrs Thatcher declared war on the trade unions in the 1980s, first the coal mines then many of the steelworks were shuttered, a trend that was speeded up by privatisation. Northern towns such as Bishop Auckland (graphically described in the book There Is Nothing For You Here, by Fiona Hill, a former Donald Trump adviser) became industrial wastelands bereft of opportunity and hope.
Out of this derelict landscape developed a new economy.
Manufacturing, which accounted for 33 per cent of national output when the Queen came to the throne, had shrunk to just 10 per cent by the turn of the millennium.
I spent much of the 1980s overseas as a foreign correspondent. When I returned to Britain in 1990, it was a very different place.
The pull of London and finance and the demand of the citizens for services saw it catapulted to the largest economic sector, accounting for 80 per cent of GDP. Instead of selling ships and carts overseas, Britain was selling insurance, banking and other professional services.
It was no longer necessary to wait six months to a year for a new phone line – it took weeks.
And the streets were festooned with outdoor cafes.
Foreign holidays had become almost a right for those in work. High-rise blocks were adorned with satellite dishes as a new age of television was born.
But great swathes of the country were still manufacturing and economic deserts.
A second industrial revolution of IT saw city centres boarded up as online shopping displaced traditional retail.
The department store, the social core in many regional towns, became a thing of the past.
Old industrial cities have started to recover. In the 1980s, environment minister Michael Heseltine’s support for Liverpool saw a brave restoration of its waterfront.
Manchester was transformed into a modern metropolis. Leeds lost its textiles but became a Northern financial and retail hub, and so on.
Nevertheless, under-investment and low-paying jobs – unlike those in the shipyards and mines – have proved no substitute for the manufacturing engine of the past.
Britain is a much richer nation than in 1950 and, remarkably for a small crowded island, still the fifth largest economy in the world.
No longer a superpower perhaps, but capable, on some economic forecasts, of overhauling Germany by the mid-2030s.
In these days when the national conversation focuses on energy prices, fuel poverty and inequality, that might seem unlikely.
The Queen’s reign has been marked by great leaps forward in the 1950s and early 1960s, and setbacks in the 1970s and 1980s. But the Thatcherite revolution has made the UK a more enterprising, entrepreneurial society and our great research universities, with their skills in life sciences and tech, a source of great hope.
With the right investment, the second Elizabethan era could be regarded by historians as leaving a legacy every bit as glorious as its predecessor.