Start reading What the Grown-ups Were Doing on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here or start reading now with a free Kindle Reading App.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device


Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.
What the Grown-ups Were Doing: An odyssey through 1950s suburbia

What the Grown-ups Were Doing: An odyssey through 1950s suburbia [Kindle Edition]

Michele Hanson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
Kindle Price: £5.99 includes VAT* & free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
You Save: £3.00 (33%)
* Unlike print books, digital books are subject to VAT.


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition £5.99  
Hardcover £9.06  
Paperback £7.19  
Kindle Daily Deal
Kindle Daily Deal: At least 60% off
Each day we unveil a new book deal at a specially discounted price--for that day only. Learn more about the Kindle Daily Deal or sign up for the Kindle Daily Deal Newsletter to receive free e-mail notifications about each day's deal.

Special Offers and Product Promotions

  • Between 20-26 October 2014, spend £10 in a single order on item(s) dispatched from and sold by and receive a £2 promotional code to spend in the Amazon Appstore. Here's how (terms and conditions apply)

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

Product Description


'Laced with Michele Hanson's characteristic chutzpah and humanity, What the Grown Ups Were Doing evokes in compelling detail a claustrophobic but defiant suburban childhood of the 1950s'
--David Kynaston, bestselling author of Austerity Britain

'A funny, touching memoir that immerses the reader into 1950s society in an exploration of her Jewishness' --Stylist

'This is a memoir that catches the flavour of the times as felt from within... A tender tale of a young Jewish girl growing into an understanding of her noisy, quarrelsome and passionately alive family' --Joan Bakewell, Observer

`With a twist of wit, Hanson good-naturedly tells it like it awkwardly was in Fifties suburbia for a tentative but tomboyish teenager' --SAGA magazine

'She writes fluently and delightfully about suburban life in the Fifties as if it were yesterday... Beneath the surface, many of the families who seemed averagely dull and conformist were in fact averaging dull and conformist. Some weren't, as What the Grown-ups Were Doing eloquently and hilariously reveals. Often, it transpires, what the grown-ups were doing was each other'
--Sunday Telegraph

'A lovely memoir about growing up in a Jewish family in Ruislip in post-war Britain'

'An engaging memoir of her Jewish upbringing. She paints a vivid picture of family life' --Belfast Telegraph

'Fresh, deeply evocative and extremely funny. Michele Hanson's writing has a precision that is to be treasured and a tenderness that makes you want to throw your arms around it... Just lovely. Really charmingly lovely' --James Purefoy, actor

`In this briskly enjoyable portrait of 1950s suburban Jewish childhood, Hanson's mother is a screamer, her father a sulker, and their daughter perpetually ashamed... On the whole, Hanson plays it for laughs, but a seam of darkness runs through the book' --The Lady

Dashes of flavour mark place, as well as time. We visit the seedy Soho of the 1950s, where Hanson s father owned a belt factory and her mother opened the second-ever Soho coffee bar; and where later on, Hanson is horrified by the goings-on at the Heaven and Hell bar on Old Compton Street...The book is filled with the Guardian columnist s trademark warmth and wry humour, despite the ever-present backdrop of the recent war and the difficulties facing Jewish families at that time --Time Out

A view of life in the decade before the Sixties began to swing is provided by Michele Hanson s 'What the Grown-Ups Were Doing' , a wonderful, funny memoir of life in Fifties suburban Britain, a buttoned-up world of hidden passions and resentments --Choice Magazine

Product Description

Michele Hanson grew up an 'oddball tomboy disappointment' in a Jewish family in Ruislip in the 1950s - a suburban, Metroland idyll of neat lawns, bridge parties and Martini socials. Yet this shopfront of respectability masked a multitude of anxieties and suspected salacious goings-on. Was Shirley's mother really having an affair with the man from the carpet shop? Did chatterbox Dora Colborne harbour unspeakable desires for Michele's sulky dad? Whose Battenburg cake was the best? An atmosphere of intense rivalry prevails, with Michele's mum very suspicious of her non-Jewish neighbour's domestic and personal habits, and Michele very wary of children's games like 'Doctors and Nurses' that might bring bottoms into the equation. And with glamorous, scheming Auntie Celia swanning around in silk dresses demanding attention, Michele has a lot to contend with. Only the annual holidays to the south of France relieve the tension.
This hilarious and wonderfully evocative memoir charts Michele's childhood and coming of age in a Britain that was emerging from post-war austerity into the days of 'you've never had it so good'. It is a characterful and affectionate look at a way of British life long since disappeared but one for which we continue to hold huge affection.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1841 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (2 Feb 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857204882
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857204882
  • ASIN: B006X73DNA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #131,287 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
  •  Would you like to give feedback on images?

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ruislip revisited 24 Feb 2012
By David
I think this is a terrific book - warm and funny. Michele captures the flavour and the frustration of growing up in the 1950s beautifully, and the way one generation never quite manages to understand or connect with the other. Brilliant.
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Read 19 July 2013
By Sabina
This memoir takes us through Michelle's first 20 years, ending in 1962. An only child in a comfortably off family in Ruislip, she takes us through the pleasures and tribulations of growing up in a Jewish family with her mother as the screamer, father - the sulker, and aunt Celia - the naughty fibber. The grandmother harbours all sorts of prejudices about the Christians who comprise most of Michelle's friends. Told with gentle (and sometimes more robust) humour, this account manages not to degenerate into stereotypes, and we learn the occasional Jewish saying from the footnotes.
Screaming and sulking abate when the family holiday in Cannes, though by the time Michelle is into boyfriends, a holiday with parents looks different. There are a few darker moments, but this is no misery memoir, but one to be read lightly and enjoyed for its evocation of the atmosphere of the fifties, with the breath of a new wind from the sixties about to bring more change.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars review 4 May 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have long admired Michele Hanson's writing in "The Guardian" and was delighted to read this account of her childhood in the 50's and 60's. Needless to say this is my own period and much of what she wrote in this memoir chimed with my own experience. This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much but she writes with such wry humour and honesty that reading is a joy. I only wish she had a daily column in "The Guardian" so I could enjoy her writing each morning. Incidentally this book was read on Radio 4 and translated to radio very successfully.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nu? 1 May 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Although I could identify very much with the time and the background, I found this book tedious, not very engaging and far too long. I know many people whose stories would make for much more interesting reading than this.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Michele Hanson's perfect prose and piercing wit never lose empathy for those she depicts in this comic memoir. For devotees of her Guardian columns this is like getting a bumper crop in one volume. An absolute treat. Difficult themes are not avoided - this is not a two dimensional memoir where all is sunny and funny. The darker side of life is acknowledged and people are not all good or bad (though perhaps one aunt falls mainly into the baddie camp). I loved the book and would happily recommend it. I like to imagine Jane Austen and Michele Hanson together helpless with laughter at the foibles of their family and friends; I think they share the same comic vision and writing ability.

What the Grown-ups Were Doing: An Odyssey Through 1950s Suburbia.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring 26 July 2014
I thought this would be better than it was. Easy enough to read but really quite boring and mundane. The cover says hilarious and delightful? Just pretty ordinary writing, about pretty ordinary everyday stuff, most people would have more interesting lives I am sure. Found the Jewish words and translations confusing as the translations were only on each initial use.
Would not recommend.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read 16 Jun 2014
By JF1000
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not a book that I'd recommend really. Is nostalgic and main reason for buying, you can pick it up and return to it weeks later and still know where you are..
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
By hiljean VINE VOICE
I really enjoyed this. Hanson creates brilliantly the voice of a young person experiencing life in a relaxed Jewish household in Ruislip in the 1950s. Her mother is the real star of the book - what a character! This is entertaining and funny, and Hanson writes lovely snappy prose in the voice of someone of that age and generation, brilliantly evoking the era and the world of the 1950s. I am a little younger but I recognise well the world she portrays.

I particularly enjoyed her account of life at art school, and the sibling rivalry between her mother and aunt. Lovely.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Were these reviews helpful?   Let us know
Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
enjoyed this book.
Published 3 days ago by lovebooks
5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed reading this book so much - great read and funny.
Really enjoyed this book. I just could not put it down really funny and laugh out loud. It took me back to a time
of my grandparents and parents when things were more... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Christine Graham
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment
I was really looking forward to reading this book. It was okay. I did not laugh out loud, as some of my friends had done, it did raise a smile a few times. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Susan Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars A Jewish suburbia
An amusing anecdotal memoir of 1950sw suburban Ruislip. Fabulous descriptions of food, friends and family mixed in with all things Jewish. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Blue Moon
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought as a gift
My mother is really pleased with this book, she has been looking for it for some time, and she is thrilled with it. Excellent condition, and was dispatched very quickly.
Published 12 months ago by Lauren Cody
5.0 out of 5 stars AOK
A wonderful - and very funny - evocation of a sweet time in recent history. Very highly recommended. Read more
Published 12 months ago by J.X.C.
5.0 out of 5 stars What the Grown ups were doing
Excellent book, I could really relate to it as I grew up in the 50's. funny, true to life & I couldn't put it down. Well worth a read.
Published 17 months ago by Corny
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought on behalf of someone else
Dad saw this advertised in a paper and we ordered it as based on the area he lived as a child.
Published 18 months ago by Milliemoo
3.0 out of 5 stars 1950's nostalgia
My wife was looking to reading this having grown up in West London in 1950's.
She felt it disappointing as it fell short of an accurate description of the times for most... Read more
Published 20 months ago by peteraskey
Search Customer Reviews
Only search this product's reviews

Customer Discussions

This product's forum
Discussion Replies Latest Post
No discussions yet

Ask questions, Share opinions, Gain insight
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Search Customer Discussions
Search all Amazon discussions

Look for similar items by category