The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.
Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many. My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that my favourite was EPCOT and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.
In 1955 Disney and McDonalds almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions. Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney. Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.
I am not sure just how big a set back that was because since then McDonalds has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent in the World, the company has more than 34,000 restaurants in 118 countries, with 1.8 million employees and serving nearly 69 million people. Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.
The French are famously snooty about anything Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy. Prominent French intellectuals denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and felt it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism. For others, Euro Disney became a symbol of America within France. But they were powerless to stop it and it opened in April 1992. There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.
After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonalds the battle for France was one of the most difficult. The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-thru’ when he vandalised a half built McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.
At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. Most electorates don’t really want a vandal heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote. By then, McDonalds was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more than it had had when Bové began his high profile campaign. The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States. Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a landslide of burgers and nuggets. He spent a few weeks in jail but he is now representative at the European Parliament
Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain and the concept an awful lot of people do eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under golden arches, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the people. McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret. In 2013 sales reached 4.46 billion euros.
That is more than it generates in Britain and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world. It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.
In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina. Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.
In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.