Plywood. He’s writing about plywood. And he’s been to an exhibition about plywood. Surely this must be the point that the MidCentury Chap enters the anoraknosphere. But what a fantastic midcentury material plywood is, and what a superb collection of delectable midcentury goodies can be brought together to celebrate its role in 20th Century design. And that’s precisely what the V&A Museum has done in a world-first exhibition dedicated to a single material.

We’re all intimately familiar with plywood itself. If we haven’t built something out of it, we’re bound to have it around us in any modern-ish furniture. But, actually, just watching it being manufactured is a fascinating lesson in itself: long-thin sheets of wood being planed from a revolving tree trunk, then glued in cross-wise layers before being pressed into all kinds of complex curves. And that’s just one of the things the V&A exhibition does superbly: picking out extracts from original film, cut and edited to make rolling visual displays that hold the attention just long enough to get the point across without tying you down for ages.

Those of us who grew up in the 60s, when high-impact plastic was still finding its feet, will find themselves instantly at home in the post-war elements of the displays – particularly in the school chairs, themselves icons of design, but manufactured in their thousands for our baby-boomer bottoms to sit on as we absorbed the Brave New World of the atomic era. But it’s some of the earlier uses that really open the eyes, particularly when one realises just how many glorious bits of deco design had this revolutionary material to thank for their sweeping curves and portability. We were treated to a plywood framed car, and a wonderful slice of luxury living (literally) in the shape of a deco train carriage which wouldn’t have been possible if carpentered out of traditional wood.

The Second World War plays a big part in the exhibition, especially in the shape of the De Havilland Mosquito, the wooden-bodied fighter bomber that for much of its lifetime needed no defensive armament on the basis that nothing could catch it. Manufactured in small furniture workshops spread across the country, this decisive piece of airpower history wouldn’t have been possible without its plywood frame. Similarly, before other forms of artificial preformed building materials became available, plywood was the staple for quick-build prefabricated building construction. Much was put up with a deliberately limited life simply to accommodate war workers but, again, we were treated to some fantastic colour film clips of labourers throwing up post-war housing complexes in the States. As an aside, quite apart from the buildings themselves, and some massively Health & Safety unconscious techniques, we were a bit distracted by some vintage-workwear spotting.

In addition to the midcentury chair fest already mentioned, there was much about the role of plywood in the post-war leisure industries, from home-made, pre-fibreglass surfboards, through DIY dinghies, to the early skateboards. On the technical front, the advances in computer-aided design and laser cutting were well presented, along with a thought-provoking, and conscience-pricking, section on how illegal logging is fed into the supply chain that provides us with much of our cheap wooden furniture and homewares. At least those of us with an obsession for collecting the old can at least claim some moral high ground in our determination to rescue, restore and re-use the products of yesterday’s throwaway society rather than consume more of our own.

I have to confess, we weren’t sure this exhibition would scratch our personal vintage passion itch, but it delivered in full, and is free to boot. It runs until November, so there’s still time to catch it (and everything else that the V&A has to offer). Full details are on the museum’s website.