There is nothing more British than enjoying seaside holidays. The names of those traditional seaside holiday resorts still have that air of romance about them; such as Bognor, Margate, Ramsgate, Blackpool, Skegness. They offer a taste of the exotic that Bali, the Dominican Republic and the Seychelles can never capture.
During the 1950’s and well into the 1960’s everyone went to the seaside. Continental holidays were something the rich and privileged did in Hollywood movies. Then came the cheap package trip to Spain, then Greece and other Mediterranean destinations.
All the British tourist wanted in those early days was a little bit of Blighty overseas. If you could get a cup of tea like they made at home with all day sun and a pint of Watneys Red Barrel it was like well – heaven.
What they craved was Britain; but abroad. To meet this demand there were plenty of enterprising Brits who moved to Spain and opened bars selling all day breakfasts and British tea.
And of course it was not difficult to replicate the essential ingredients of two weeks by the sea. All you need is plenty of sand, deckchairs, ‘kiss me quick’ hats, sticks of rock and plenty of beer, locally brewed or otherwise.
Sun was the attraction. Hordes of lilywhite Brits came back from Continental holidays in various shades of lobster red.
In summer, in England, in the holiday season – it rains. Go to Europe, young man! To appreciate what a seaside trip is all about you can do no better than watch the evergreen Only Fools and Horses episode – The Jolly Boys Outing about the market traders disastrous day trip to Margate.
The Saucy Seaside Postcard
However there are two things missing from the Continent. The first is the seaside postcard. Not panoramic views of the Bay of Naples but the saucy postcards found in every end of the pier shop from John O’Groats to Lands End.
You always sent your loved ones a card to say that the weather was awful, food appalling, sand in your belly button and spending too much money at the arcades but it was cheered up with a postcard with a saucy joke on the front.
The saucy postcard below owes much to Donald McGill. Some of his original drawings can fetch a fortune but it is more likely that people do not collect them for the art work but for the jokes.
They are the epitome of the double entendre that has underpinned English humour for centuries and played out in the variety halls since the dawn of time. Of course they were rude – but they made you laugh.
They weren’t pornographic or racist but a comment on life; usually the working class life of the men and women who bought them whilst on their two week annual respite from the toils of factory life.
McGill’s world was populated by large, rotund middle aged women and their thin, hen pecked and often drunk husbands; young girls with large breasts popping out of thin clothing, vicars and doctors who were the butt of some very coarse humour and innocent young men at the mercy of busty young girls who appeared to know more about the ways of the world than they ought to have.
The Mystery Man
And then you have the ‘Mystery Man’. Most of the popular national dailies had one. They peppered the seaside newspaper stands with a silhouetted photo of a man in black with only his eyes showing. If you spotted the man in town you could win a cash prize. Then about £10 which was a lot of money.
The catch was that you had to buy the paper to find out first where he was that day – hopefully the same place as you – and to read the day’s catchphrase. The mystery man walked about the town like any other holidaymaker doing his best to look inconspicuous. This most probably accounts for complete strangers being accosted by people they don’t know.
Once you think you’ve identified your man you go up to him and utter the magic words – ‘To my delight, its Chalkie White’ or something equally poetic, and he handed over a crisp ten pound note.
He was immortalised in Brighton Rock, another classic tale of seaside intrigue, from Amazon books.
This page and more in a similar vein comes from a collection in my eBook. So! You want to be British . Further selection of articles: British beer mats – Billy Bunter – Desperate Dan – Gladys Leap – British Seaside Holidays – Slang terms in pre-decimal currency – The Mousetrap – Tiddlywinks