Decline of holiday tat and saucy postcards

For many people the holiday season is well and truly within sight.Brochures are on the coffee table, fingers are twitching over computers and the arguments begin about where to go.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 16 May, 2019, 11:45
A saucy postcard from Holmfirth Postcard Museum

One thing is certain, no matter how full the suitcases are when you set off, overloaded with things you will never wear, there will still be room for the stuff you bring back!

A survey by the exchange specialist, Travelex, has revealed that more than £16 million is wasted on useless holiday ‘tat’ brought back home from holidays abroad either as souvenirs of the holiday or as presents.

I can certainly remember the days when, although my family couldn’t afford to travel abroad then, any relatives or friends who did, kindly presented my sister and myself with straw donkeys, wooden back scratchers, sombreros and Spanish fans or dolls which decorated our bedrooms, gathering dust, until our mother threw them out.

Once you started to visit Spain yourself, an important part of your décor back home in the 1970s was the empty Chianti bottle in which you put a candle and which was used to inject a bit of cosmopolitan glamour and exotica into your Vesta Paella suppers, imagining that you were actually back in Lloret de Mar! And how many people still have a copy of ‘Y Viva Espana’ somewhere?

You weren’t actually immune from holiday ‘tat’ if you holidayed in England. Many a sideboard displayed objects like lurid birds or boxes covered in small sea shells.

It was requisite that you brought presents back from holiday. An aunt of mine actually bought all hers at home before she went away. ’Saves time’ she explained. At least no one got a wooden back scratcher with ‘A present from Benidorm’ written on it!

One of the most important things about holidays for decades was the sending of postcards. It was almost a religion. The first day of holiday was always spent purchasing and writing a couple of dozen cards. No matter that, if in England, the weather could change dramatically the next day, and the holiday completely deteriorate, or, if you were abroad, the likelihood of the cards reaching the UK before you returned was slim, at least you had completed the most important of all holiday tasks – sending postcards!

Forty years ago, a third of all Brits sent postcards home from their holidays, but today very few do.

One of the main reasons of course, is the use of technology. When you are on holiday today, no matter where you are in the world, people walk round glued to their mobile phones or tablets sending daily texts just as they do at home, with a steady succession of holidaymakers who would previously have been looking for post card shops are looking for the best place to get free Wi-Fi.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

I saw a bar whilst on holiday this year with a sign outside saying ‘We do not have free Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi of any sort. Why not come in, and actually talk to people!!’

It’s also a fact that no longer is it the norm for people to take one holiday a year. Many of them have two or three foreign or UK breaks, taking their mobile phone with them.

When I was young, postcards were a part of our holiday for my sister and myself as far as providing interesting reading matter. The best ones were always the cheeky ones featuring buxom blondes, hen pecked husbands or jolly drunks with red noses! We didn’t always understand the humour, and we certainly didn’t ask our parents what they meant, but they were much more interesting than views of Bridlington. In actual fact, the saucy postcards which were laden with double entendres and sexual innuendo echoing much of the humour of comedians of the day were very tame by today’s standards.

There are still saucy postcards on sale in seaside resorts despite complaints from people that they have no place in family resorts, whereas other people view them as part of British seaside history. You can’t please everyone as there have been frequent comments about postcards with scenic views which make Skegness look like the French Riviera!

And a spokesperson from the leading UK postcard manufacturer Bamforths said, that whilst they never published anything obscene, the more vulgar the humour, the better it sold, so it was obviously what the public wanted.

Bamforths, situated in the lovely little town of Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, started manufacturing saucy postcards in 1910 after enjoying some success in the silent monochrome film industry. For nearly one hundred years, the postcards were part of British life until they entered a period of decline when the sending of postcards lost its popularity and the company officially closed in 1990.

Bamforths were originally the leading producers of magic lantern slides and enjoyed the reputation of being the ‘British Hollywood’ of silent films. With a lack of professional actors, they used local people in their productions with the biggest star being Reginald Twisk who played a Chaplin like character called Winky. When war broke out in 1914 the film making came to an end and they concentrated on producing tens of thousands of cards to be sent by women to their sweethearts at the front together with military hymn and song cards.

Most people today associate Holmfirth with fond memories of ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’ and I’m sure Compo in particular would have loved the saucy postcards! But its film making industry goes back much further than that, giving Holmfirth a very important place in Yorkshire history.