Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Cheek! A Potted History of the Blackpool Postcard (Part One)

We’ve written before about the hedonism of the ‘Wakes Weeks’ -- those pagan festivals of debauchery, the attempts by the church to stamp them out, the predictable failure of such attempts, and the introduction of Blackpool to accommodate them.
Every generation (since the time when society was allegedly created) has attempted to ban lewdness at some point or other, their successors reintroducing it under the mistaken belief that they’re the first generation ever to have discovered sex. From Chaucer’s bawdy tale of millers and pokers, to Queen Victoria’s covering-up of piano legs, from Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, the fluctuation of this cultural meme is as unpreventable as the ebb and flow of the tide was for King Cnut. (That’s the proper spelling of Kanute, incidentally. Apologies to any dyslexics reading this.)
With the introduction of paid annual leave for industrial workers during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, holiday resorts, with an eye to making a quick turnover, understandably latched onto the humble postcard. Dr Emanuel Hermann in Austria apparently invented the first one on the 1st of October 1869. Working folk back in those time weren’t renowned for their literary prowess, the compact blank space on the reverse of the card providing ample room for their succinct messages home.
The front of the postcards, of course, reflected the radical spirit of the times, the European market typically titillating its pleasure-seeking public with sophisticated soft porn such as this:

Blackpool, on the other hand, took an altogether more British approach to the genre:

Bawdy humour and smutty innuendo have been a staple of British amusements since Robin Hood committed the first known spoonerism with Friar Tuck, and have been seldom out of fashion amongst the lower orders ever since. Blackpool knew exactly what it was all about – a sort of Club 16 to 85 for the Victorian and Edwardian socially oppressed -- and the dirty postcard served not only to entertain its boorish customers but also as an advert for the town’s wanton degeneracy. Sex and beer, along with all their accompaniments, were all attractions high on the tourist board’s agenda.

Whilst Toulouse Lautrec, the artistic French midget, was drawing up designs involving strippers in Paris, the average British holidaymaker was making designs of his own on the drawers of the midgets stripping in the Eiffel Tower’s shorter cousin. (That was a convoluted comparison, but worth the effort I thought.)
This unsubtle difference between Britain and Europe’s attitudes towards sex has been reflected throughout our cultural history. When the French were exploring female emancipation with films such as Emmanuelle, we were producing ‘Confessions of a Window Cleaner’. They had Jacques Tatti, we had Benny Hill. Exactly what it is about sex that us Brits fail to take seriously it’s difficult to say, although a nation that eats frogs’ legs and snails probably finds little to laugh about in bed.

Let’s not beat about the bush here (an ideal caption for one of the cartoons now that I come to think about it) – the average humorous postcard wasn’t subtle in the slightest. Innuendo, vulgar pun, double-entendre, call them what you will but the unrefined, less-than-ambiguous sexual references have always been part of Blackpool’s intrinsic character. (The tower itself is proof of this, if proof was ever needed, of course.)

But enough…we’ve run out of room. (By gum Missus!) Let’s take a short breather and meet back up behind the beach huts in a few days time, eh?


John said...

An excellent and most humorous post, except for the censorship. That wasn't necessary!

I am a bit surprised at some of those postcards, though. We have such as this in the states, but I've never seen stuff as blatant as this on the shelves! Maybe you lot aren't as oppressed as you think? You'd be jailed for some of this stuff if you tried to sell them over here.

Very amusing. Please send un-censored postcard to the usual address. JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


"..except for the censorship. That wasn't necessary!"

It wasn't particularly effective either. A slightly broader box would have covered matters more adequately. (Ooh err missus.)

shirley said...

Brian this kind of thing is a natural at the swimming baths!!half blind folk blundering into armfuls of flesh is one of the knock on effects pun excused.
My grandfather did some of the cheeky posties in colour. I have the proof.

Brian Hughes said...


I didn't know that. Did he actually draw them up himself or did he get a professional cartoonist to produce them? Either way I'd love to see them.

Jayne said...

"They had Jacques Tatti, we had Benny Hill"
Don't you mean Hattie Jacques?

A good set of drawers would solve the draft some of those lasses must be suffering with all those blushes :P

Brian Hughes said...


Fair enough...we had Hatti Jacques, the French had Jacques Tatti and Finland had the Hatti Fattners, which were a bit of both (not to mention an obscure and slightly surreal reference to the Moomins).