Saturday, June 13, 2009

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

Right, where we were? Oh yes…
There were several notable cartoonists amongst the plethora producing such simple works of common folk art. These included John Hassall, Alfred Lees, Tom Browne, Bruce Bairnsfather and Donald McGill. The latter (i.e. McGill) came in for a right load of old stick, unfortunately, when the inevitable backlash against people enjoying themselves occurred in the 1950s.

The problem was, you see, the upper middle classes considered themselves the moral guardians of the proletariat. Whilst it was perfectly acceptable for those with the right sort of breeding to swan around art galleries studying plump naked women being raped by swans and stuff, the idea that ordinary, uneducated folk (who really ought to have been back in the factories filling up the coffers for the aristocracy) were allowed access to cheerful, slightly risqué material was completely unacceptable.

Similar hypocritical (not to mention classist) contentions continue to this day with the upper crust still trying to ban nudity from the television screens whilst allowing it in the theatre, or complaining about the brutality of boxing when, if the truth be known, more children die every year from accidents involving frisky horses than boxers kick the bucket by knocking ten barrels out of each other.

As every government knows, the trick to keeping plebeians submissive is to begrudgingly allow them just enough moral leniency that they actually believe they’re getting away with something. However, there is always a handful of ethical elite who takes their morality one step too far.

Watch Committees were established in seaside resorts such as Blackpool, and poor old McGill (at that time eighty-one years old) found himself prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. A number of his postcards were even destroyed outright.
Or at least, they were supposed to be.

Want to see one? We thought you might…

Did I say it was going to be subtle? It’s intriguing to think that this was on public sale around the same time that George Formby was being banned by the BBC for the suggestive lyrics in his classic ‘Little Stick of Blackpool Rock’. Let’s face it McGill wasn’t pulling any punches, but...obscenity?
For a while the ‘Outraged Few’ got their way, shop owners were forced to withdraw their racks (ooh er) and a number of printers were even made bankrupt in the process. However, as was only to be expected, once again the tide of opinion turned, bringing with it the usual line of flotsam and jetsam.

For a few more decades the improper postcard graced every café, newsagent and ice cream stall in Blackpool, the standard of wit slowly depreciating as the boundaries of acceptability were eroded.

It takes a proper comedian to perfect his timing, something that many of the fast-buck postcard producers failed to take into account, and by the 1980s the public themselves were growing tired of the increasingly misogynistic cartoons. Some of the images now available had passed beyond sexism and were bordering on rape scenarios, and with the rise of politically correct sentiments (coupled with mounting numbers of visitors travelling abroad) the cheeky Blackpool postcard (much like Carry On films) wheezed it’s lecherous last – not with a bang, but with a whimper (again, another cracking caption perhaps).

Time has passed and we’re now in the post-ironic era, which is pretty much the same as the didn’t-know-better era but with the bonus that there’s a psuedo-intellectual explanation thrown in to excuse anything offensive. The accusations of sexism levelled at Blackpool’s early postcards can now be reappraised, not so much as a narrow, bigoted view of women in society, but as a time of female emancipation.

Perhaps the rotund landladies and domineering, rolling-pin carrying wives could still be considered misogynistic (because, let’s face it, there are no fat, unruly or violent women in Lancashire), but the cheeky Blackpool postcard (now regarded as a collectable museum piece) could better be seen as an historical and social document, not so much for what it says in the caption, but for what it doesn’t say.
That’s innuendo for you, all grown up and clever like.


Anonymous said...

Well done i enjoyed both postings, comic postcards have not been included in a lot of postcard books about the Fylde Coast they are part of out History.they have made life fun for many.

Brian Hughes said...


I thought you'd enjoy that...especially seeing as I nicked most of 'em from your site. It's about time comic postcards made a comeback I reckon.

Jayne said...

Luverly ;)

Brian Hughes said...


Ann oDyne said...

never mind the world needing a cure for cancer - if we could just eradicate HYPOCRISY, then we would all feel better.

"I have to - I'm only here for the weekend" must have inspired the pitch for the tremendously successful Shirley Valentine movie.

Carry On Mr Howerd, Carry On Mr Hill.

Brian Hughes said...


No, nay and thrice nay, titter ye not missus. Fnargh fnargh.

John said...

Well, talk about growing up! This here blog is getting a bit important and educational, eh, what?

Good points, though. Especially that bit about the postcards being museum bits.

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Every topic on this board is important, educational and mature. It's just that unfortunately I'm not.

shirley said...


Brian Hughes said...

Cheers Shirley, although I have to be honest, they all belong to Phil really. He owns some reet gradely stuff does Philip.