Saucy Seaside Postcard


Every year when I was a boy our family would set off on a two-week holiday to a seaside resort on the south coast of England. In our particular case that would mean a stay at either Weymouth in Dorset or in later years Hastings in Sussex. My parents didn’t like to experiment and so when they found a seaside town they liked they simply stuck with it. It didn’t bother me. Those holidays were one of the two highlights of the year, the other being Christmas. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were traditions associated with British seaside resorts which people tended to comply with. These traditions were such things as kids building all manner of constructions on the beach using buckets and spades, visiting the fair on warm balmy evenings and eating fish and chips out of newspaper when walking back to the digs. One of the biggest traditions was the buying of postcards to send home to friends, family and work mates.

The postcards to which I refer came in two distinct categories. The first of these were photographs of the town itself, the surrounding county-side landscapes or famous landmarks associated with the resort town in question. The second example were what folks used to call the saucy postcards which were cartoon drawings which usually depicted pretty young women or overweight ladies, both of which would be endowed with large boobs. In today's liberal world of open frankness on sexual matters, the cartoon characters and antics of the saucy postcard era would hardly lift an eyebrow. However, back in those days of sexual repression, "It" was very much a taboo subject, considered to be the height of bad manners bordering on obscene to discuss. Saucy postcards were just a giggle to some but to others were disgusting and were offended by them. To a young boy like me they were just bloody great.

The cheeky and often sexually implied innuendos and double meanings could be either visual or textual, though usually both picture and text played a part. No section of the community was spared; fat people, thin people, mothers-in-law, hen-pecked husbands, waiters and waitresses, lower class, middle class and upper class, glamorous ladies, doctors and nurses, etc, were all represented in cartoon characters. They were often portrayed in risqué, embarrassing or suggestive situations.

Although these saucy postcards can still be found at a few outlets at some British resorts they are nowhere near as prevalent or popular now as in by gone years.

The history of the seaside postcard goes as far back to 1894 when British publishers were given permission by the Post Office to produce picture postcards which could then be sent through the post. When holidaymaker’s back then wanted to just drop someone a quick line or two the media was ideal. One has to recall that back in the middle of the last century there were no cell phones, no Internet and only a small proportion on the population had a telephone in their own homes. It was in the early 1930s that the cartoon-style saucy postcards became popular. At its peak the sale of saucy postc
ards was a massive 16 million a year. It's very likely that postcard collectors, known as deltiologists, bought many of the saucy postcards for their collections.

The saucy postcard industry offered employment to cartoon artists such as Tom Browne, John Hassall, Bruce Bairnsfather and Alfred Lees, as well as offering another outlet for Punch magazine cartoonists. There was one well-known, female artist, Mabel Atwell; however, her artwork involved cherubic children in cute, humorous situations. The best known of the publishers were Bamforth & Company. Although there were other companies that produced these cards these have since gone to the wall except that is for J. Salmon, a company that still continues to publish and is today’s oldest established UK postcard publisher.

In the early 1950s, the newly elected Conservative government were concerned at the apparent deterioration of morals of the British public, and decided on a moral witch-hunt. The result was that although the humble saucy post card was not the major target of the granny state faceless people, almost every seaside resort in Britain was appointed a Watch Committee, whose duty was to decide which saucy postcards were allowed to be displayed and sold to the public; those they considered to be unfit were confiscated.

Saucy Postcard

In the more liberal 1960’s the saucy postcard was revived, and was considered as a form of art by some people, which helped its popularity and gave it an easy ride through the decade. However, during the 1970’s and 1980’s the quality of the artwork and humour started to deteriorate. This, together with a change in attitude and taste of the public in general and the introduction of political correctness, resulted in my view, for what its worth, the very sad demise of the saucy postcard.

Copyright © Bob Edwards.