Entrepreneur Ian Wallace comes to the rescue of the once much-loved saucy seaside postcard
PUBLISHED: 00:21 30 April 2013
For post-war holidaymakers they were perennial companions, a revolving cast of red-nosed drunks, hapless blondes, improbably pneumatic nurses, accident-prone nudists, lecherous lotharios, weedy henpecked husbands and their massive battleaxe wives. In Britain's seaside resorts Bamforth's saucy postcards were every bit as essential a part of a trip to the coast as buckets and spades, sand castles and fish and chips. Many a dismal August day was brightened by chuckling at the cards' risqué humour in foreshore shops where the racks jostled for attention with children's shrimping nets and miniature paper flags to crown sand pies.
And then they vanished. The British seaside break declined as tourists were lured away to the Costas with low-cost flights, cut price apartments and the promise of guaranteed sunshine and cheap fags and booze. Bamforth’s, which had sold an estimated one billion cards from their headquarters in ironically land-locked Holmfirth - about as far as it is possible to get from the sea in Yorkshire - closed its doors and the business was bought by a Scarborough printer. When that too failed the rights to some 60,000 original cards were snapped up by entrepreneur Ian Wallace and now they are making a come-back.
Some might think the innuendo-laden humour has had its day but Ian believes that in an era when comedians throw the f-word around like confetti the cards have a cheeky innocence that will appeal not just to nostalgic older holidaymakers but to a whole new generation of fans who have never seen them before.
He has selected 54 cards – all being produced by Mercury Print in Leeds - which will go on sale this summer, not just in the United Kingdom but in continental resorts as well, where it is hoped they will catch the eye of British holidaymakers. And there are plans to extend the range next year.
‘We’ve gone for absolute classics rather than new ones because almost everyone has a soft spot for these cards which have entertained them for most of their lives,’ said Ian. ‘Bamforth’s were selling 25 million a year at their peak. Some of the ones we are putting out again are well-known but others have not been seen for more than 40 years.’
He thinks the cartoon cards are a good barometer of British humour. While some, often featuring ethnic minorities might not be considered acceptable today, they scarcely raised an eyebrow in their day. Yet others that were banned just a few decades ago now seem completely innocuous. Ian said: ‘In the 1950s some shops had their entire stock confiscated and Bamforth’s themselves faced some 160 prosecutions. You look at those same postcards now, especially in view of the language you hear comedians using on the television, and think “you must be joking” because they seem so tame.
‘In the years after the war the resorts even had their own postcard vetting committees to approve the cards and it got to the stage where cards were not printed unless they had been approved but even that was not easy. Blackpool might say yes but then local councillors in Southport just down the road would say no. Thankfully after the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial fell apart in 1960 postcard censorship was over.’
But the real downfall for Bamforth’s, which had begun as a photography studio, came when people started going abroad instead of to British resorts. Even though the company had offices in Europe and America and the cartoons were translated into other languages, sales never regained their peak. So can something as traditional as a card survive in the days of email and texts? ‘I’m sure they can,’ says Ian. ‘I think people still love them and still laugh at them. I suspect that half the postcards bought are never even posted. They are kept as souvenirs or as private jokes.’
But just in case, the cards are moving into the digital age. Ian has licensed their use on everything from fridge magnets to deck chairs and from soap bags and sweet tins to computer mouse mats. And for those who can’t wait for the post office to deliver their holiday greetings work is continuing on a phone app that will allow holidaymakers to text an e-card featuring a Bamforth’s cartoon to their friends.
‘I was born in Huddersfield, not far from Holmfirth, and I have always thought Bamforth’s cards were hilarious. It was not right that they were fading away. They may not be the most sophisticated humour but there is something in them that really appeals to the British sense of humour. This is the home of Carry On, Benny Hill and the end-of-the-pier show and we are keeping that alive. It these difficult times everyone can do with a laugh,’ he said.