“Saucy” seaside postcards now speak to the humour of a bygone age, but in their heyday, they were found in every seaside town. For generations of holidaymakers, saucy postcards were as much a part of the seaside experience as soggy chips and Kiss-Me-Quick hats.
In their post-war golden age, these cards were the ideal way for people to communicate with the folks back home. The veiled humour hinted at naughtiness without giving the impression of complete moral abandonment.
The most successful publisher of saucy postcards was Bamforth and Co. The company began life in 1870 as a photography business but soon diversified into the production of magic lantern slides and even silent films before capitalising on the Edwardian craze for picture postcards.
The cards sold in huge numbers, and Bamforth even exported translated versions all over the world. Millions of customers saw them as harmless fun, but in some quarters, there were those who ranked the postcards as a threat to the moral fabric of society.
From the early 1950s, Sir Theobald Mathew, the director of public prosecutions, waged war against Bamforth and other publishers of the saucy postcards. In holiday resorts all over Britain, police seized and destroyed cards, often prosecuting the shopkeepers who sold them. The campaign gathered pace with the election of Winston Churchill’s Conservative government in October 1951.
Self-appointed postcard censorship committees sprang up in Blackpool, Cleethorpes, Great Yarmouth, Hastings and the Isle of Man, partly in an effort to reassure jittery shopkeepers. If – it was argued – local censorship committees vetted the comic postcards, then there was less chance of anything potentially illegal making it onto the shelves.
As these censorship committees loosened their grip, Bamforth’s cards became more explicit – reflecting the popular worlds of Benny Hill and the Carry On movies – and their popularity soared. By the early 1960s, sales had reached 16 million a year.
The popularity of seaside postcards declined as Britain became more liberal-minded and people chose foreign destinations for their holidays.