Thursday, 13 June 2013

Postcards from the edge

"A person without a sense of humour is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road." 
(Henry Ward Beecher)

Due to medical treatment, work and IT problems (never anything by halves, the GigiOnSea motto), I've really fallen behind with posts on this little blog! I seem to have several posts in the pipeline but none of them have made their way out into the sporadic sunlight; a bit like most of my bright ideas, hopes and wishes. Pleasant diversions are so often a downfall; but there's always much to be gained from a smile which costs nothing. Various friends have sent me "seaside" saucy-postcard humour over the past few weeks and I thought I would feature some of them as a personal encouragement to British summertime.
British publishers were first granted Royal Mail permission to manufacture picture postcards in 1894. The earliest cards featured famous landmarks and picturesque views or photographs and drawings of celebrities of the times. However, as travel by steam locomotives proved increasingly popular and affordable, British seaside destinations generated their own souvenir industry; the "Wish You Were Here" picture postcard became a staple product. 
In the 1930s, saucy postcards were at the peak of their popularity, selling around 16 million a year. The cartoons traditionally relied on innuendo and double entendres; stereotypical characters such as vicars, nudists, hen-pecked husbands and larger ladies featured heavily (no pun intended). I've inherited my love of what I'd call "Carry On" humour from my Dad. It's probably why I'm so taken by Brighton's own Max Miller. Yes, a lot of the humour centres around the human body, it's functions and frailties and our related sensitivities; but it's a naughtiness rather than obscenity. There's a simplicity and infectiousness in laughter that is ever-ready. I think naivete in humour, as in affection and even in faith, can be a delightful and humbling quality.
In the 1950s, the Conservative government of the day was concerned with an apparent deterioration of British morals: it decided to crackdown on saucy postcards.... A decade later, in the more liberal and seemingly swinging 1960s, the cartoon postcard was revived and even gained a new reputation as an art form. A further demise has occurred in more recent years as the artistry itself and certainly the humour has deteriorated. There's certainly a finely drawn line between bawdy and obvious bad taste; seaside humour was intended to nudge all, not wound some to tickle a few. Many original saucy postcards are now collected as works of art or kitsch, but they also document social and economic history as well as fluctuating values.
High on the Conservatives' moral hitlist in the 1950s was London artist Donald McGill, known as the King of the Saucy Postcard. He was educated in Blackheath in south London, close to my convent school. He married the daughter of the owner of the local music hall in Greenwich and spent most of his life in Blackheath; a Blue Plaque now commemorates his previous home there in Bennett Park. He was originally a naval draughtsman, whose hand-drawn greetings cards for his family gained wider acclaim. 
In 1954, then in his late seventies, McGill was targeted by the censors and tried under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. He was found guilty and fined; it devastated the burgeoning saucy postcard industry. Many cards were destroyed and several companies were bankrupted. When he was in his eighties, McGill would give evidence before the House Select Committee which was set up to amend the 1857 Act.
One of his designs, featuring a bookish young man and the caption: "Do you like Kipling?" still holds the world record for marketed postcard designs, selling over 6 million. He produced tens of thousands of designs; many are now auctioned as works of beauty and historical commentary. Yet Donald McGill earned no royalties from his work; when he died in 1962, his estate was valued at just £735. He's buried in an unmarked grave in Streatham Park Cemetery, south London.
There's a wonderful quote about humour from American psychologist and writer William James, brother of novelist Henry James. He likens the sense of humour to common sense in dancing mode. I think this really applies to the earthiness of saucy postcards. Personally, I've never bought the idea of God as a detached, sombre old man. Creation itself is filed with God's humour: He constantly does the impossible in unexpected ways and with the unlikeliest people. He created sex as a natural urge for pleasure and procreation; sex may well make fools of many, but I'd rather it was a source of mirth, not misery.

"Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing."
(William James)


"I have never understood why it should be considered derogatory to the Creator to suppose that he has a sense of humour."
(William Ralph Inge)

"She Moves In Her Own Way" The Kooks (Brighton's finest seaside skifflers!)


  1. I love these Gisele and I always appreciate your little bits of history that you give in your blogs. There's a restaurant near me that has all these postcards framed on their walls and every time I go in I am tempted to walk around and have a good laugh and read them all, but I dont think the other diners would 'get' that. Love and laughter to you always sweetie xxx

    1. I think yo should do it! You might find the others get up and have a good laugh too! We're so repressed still about laughing out loud; even though we all put "LOL" on our texts and emails.Less things would be seen as smutty or "not quite the thing" if we were more open with our laughter. You've always been ready and generous with your smile and your laughter and it's something I always recall about you! God bless hon xxx

  2. Thanks hun :) Big Cheesy Grin!!! Dunno about giving it a try (don't get there too often) as they r a bit snooty!!! We shall see how temptation raises its head when I am there hehehe Take care xxx

  3. Liked the section containing the old seaside post cards!

    1. Good! I hope there are other things on this little blog you might also like. We're all Anonymous until or unless we want to be known :)