Thursday, 26 July 2007

Postcards with plenty of sauce

&Britain was at war and we stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Food and petrol were rationed and laughs were in short supply ... unless you were on the receiving end of a saucy seaside postcard like the ones pictured here. And in the 60-odd years since they were printed, their humour is not diminished.

Blushing Tommy (with arm around shapely redhead) to spluttering general: "I got her with a parcel of soldiers' comforts, sir!"

Fairground fortune teller (gazing into crystal ball) to irate soldier: "Ah, I see your wife!" "Oh, do yer --- And is the coal man with her?" "I can't say --- but his horse and cart's outside!"

Young boy to startled sweet shop owner: "A pennorth o' jelly babies --- and all boys, please!"

Okay, not funny by today's standards but a wonderful snapshot of an era when double entendres were smutty enough to raise a smile but not too vulgar to fall foul of the censor's blue pencil.

The postcards come for a cache of 500 or so discovered in an attic in Llandudno, North Wales. Auctioneer David Rogers Jones, who will sell them in his Colwyn Bay rooms next Tuesday (July 27) believes they are unsold stock from one of the region’s many novelty gift shops that in the 1940s did a roaring trade from holidaymakers and day trippers seeking a brief respite in troubled times.

Each of the cards -- and there are duplicates -- is in mint condition and bids of £200 to 300 are expected. If two or three to determined postcard collectors -- or deltiologists, as they are called -- get stuck in, they could fetch much more.

Their attraction is as much the fact that they were published by Bamforth and Company, a business founded in 1870 by James Bamforth in Holmfirth, near Huddersfield, the history of which is as fascinating as the cards.

Today, the town is known best as the location for the BBC TV comedy programme Last of the Summer Wine. What is less well known is that James Bamforth was one of Britain's earliest pioneers of motion pictures for the blossoming cinematic industry.

Bamforth started in business in 1870 as a studio photographer and began the production of magic lantern slides on an industrial scale in around 1883. At first he made sequences of slides which told moral or religious stories often with a temperance theme and these were later developed to accompany popular songs and hymns.

It was a natural development to move into film making, which he did shortly after the first commercial films were produced by the Lumiere brothers in France.

The films were shot in and around Holmfirth and with the lack of professional actors, Bamforth used local people who were expected to step in at a moment's notice. An early star was the music hall comedian Reginald Switz, whose stage name was "Winky", but his career was short lived.

After appearing in such epics as Winky's Weekend and the bizarrely titled Winky Causes a Smallpox Panic, both in 1914, the company was hit by the outbreak of the First World War.

Materials used in the manufacture of film were required for making explosives and by the end of the war, Hollywood's dominance of the industry meant there was no place for a small company like Bamforth's.

Undaunted, Bamforth realised that his photographic studio could be put to good use to design and publish postcards, which ironically enough started life as a means of military communication, invented by the German statesman Dr Heinrich von Stephan.

The first commercial use of postcards was in 1869 and America started sending postcards following their introduction at the Chicago World Fair of 1893. Britain followed a year later, but the home industry blossomed once the Post Office relaxed rules governing the size of postcards and granted licenses to private publishers on September 1 that year.

The first quarter of the 20th century emerged as the golden age of postcards and sending them became something of a national craze.

Every subject imaginable was covered, giving today's collectors massive scope. Every actor and actress, politician, sportsman, hero and villain was immortalised on a postcard, while views that record the development of villages, towns and cities make them invaluable to the social historian. Most can be picked up for small change.

The Great War was responsible for a massive number of postcards sent to loved ones on either side of the Channel. Bamforth responded with a range of song and hymns cards which were beautifully printed and steeped in sentiment.

They were produced in sets of three or four and were sent in their hundreds by wives and sweethearts to soldiers serving in the trenches. Approximately 2,000 sets were issued and they are still relatively common, with the result that a set of three can be had for around £10-£15.

In return, the troops sent back cards of their own, embroidered by French and Belgian women in silk in patriotic colours with designs incorporating dates, regimental mottoes and sentimental messages such as: "To My Dear Mother/Wife/Sweetheart"; "I'm Thinking of You"; "I'm Lonely without You"; "From Your Soldier Boy" and many more.

Some even had tiny silken pouches, inside which was a printed card for a more personal message. Still easily found, they cost around £10 to £15 today.

By the time of the Second World War, the saucy comic postcard was firmly established and Bamforth's was this country's leading producer. Large ladies, henpecked husbands, ferocious mothers-in-law, red-nosed drunks, randy squaddies, big-busted blondes and doe-eyed children inhabited a land where optimism ruled.

As much a part of the seaside holiday as sticks of rock and sandcastles, the postcards also played a part in the propaganda war. Adolf Hitler was depicted as a cartoon parody with his hand up as if wanting to leave the room ("Why the heck doesn't he want to leave Europe and please everybody?"), while Our Boys continue to smile through all adversity ("We've been on manoeuvres all day luv!").

One secret of their success is that over the years Bamforth employed only four staff artists: Douglas Tempest (the first, who started in 1912), Arnold Taylor, Philip Taylor and Brian Fitzpatrick. This made it easier to maintain a distinctive house style with bright colours and exaggerated characters.

Many deltiologists specialise in collecting Bamforth's comic cards and the work of these four in particular. At the height of their popularity, more than 18 million cards were being sold a year. The joy is that they can be picked up today for less than the price of a stick of rock.

Rogers Jones and Co., are at 33 Abergele Road, Colwyn Bay (tel: 01492 532176). The cache of comic cards found in Llandudno can be viewed from today (Sunday, July 25) from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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