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WISH YOU WERE HERE: Some of the thousands of saucy seaside postcards in the collection at the Manx Museum

 

By ADRIAN DARBYSHIRE

SAUCY postcards depicting henpecked husbands, buxom housewives, amorous honeymooners, and big bottomed mothers-in-law – and captions laden with double entendres.

They were once as much a part of the great British seaside holiday as sandcastles and candyfloss.
But for more than 50 years here in the Isle of Man every card was scrutinised by cautious official censors who ruled whether they were fit for sale or should be banned.
Killjoys they may have been, perhaps, and looking at the cards now you are struck at just how innocent they seem with their Carry On humour that would have appeared antiquated even when they were on sale.
But it’s a good thing that the censors met for so long – as all the cards that went before them are now held in the Manx National Heritage library at the Manx Museum. The archive of more than 45,000 postcards provides a fascinating record of changing public mores.
Contained in some 76 boxes are both cards that were approved by the censors and those that were rejected.
While appearing old fashioned in their saucy humour, the postcards pick up on contemporary issues.
In the 1930s wireless was new enough for comments to be made about these ‘new-fangled gadgets’. Wartime saw Hitler become the butt of jokes. From the 30s into the 50s, fat ladies were the most frequent source of gags but by the 60s references to sex, usually unmarried and illicit, had taken over.
In the 70s the cards had become much more explicit in both the censored cards and those passed for sale.
At at exhibition in 1983 marking the 50th anniversary of the Island’s postcard censoring committee, chairman Orry Teare told visitors: ‘You may wonder why have a censoring committee or even gain the impression that inhabitants of this Isle are distinctly prudish. I can assure you that the Manx can enjoy a touch of saucy comedy as much as anyone.
‘Examples of comic postcards continue to be submitted where humour is associated with, diminished or replaced by rudeness, vulgarity or obscenity. While some may tolerate or enjoy such standards, so others are entitled to insist that public decorum is maintained.’
They’re the same sentiments that were expressed back in 1933 when the committee was first set up by Act of Tynwald which the then Attorney General said would save the Isle of Man from ‘the display of vulgar and suggestive postcards which are to be seen in so many places, particularly on the Continent.’
In fact, pressure for change had come some 20 years earlier when in 1912 Bishop Denton Thompson called on traders to agree to self-regulation.
The Postcard Censorship Act 1933 ordered that no picture postcard be sold or kept or exhibited for sale until it had first been submitted to and approved by the committee.
In the first 50 years of its life, the committee considered no fewer than 32,316 postcards, of which 23,481 were approved and 8,835 rejected. It was not disbanded until June 1989.
By that time its workload had dropped dramatically as the popularity of the bawdy cards diminished. In the year ending July 1984, it considered just 30 cards of which 24 were approved and six rejected.
Manx National Heritage archivist Wendy Thirkettle said: ‘These postcards and the work of the censoring committee form a very interesting social record, now available for research. From today’s standpoint, the cards have a sheen of nostalgia for many.
‘Other seaside resorts were scrutinising these saucy cartoon cards – the Isle of Man was not alone in this. The cards ceased to be so popular and the work of the committee declined over the years.
‘By the 1980s the cards coming before them were in the tens rather than the hundreds.’

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