In their heyday they were in every seaside town, but who produced these cards and did everyone appreciate them?

The Postcards

Image of three figures with their backs to the audience. The words 'It's Great Here!' are written across their backsides.

‘It’s Great Here!’ Postcard Artwork, c.1960-65, © Bamforth & Co, on loan from Kirklees Museums and Galleries, E16368/04

What do we mean by saucy seaside postcards? The name was coined for cards featuring risqué images and innuendo. These often include images of figures scantily clad and in precarious positions. Many of these designs would not be deemed appropriate today and even at the time, as we will discover, people questioned their impact on the morality of their audience.

Bamforth & Company Ltd.

In our new temporary exhibition we were lucky enough to borrow material from Kirklees Museums and Galleries, which hold an extensive collection of Bamforth and Company material. Bamforth were a postcard publisher that crafted designs for much of the 20th century. The company was initially set up by James Bamforth in 1870 to produce portrait photographs but from 1903 they moved into the production of postcards which proved to be extremely successful.

Postcard of a women in a red cap about to do down a slide into the water where may other people are swimming.

‘The “Bath,” Blackpool’ Postcard, 1935, © Bamforth & Co, on loan from Kirklees Museums and Galleries, E16368/09

Their early postcards used scenery sets from their photography work until they saw a market in the seaside trade. Bamforth, along with postcard artist Donald McGill, both contributed to the production and distribution of saucy seaside postcards. Bamforth’s inhouse artists created these saucy scenes through the use of illustrations; these exaggerated caricatures rather than photographic image propably made these jokes more palatable to the public.

Donald McGill

Donald McGill was actually prosecuted for his designs under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. His trial was held in Lincoln in 1954 where he was found guilty and fined £50 with costs of £25. The below design, on display in the exhibition, is not one of his risqué contributions to postcard design, but a rather sweeter scene.

Postcard of a women sat on th beach writing with three donkeys around her.

‘With love from the one in the hat’ Postcard, 1957 © Donald McGill, on loan from the Brown Family, E16361/06


George Orwell, the writer famous for Animal Farm and 1984, wrote the article ‘The Art of Donald McGill‘ in the Horizon in 1941. Here he talks of the characters and themes present on saucy seaside postcards and particularly focuses on McGill as a leading contributor to this genre. Acknowledging the postcards vulgarity he identifies them as,

the only medium in which really ‘low’ humour is considered to be printable.


He went on to express his desire not to see these postcards disappear; for him they speak to a baseness in all humans, as he explains,

On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.


Under the new 1950s conservative government of Winston Churchill there was a crackdown on this type of racy postcard design. Postcards deemed inappropriate were seized from traders and destroyed. This led to the formation of censorship boards around the country as a way of preventing the sale of excessively rude cards. However, these decisions seem random, based on the personal choices and morals of the individuals. How people were selected to join these boards is not clear.

25p, Pictorial Postcards, 1994
30p, Pictorial Postcards, 1994
35p, Pictorial Postcards, 1994
41p, Pictorial Postcards, 1994

Censorship boards 

Bamforth and Co. sent their designs to the Blackpool Postcard Censorship Board. The board first met in 1951, though a previous committee was created in 1912. At it’s first meeting around 500 postcards were examined from two publishers, of which one had about 20% of their designs rejected.

The Manchester Evening News on 30 October 1951 documented the members of the Blackpool board.

The board has four lay members, four trade representatives, and an independent chairman. The lay members are Mr. Basil Woosnam, solicitor; the Rev. C. N. Wardle Harpur, vicar of Holy Trinity Church; Mr. F. Holland, bank manager, and Mrs. Gloria Swanson, of Blackpool Hotel and Boarding House Association.


The strength of the censorship boards weakened through the 60s and by 1968 the Blackpool board was disbanded, however the Isle of Man censorship board continued to work until 1989.

‘Censor or no Censor’ Postcard by Donald McGill, a contemporary of Bamforth who was prosecuted under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. 1956, E16361/05
Sketch of recently married couple not approved by the Blackpool Censorship Board. 14 Aug 1958, E16367/01
Sketch of recently married couple not approved by the Blackpool Censorship Board, 14 Aug 1958, © Bamforth & Co, on loan from Kirklees Museums and Galleries, E16367/01
Disapproved stamp on reverse of sketch. 14 Aug 1958, E16367/01
Disapproved stamp on reverse of sketch, 14 Aug 1958, © Bamforth & Co, on loan from Kirklees Museums and Galleries, E16367/01

Contemporary thoughts

These postcards speak to the humour of a bygone age. Despite this, the activity of the censorship boards show that not everyone agreed with these images, even at the time. We have chosen not to display any extreme examples of the saucy seaside postcard in the exhibition or here on the blog, instead we are celebrating the enjoyment of the seaside. However, it’s still not unusual to spot these eyebrow raising designs in seaside towns today.

Image of a women in a deckchair on the beach with her feet in the water having an ice cream and reading a book.

Lady in a deckchair Postcard artwork, c.1960-65 © Bamforth & Co, on loan from Kirklees Museums and Galleries, E16368/07

We all hope you have a lovely summer enjoying the British seaside and perhaps send a postcard home.

Take care.

-Georgina Tomlinson (Deputy Curator)