They are snapshots of a bygone age when foreign holidays were adventurous, exotic and simply had to be recorded with a postcard to home.
Millions of beach, street, hotel, matador and flamenco dancer postcards washed through the British postal system every summer as tourists discovered the Spanish Costas and revelled in sun, sangria and souvenirs in the 1970s.
A treasure trove of postcards sent from Spain has just emerged and with it a fascinating glimpse of a culture in which observations of distant lands would only navigate the chicanes of European postal systems long after you got home.
The worn and faded postcards are coming to light in house clearances as a generation, who kept them in albums, folders and shoe boxes for decades, de-clutter to discover what are now regarded as important societal insights.
Measuring less than six by four inches, they lay bare the need travellers had to share their experiences as they took their first steps into unchartered territories.
A treasure trove of postcards sent from Spain has just emerged showing how holidays were in the 1970s
The beautiful cards come emblazoned with personal messages and recollections Brits wrote to their loved ones back home
The worn and faded postcards are snapshots of a bygone age when ‘abroad’ was largely unknown
Postcard messages, with breathless detail often crammed onto every available square inch of space, were the only way to relay the exciting traveling experience
They existed in a different age when ‘abroad’ was largely unknown and the dense beachside developments of modern resorts a distant dream.
There was no internet, no Facebook, no Instagram, no mobile phones and no phone calls unless you had deep pockets and were prepared to endure the time delay, echoes and crackles that frustrated early international telephone exchanges.
Postcard messages, with breathless detail often crammed onto every available square inch of space, were the only way to relay the exciting, amazing – sometimes ‘awful’ – experience of ‘going abroad’ in the pioneering days of package holidays.
Pat tells her friend in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, that there is ‘so much to do’ in Majorca: ‘Dancing every evening somewhere. Went shopping on bicycles. Today bought shoes.’
She also marked her hotel with an X in pen on the cover image of Mallorca resort scene.
Many British tourists lapped up the entertainment that was staged by the fast growing hotel sector in Spain and Jean and Bill wrote home in praise of the hotel buffet and revealed: ‘Last night there was a leather fashion show and tonight there is folk dancing.’
Many of the cards date to the early 1970s and feature views of emerging resorts such as Benidorm, Fuengirola and Magaluf before their hotels, bars, restaurants and apartments colonised the coastal strips.
Many British tourists lapped up the entertainment that was staged by the fast growing hotel sector in Spain
Pat tells her friend in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, that there is ‘so much to do’ in Majorca
The relics convey the experience of ‘going abroad’ in the pioneering days of package holidays
Postcards were also a way to get creative and spread the fun with Steve, writing back to Chislehurst, Kent, channelling the Shipping Forecast for his resume: ‘Spaniards very good, friendly, tolerable.
‘Women very very good, plentiful, abundant. Drinking very good, very varied, usually successful.’
Rod treated Mary and John back in Yeovil to sketches of a wine bottle, cocktails, a filled champagne bucket and a filleted fish on a plate to illustrate his fun-fuelled holiday and added a cheery ‘Someone said something about a drink so must be off’ to his artistic effort.
The freedom to drink round the clock – British pubs were still subject to restrictive licensing hours – and on a budget was a popular theme running through the postcards that are being sold on the internet.
Kev tells his parents in Northampton that the weather is not good but ‘you can drink all night’.
He finishes ‘I’m off down the pub’.
Rose and Bob marvel to their friends in Gillingham: ‘I am drinking your health with a double rum and Coca Cola 2s 6d (12p)’ while Mike and John can scarcely contain their thrill at a night around the clubs where ‘wine, brandy, cognac etc is about 5s 6d (26p) a bottle.’
Rod treated Mary and John back in Yeovil to sketches of a wine bottle, cocktails, a filled champagne bucket
Pauline and Alan were extremely complimentary of the hotel’s food
Exposure to the scorching sun is a recurring topic in the postcards
Leah and Bert tell friends in Northampton that the hotel is A1 and there is ‘plenty of cheap wallop so we can’t grumble’ while Greg informs the typing pool slaving away at Halton Borough Council in Cheshire that he is ‘keeping the bars busy’ in Salou.
The cards poured through letter boxes radiating sunshine across Britain with many spreading their joy, and jealousy, to work family, friends, colleagues and even schoolteachers.
Exposure to the scorching sun is a recurring topic with Pauline and Alan telling their aunty and uncle stuck in Bristol that they were being careful as they were ‘a little burnt already’ and Annie and Billy tell friends in Newcastle: ‘we are as brown as berries’.
A reminder of home is always welcome with Vicky, revelling in the decadence of ‘writing this on the balcony while my hair dries’, telling family in Wimborne Minster, Dorset: ‘Thanks to our courier we’ve found a very good disco that plays 90% English records.’
Ann writes back from Mallorca to her mum in Harrow: ‘The food is really awful though, they need to get an M&S up here.’
One traveler said the Spanish needed to bring Marks and Spencer’s over
The freedom to drink round the clock – British pubs were still subject to restrictive licensing hours – and on a budget was a popular theme
Missing luggage was a constant concern of the early package tours and Jean laments that a suitcase turned up in Lisbon while she and husband Eric were in Ibiza. ‘Poor Eric,’ she wrote to the Walkers in Blackpool. ‘Imagine having nothing to wear?’.
But the lack of clothing didn’t dim their enjoyment as she continued about the fantastic weather revealing: ‘Eric is like a bronzed God – me like a boiled lobster, covered with blisters, insect bites and freckles.
‘Food is very good. I will be in the Roly Poly league by the time we come back.’ She too had little faith in the postal system, signing off: ‘I expect we will see you before this card arrives.’
Holidaymakers ‘B & S’ wrote back to Blackpool about the entertainment on offer informing the Robertsons: ‘We had a game of bingo in the hotel last night. Mum won a large giraffe.’
The sense of adventure is peppered through many of the cards with a group from a Somerset building firm taunting stay-at-home colleagues about their time in the ‘playgrounds of Europe’.
They add: ‘Weather is glorious and England seems 10,000 miles away.’
They were indeed trailblazers as around only four million Brits a year ventured to Spain in the early 1970s compared to the budget airlines boom of the 1990s when numbers soared and reached the record of 17 million in 2019.
‘In the 1970s, Spain was for many of us the first experience of an overseas holiday and the Spanish offered up a version of the country based around Flamenco dancers, paella and sangria but also some traditional home comforts from the UK, like English breakfasts and Sunday roasts,’ says Sean Tipton, of the Association of British Travel Agents.
‘Most tourists were thrilled to let people know how good it was via a postcard.’
Brits revelled in the care free lifestyle of the continent and bragged of dancing every day
Betty and Frank were very pleased with the amount of swimming they’d been able to cram into their holiday
A 1970s landscape picture of the seaside resort of Salou in Spain
The Benidorm of today is dramatically different to how it was in the 1970s
Cultural historian and author Dr Alwyn Turner reveals that foreign travel was still a novelty with around 7 million holidaying abroad in 1975 – around 12% of the population – compared to the 40% that headed abroad this year.
‘It was a minority in the 1970s so it was an adventure,’ says Dr Turner, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Chichester.
‘The real shift doesn’t come until the cheap air travel of the 1990s and by 2000 we took more than 36 million foreign holidays a year.
‘Those early tourists were keen to tell family and friends about the weird and wonderful things they encountered and what they were doing and, of course, there was an element of the brag about some of the postcards.
‘They have sociological relevance because it is people communicating about how they experience foreign culture and this was at a time when the UK was looking to join the European Union. There is a cultural importance because these were the first stirrings of a European interaction.’
The physical signs of exposure to different cultures came in the giant sombreros, stuffed toy donkeys, maracas and wine bottles that were crammed into luggage for the return trip but a deeper impact is revealed in the lexicon of the cards.
The postcards are being viewed as an important window on British culture and Steve Kentfield, Honorary Secretary of the Postcard Traders’ Association, comments: ‘Some of the cards will have a value because of the rare photographs but they are mainly important because of their social history.
‘Millions were sent every year but, although many people kept them for a while, most were thrown away so they are not as common as you’d imagine.
Travelling abroad by plane was still very new in those days and there was no other way of telling people about it other than a postcard.’
The age of wide-eyed wonder has gone but it remains time-locked in batches of dog-eared postcards that once delivered joy.
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