The story behind the humble picture postcard, told by comic creation Nigel Walmsley. With their own language and bespoke rules, postcards were the texts and emails of their era.
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'It's 7am on Monday 28th March. The news headlines this...'
Another Monday morning and I've got nothing to look forward to
except Mr Humphrys on the radio
and another threatening letter from the bank,
what I'd give for one little pleasant surprise.
Does no-one want to write to me?
A love letter from afar, perhaps.
Now, what have we here?
the Rowland Hill Retired Men's Club. Touting for members, no doubt.
Hang on. they want me to give a talk on the picture postcard.
Why me? What do I know about the picture postcard?
Hold on, Nigel.
There's dinner and a fee.
Ah. So what is there not to learn? I'll Google "postcards"
and this questing vole
will uncover the definitive story of the postcard.
I've got just a week to get this ready, so I need a plan of campaign.
I need to find out when the picture postcard started,
when it was popular.
I need to find out why people sent postcards,
and talk about the different types of card -
people, portraits, saucy postcards, places.
I'll find out if people collect postcards,
and if so, how much a good postcard goes for.
And most of all, I need some good stories on the way.
But basically it's pictures on the front,
writing on the back, this should be a piece de cake.
So what shall we call this masterpiece?
Yep, Kisses On The Bottom, oh, no, that's far too fruity.
A bit of poetic alliteration should do it so...
The Picture Postcard World of Nigel Walmsley.
As Mary Poppins once famously said,
let's begin at the beginning, or something like that.
Guy Atkins is a collector of early picture postcards, nice house.
Guy, tell me when did the picture postcard really take off?
The golden age of postcards was between 1902 and 1914.
1902 is particularly important
because that was the first year when divided backs were issued.
Up until that point, you'd either have an official postcard,
which had the address on the front and then a message on the back,
or you had simply a picture on the front
and then an address on the back.
1902, the postcard was divided
such that you could have a picture on the front,
a message on the left-hand side and then the address on the right,
and that suddenly became a really attractive
form of communication for people.
It took off. From 1902 there were 350 million cards sent,
by 1906 there were double that,
so 700 million cards being sent each year.
The postal system was a key factor
in why the cards were so useful to communicate through.
So rather than today where you've just got one post arriving each day,
they had up to seven posts arriving and that meant
that you could send a postcard in the morning
and it would arrive in the evening, so you could actually arrange
to meet up with someone that evening via postcard,
much as you do with a text message or e-mail today.
The golden age is so interesting
because people were using them for everyday life.
They're such fantastic insights into how life was in that period.
Some of your cards look pretty incomprehensible.
Yeah, this one is mostly written in code,
in some kind of Masonic cipher,
and that's quite common because, after all,
this is a form of communication that is public.
People are sending quite intimate messages, sometimes,
and they know that the card might be seen by the postman,
by their relatives before they arrive,
the people in the sorting office,
and so the Edwardians did adapt to this and used all sorts of codes.
Guy, did the Edwardians get up to any other tricks?
Well, this next card is one
that really plays with the form of postcards.
This is a card from Dorothy to her grandma
and the front is a picture of the Albert Memorial in Kensington,
but Dorothy's written it on the Tube,
she says, "I hope you will excuse this scribble as I am in the Tube."
It's a good example of the tilted stamp,
this was something that the Edwardians did
to show affection between the sender and the recipient.
So whilst we can't be sure that Dorothy wrote the card on the Tube,
we can be pretty sure that she loved her grandma.
Stone the crows, I think I might start using that code,
but where shall I put my stamp to the bank manager?
-Top right, "have you forgotten me."
This next card is possibly my favourite.
It's actually the first card that I bought
specifically for the message.
It's sent in 1904 December 21, so just before Christmas,
and it reads, "Come home at once, all is forgiven.
"We have not had any news from Father,
"there is heaps of m---y waiting for you to spend.
"Surely after that you could not stay away."
I don't think I've come across a card with more intrigue than this one.
It's impossible, it's impossible to know what was going on.
Was there money? Is it a joke?
What's the relationship between Miss Emerson and Mr Bollen
who the card has been sent care of.
Yes, sent just before Christmas, is it a desperate attempt
to get the family back for Christmas Day?
And then on the front, I think we get the sense
that this is quite a solemn message,
it's an image of the cross on Front Street in Rothbury.
There are bits of information here and there on the census,
but it doesn't really give you any kind of idea
as to what happened before or after this message.
So did Miss Emerson go home? No idea.
Do the messages affect the value of the cards?
The value of the card, of course, is what's on the front.
If it's an early photograph,
if it's a photograph of something rare, or a popular subject,
then those cards will have more value than others
but the ordinary messages which I'm most interested in,
yes, they carry no value apart from for myself.
"Ruby, will you please meet me on the corner of Holbeck Row
"on Sunday morning and give you a suck my toffee apple.
"Dear, Nell, what the deuce does Mrs K know about my doings,
"whether I have what you say or not.
"I never said the things accused of about Hall,
"it is entirely faked up, and as to the whisky, in the extreme.
"I am coming home tomorrow and may call, especially if there's any...
"I'm surprised at not having a letter from you.
"Don't you think you ought to write to me? I do.
"Will you please keep your feet out of my house in my absence
"and return the scarf pin which belongs to my husband."
A postman's life must have been far more fun in those days.
I want to know more.
First of all, where did the Edwardians buy their cards?
They would go to shops,
there were special postcard shops in those days.
An they stocked a massive range of cards,
often thousands of cards,
and people would go through and pick out what they wanted.
But then they'd also send them to their friends.
Their friends would say, I collect this subject or that subject
and so when they sent them a card they had to send one
on that subject in order to please their friend.
And that's when the craze really took off.
This is a favourite because it shows the old bathing hut
that used to be in vogue in Edwardian days.
So we just take the lever down
and we reveal the lady in her Edwardian bathing costume.
You just poke your finger through the hole
to give the nose of the lady for a comic effect.
This postcard is what is called "a hole to light"
which means that the windows and various other features
have been picked out so that when it's held up with a light behind it,
you can see these windows
as if they were all lit up and illuminated at night.
These cards, remember, were still sold at the time
for about a penny each and the postage in Britain was just a ha'penny.
So it encouraged people to be able to collect postcards
and it became an absolute craze.
Especially as the first years of the decade came up, 1905, six, seven, eight.
Postcard publishers came up all over the place in Britain.
And as a result people would send postcards to each other purely,
"Here is a postcard for your album."
And they would be able to collect them
and they'd have their albums like this one here
and they'd be able to put these collections together.
So on the next page here we have what's called
a composite set of three postcards
which, as you can see shows, a dachshund,
and the person sending the three cards
would send each one a separate week.
Maybe they'd send the middle one the first week,
the end one the second week, and then they'd send the first one the last week,
so that the recipient could put all three of them together
to make a composite.
Those cards of Tony's were gorgeous.
Now I need to enlist the help of a favourite old cove of mine, Ronnie Barker,
who I recall used to refer to himself as a deltiologist,
posh for postcard collector.
Must have him on tape somewhere.
First of all, we are very honoured today
by the presence of a distinguished delta...
deltiologist Ronnie Barker, I nearly got it wrong.
You nearly got it wrong. How are you? Nice to be here.
I remembered your name though. How long have you been collecting postcards now?
I'm afraid I have been collecting them about 20 years now.
I was just thinking back, it's about '57 I started.
How did you start?
I was with an actor called Peter Bull and he collected cards,
he sent cards to other people, and I went out one day
and saw a lot of cards at a penny each in those days.
I bought about 100 and I looked through them and thought, "I must give these to Peter."
I looked through them again and thought,
"Perhaps I'll give him half of them," and that's how I started. I picked the best half.
The cards that you've got there in your hand, they're all trains.
A lot of people specialise in just one subject, don't they?
Yes, these are very sought after.
They're London and North Western Railway Company.
You see Crewe Junction looking north.
Looking south probably looks exactly the same.
When did postcards actually start?
They started actually in 1870 in Germany,
but people didn't really collect them very much I think.
They became very popular, they became a craze in about 1903.
From 1903, 1908 is the absolute height
where everyone sent cards to everyone else.
Is he throwing her in or pulling her out?
-I don't know.
I don't think he's made up his mind.
What else have we got, yes, I've got her, yes.
People were bigger in those days, even the small ones.
What have we got... Oh, yes, that looks German.
That looks German. That's wonderful.
You pull that and she gets a smack.
Yes, look at that.
End of day one and I'm warming to my theme.
Before I turn in, I think I'll see if the postcard is alive and well.
I'll write to some of my all time heroes
and see if I can get a postcard back.
I can pass round on the night of the talk.
Tom Phillips the artist seems to have written
the definitive book on postcards.
He'd be a good person to ask why people collect cards.
Postcard collecting is democratic, you can enter at any level you like
and stay that level if you like,
but most people are tempted upwards all the time.
They get every postcard of Piccadilly Circus except one
and then they're after that.
All the dealers know they're after that,
so if they get this very special postcard
of Piccadilly Circus in the war
with Eros covered up and no traffic around,
then that's worth a lot of money.
So if you have a postcard that was posted on the Titanic,
not on the Titanic but with the Titanic on it,
posted by one person that actually was just on it,
and sent postcards right from the beginning of the trip,
which was possible on a little boat that went back to the shore.
I mean, they've got something with the writing on it saying,
"I'm on the Titanic looking forward to a wonderful time,"
and you've got something that's worth £1,000, £2,000, £3,000.
So people, they crave rarity.
I'm almost the opposite. I crave the commonplace.
The thing that's the most ordinary, that's what interests me.
But what was really interesting and sometimes not properly discussed,
is the postcards when you could get them made of yourself.
Go into a studio, you pay a shilling and you get 12 postcards of yourself.
Right in the very early years of the century,
was often the first representation of yourself that you had had.
In fact, it was a democratisation of portraiture
because the portrait before then
was only allowed to the gentry or the upper gentry.
And they had pictures of themselves and you had no pictures
of your family in the past, if you were an ordinary bloke.
But now, of course, you existed on a postcard
and you had a portrait of yourself, so this was an amazing thing.
I bought this one for about 20p.
It's not in very good condition, but what interests me here
is it's got everything that I require from a postcard.
It's got a narrative of why these people are there.
It's two people in Aberdeen in 1911,
obviously off the fishing fleet in some way.
And they've gone into a postcard studio, are they friends?
What do they say? What happened before this? What made them go in?
What was their relationship? What happened to them afterwards?
Everything is contained in the moment
and I just think that's incredibly intriguing.
What happened to the guy afterwards? The black guy.
He's obviously a West African.
There was a record of somebody taking up farming not far from Aberdeen in 1915
who might have retired from the sea.
So the surroundings of that,
the emotional surroundings, the social surroundings,
the historic surroundings, the racial surroundings.
It vibrates with all that for me.
So that's why I find certain postcards incredibly rich.
I'd never have thought of that.
The picture postcard is the first democratisation of portraiture.
Great card and a great quote, I'll soon sound like an expert.
Now, I must look up a picture postcard magazine.
Ah, here's the one.
Good afternoon, Reflections, Brian speaking.
-'Is that Reflections?'
-It is indeed.
-'You publish the postcard magazine?'
-We do, yes.
Many of the postcards that were published in the 1900-18 period,
the golden age, showed photographs,
showed scenes of towns or scenes of events
that just weren't replicated anywhere else in photos.
And often they're the only source of a particular event or a particular day in time.
They are massively important and I think they're often underrated.
Lots of Edwardian politicians were real personalities.
Joseph Chamberlain particularly.
And one of the elections of the Edwardian period in 1906
was covered massively on postcards.
Many candidates had election cards,
there were cards detailing the results,
there were photographic cards
showing the results in a particular town being announced.
Postcards did reflect politics just as they reflected
all other areas of social and cultural life.
If there was, for example, a train crash in a particular location,
then a local photographer would be on hand to publish a postcard of the event.
And people would send these to their friends and relatives
to show them what was actually happening in their particular area.
This happened very fast as well.
I have a postcard of a train crash at Croydon on 10th July 1909.
This event was on a postcard postmarked the same day as the accident, which is amazingly fast.
So this means the crash happened in the morning,
a photographer took a picture,
it was printed as a postcard in the afternoon,
and somebody mailed it in the evening.
It's got a Croydon postmark on the same day,
so all this was happening amazingly quickly.
So postcard photographers
were almost a 24-hour news provider.
So what killed off the golden age of postcards?
It was a variety of reasons. At the end of the First World War,
the Royal Mail doubled the price of postage so postcards
that had previously cost of halfpenny to send suddenly cost a penny, and then very quickly
afterwards in 1921, they went up to three-halfpence so the cost had virtually trebled in three years.
Also at the end of the First World War there wasn't as much money around,
there wasn't the appetite that people had to go on holidays.
Families had broken up, husbands had been killed, fathers had been killed,
there just wasn't the same sort of cultural phenomenon around as had been pre-1914, the same atmosphere.
Also more people were having telephones installed in the 1920s and therefore the whole
function of postcards declined and postcards survived as either
view cards of touristy places or as comic cards.
End of a beautiful day, I think the Rowland Hill mob are in for a treat.
Up to seven deliveries a day,
they'd never have guessed that instant messaging started a century ago.
And that Croydon train crash story, you'd be amazed if that happened today.
Ah nice drop of vino plonko.
Tomorrow I'll look for a couple of big names to add weight to my thesis.
Now I love the way a postcard photograph fixes a place, a locality in print.
It's a chronicle of costumes, events, adverts, people through times of peace and times of war.
I can time travel to any location and see it develop through the decades,
this is becoming quite addictive.
And then we come to Wolverton Station...
That old buffer John Betjeman knew a thing or two about visiting tourist destinations.
There are no posters on Wolverton Station and you'll notice how the signal box is made to fit in
with the style of the cottage to which it is attached...
On arrival at a new place, Betjeman wrote, "I take a walk to the biggest stationers
"and consult one of the revolving stands of views.
"There I generally find postcards taken by a local photographer." Brilliant.
If you need an instant shortcut to the best views of any town,
just go and buy all the local postcards.
Of course this station is much more spick and span
than any other, it's won 30 prizes in the Eastern Region for doing so.
I'm not surprised and it's not just the outside, I mean look here at
the public waiting room and booking office.
It looks to me from the carving and the style of it generally
as though it was done in the time of King Edward VII.
Thank you, John!
By the time the Second World War had ended, and with the telephone becoming more common,
I suppose the picture postcard just morphed into the modern holiday postcard.
With the new generation starting to travel, the cliches of this is where
we're staying and wish you were here became common currency.
So I really need to speak to a tame telly don in order to examine the nature of this discourse
to inject a more intellectual tone to my upcoming after-dinner lecture.
-Is that Prof John Sutherland?
I understand you're always up for doing something on television or radio.
Yes, and if you got any donkeys I'll talk the hind legs off them.
OK, I'll be straight round"
John, I'm doing a talk on postcards. Tell me, do they have their own special language?
You'd write things which
didn't contain any kind of information content at all,
they were just what linguists call "phatic communion."
That is to say they just established a relationship of community
with the person you were... Just as in a railway carriage, you might say, "Nice weather."
That is not information for the person sitting opposite,
it's a way of just a way of creating a short-term relationship,
saying wish you were here, having a lovely time, weather good,
bad, indifferent and so on.
The kinds of things would really be saying,
"I'm not lost, I may be off your immediate radar but I shall be back."
I don't thing that happens any more, I think the world has shrunk
so in fact you might make a phone call or send an e-mail
but in those days it was a big deal to travel
and part of that big deal package was sending back your picture postcards.
"Dear Win and Louis, thanks for your lovely card.
"As you will see, we are on holiday and enjoying every minute of it
"after an enjoyable ride in the coach. Love Ivy and Bill."
"Dear Mother, we're having a lovely hol and the weather is really nice for a change.
"Hope you are feeling better and that you have got the pot off.
"All our love Mary and Frank."
"Dear Roy and Dorothy, having a good time, supped some stuff last night, dancing tonight.
"Twin beds here, nice to relax away from it all.
"Love Frank and Mary."
One of the interesting aspects of postcards was they were,
in a very small but interesting way, taboo-breaking,
that's to say the early 20th century there was repression on
things which were considered saucy and naughty,
or to go one step further - obscene.
Postcards largely escaped that because they were fugitive things,
they would just be on a stand if you went to a newsagents.
It was very hard to actually oppress them
in the same way that cinema was oppressed or radio.
There was an area of freedom, together with certain other things because
when you sent postcards it was because you were away from home,
when morals were relaxed of course, so to some extent there was
this feeling of an immoral break out associated with some postcards.
Of course, famously was the one that Orwell wrote about
at great length, the Donald McGill postcard.
Donald McGill is the king of the double entendre -
he knew how to pull it off! Ha, ha!
So I must pack my suitcase and travel back to the land that time forgot,
this is the bit I'm looking forward to, the saucy postcard.
Some McGill cards are guaranteed to perk up my talk.
Mr McGill sees every angle, he is seeing the female angle,
he is seeing the child's angle,
and he's just literally doing a raspberry at everybody.
Donald McGill was perhaps the most renowned comic seaside postcard artist of all time.
McGill really invented the whole genre, I don't think it's too strong an exaggeration to say.
He was in right at the beginning of
the postcard boom
and he in fact was the first full-time postcard artist.
He invented that genre, he had a huge output he worked
for almost 60 years
produced over 12,000 postcards.
ran into trouble as a result of local busybodies or puritans
getting awfully worked up and complaining.
And when they complained, the police had to take action,
and then cards were confiscated from retailers
and the retailers found themselves in the magistrates courts and sometimes
even in the Crown Courts.
The Isle of Man and Blackpool, they set up very studious censoring committees where they would have
all postcard artists sending their designs before the season started and those cards would be stamped
approved or disapproved so that they would know
that those cards were acceptable or not acceptable in their town.
McGill was prosecuted and appeared in court at Lincoln Quarter Sessions in 1954.
21 of his cards were prosecuted and he was advised by his defence counsel
to plead guilty on four counts,
probably to achieve a more favourable outcome.
Bernard, what effect did the prosecutions have on the postcard trade?
Well, it's often felt that the prosecutions did damage the postcard industry.
Opinion differs and there is an argument which says
that the prosecutions actually gave the industry a boost.
Now for my celebrity surprise, the irrepressible Michael Winner.
Michael, do you think the McGill humour is quintessentially British?
Donald McGill was archetypally British, he shows the British
bravado during the war, he shows wonderful pictures of children,
the pictures were very beautiful, and he shows the British
as what they still are and people pretend they are not,
which is a cheerfully vulgar race.
They're quite earthy, and McGill summed up that British spirit of fun
He was a great social commentator of the times.
But Mr Winner, Michael, George Orwell said that
the McGill cards had ever present obscenity and a lowness of mental...
George Orwell was an idiot. It's quite simple, he was an idiot,
I mean these were very fine drawings.
People decried the Impressionists,
there was a riot when the Impressionists first had an exhibition.
George Orwell wasn't an art critic, he had his qualities somewhere else,
I'm not sure where, in the toilet maybe.
But what does he know about art, it was impertinent of him.
He can have a view of course, he's a human being, but it's a rubbish view.
Lot 159, first of the McGill postcards.
-But in those days I did go to the option, I think
quite a few came up in Sotheby's Belgravia, which no longer exists,
-and I stood there among the motley...
And I bought two or three and then I just kept buying them endlessly.
I ended up with about 180 of them.
Sold at 450 then.
But if the McGill cards were so lovely, why did you sell them?
I sold mine because I have about 700 pictures up in my house
and I had no wall space for them, there's a limit of space.
I mean in my toilets I've got seven, eight, nine important pictures.
I couldn't build another house to put them up, so I flogged 'em!
Well, this is coming along very nicely for my talk.
I've got history, messages, a prof with phatic communion, and
saucy postcards with Michael Winner. Must work in a, "calm down, dear" joke.
Now I need the post-war stuff and some people who do curious things with postcards.
Time for a quick trip to Phil, the Demon Barber.
He has his own collection of cards, every one of them a barber's shop.
Hello, how are you?
Yes, yes, good. Now you collect cards of barbershops, don't you?
Yes, I do. People send them from all over the world.
That one's from India,
There's a few here actually from India.
Over here, I think that's in Puerto Rico, that's France,
and this one
they're suggesting I should get a bit more modern.
It says, "Isn't it about time you brought your shop into the 20th century?".
Well, I suppose he's right really, what do you think?
-Well, it's hardly the cutting edge.
-Thank you, goodbye.
Ha, ha, ha. Actually, I think this trade bit can be quite colourful and charming whether it's beer,
holidays, or a bank that not only could you withdraw from,
you can tow it away - caravans.
Caravans, holidays, didn't Brian have something to say on that?
Postcards really came into their own again in the '60s, '70s, 'and 80s.
I think it was fuelled by enthusiasm of people in Britain for package holidays abroad and also for
holidaying at the various Butlins holiday camps and other camps around this country.
Butlins themselves published thousands and thousands
of different designs and so you get an absolute mountain of postcards available now that people sent
during that period detailing their experiences at Butlins holiday camps.
These have become incredibly collectable again now.
I need to find out more on the post-war holiday era,
I need an expert.
Ah, here he is, the Butlins bloke.
Martin Parr, why are you fascinated by Butlins postcards?
When I was at college I used to go and work
at Butlins holiday camp, Filey,
and it was there that I discovered the postcards of John Hinde.
I was really taken with these brightly-coloured, brash postcards
and started to collect them and got really fascinated by the whole history.
I discover that these were done a few years earlier when Butlins had commissioned John Hinde to completely
update their postcard stock and I started to collect these.
They were a fantastic social document of this time at Butlins
so for me they hit all the nails on the head.
They're social history, they're great to look at,
and they tell us about the clothes and the interiors that people
were exploring and using in the late '60s and early '70s.
John Hinde decided to employ German photographers because technically they were a lot better.
They were all shot on 5x4s so big cameras,
they would then collaborated with the Redcoats and arrange people
literally within the photograph, so they're all entirely staged
and they're super-staged and that's how these postcards would come together.
So they spent a lot of time maybe shooting one or two per day,
fixing them up, getting everything right, wham-bam shooting them.
Then the saturations and the separations for these
postcards were made in Italy to give this very bright, intense colour,
which is all part of the secret as to why John Hinde
was such a successful postcard manufacturer.
I've chosen here are couple to show you which are from Filey, the very place that I worked at.
Here's the French Bar, the fantastic interior.
Look at the way they've been arranged,
the people being set up, fantastic colours.
Look at the clothes that people are wearing.
And then Filey from Butlins is the Beachcomber Bar.
I worked for two summers at Butlins, first as a black and white walkie,
we were called, and then the second year I was promoted
to a colour walkie and the place where the colour
walkies were allowed to go to was the Beachcomber Bar,
which was the height of sophistication at Butlins, Filey.
Look at the colours as well. Aren't they absolutely fantastic?
Now Martin is also into motorway cards and '60s architecture,
but if push came to shove I wonder which he'd plump for.
Martin, what's your all-time favourite, is it a Butlins card?
Difficult to actually pin down one card that would be my absolute favourite but I guess
my collection of motorways is particularly cherished
and within that, for example, let me show this one here,
the Captain's Table in Leicester Forest East.
This was taken a few years after it opened and this is as a time when
the actual motorway service station was very glamorous and people
would come in and book themselves in for a meal on a motorway service station.
It was absolutely the bee's knees for a night out.
And here look at this other postcard of the M1, what's fantastic about it is how deserted it was.
Then the M1 was a really heroic thing, I remember being taken on
to the M1 is a treat when I was a teenager.
So the postcard is a very good indicator of how our social trends and attitudes have changed.
The period in particular that these cards come from was the time in the '60s and '70s
when Britain was building itself up again after the Second World War
and many of the things they show, such as motorways, shopping centres, all look now rather drab
and dreary so although technically we think of them now as a bit boring,
of course at the time they were really the height
of the new achievement of the utopia being built in Britain after the Second World War.
What is the appeal in boring postcards?
I mean, look at this, a power station control panel,
is this what they call post-modern?
Hang on though, there may be something in this.
On one of my old Parky's, I think there's a bit of Andrew Sachs
with the ultimate in boring postcards.
Earlier in this series I was talking to Andrew Sachs about his life and times,
about playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers and all that, when he mentioned his hobby of collecting boring postcards.
Well, that started it, from all parts of Britain they came to us by the sackful.
What Andrew Sachs is regarded as a private habit
proved to be a national pastime.
Anyway tonight is a big night for all the boring postcard collectors
because we're going to announce the most boring postcards of all time
and celebrate with a suitably boring prize.
To do the honours, please welcome the man who started it all,
Mr Andrew Sachs.
Here's the card you might have seen before,
it's this one showing a kilted gentleman
looking at a large hole.
The person who sent it
suspected he was doing something other than looking
and he christened it "Piddler of the Glenn."
Let's move on now, Andrew, to the three that we've picked out
in reverse order, as somebody else is always fond of saying.
-So the third then.
Well, these three, I must say,
they lowered our spirits considerably
and set the blood coagulating in my veins.
This one here is a classic example,
it's caravans, Nissen huts, prefabs are always good value,
and it would have actually come possibly second or even first
except for the inscription on the back
which says "Scenes of interest and beauty from Lyneham in Wiltshire."
Mmm, yes, a likely story. That was number three.
The second one,
this is an American entry.
Yes, from Judith Oakley, it's quite nice, it's again in colour
but it's OK, it's a brick wall with some holes in it.
The O'Brian Hall, Amherst Campus, it says.
Well, that excites me. The thing that stops it again from winning
is I think a little too much excitement
about the trees at the bottom.
Normally, trees are pruned at the top,
these are pruned at the bottom.
Let's now look at the winner.
Yes, this is totally underwhelming, it's wonderful.
Now, for the benefit of those viewers
who have perhaps summoned up enough energy to switch off
or go into a coma,
may I describe it a little bit?
It's almost uniformly grey or off sepia,
it is totally without interest.
Right, so that's the out and out winner.
Ah, boring postcards.
I'm really well stocked with stories but I'm sure I'm missing something.
The postcard OF art and the postcard AS art,
what was it Professor John said?
They're very beautiful, a lot of them, and they were artworks.
This continues to the present day, and if you look for instance
at the kind of postcards which people like me actually buy...
I've got one in my pocket actually,
which is a very lovely picture by a very good photographer George Rodger.
Now I wouldn't necessarily, even though I admire his work,
I wouldn't necessarily buy a whole book,
they're very expensive coffee table book of Roger's work,
and also if I send it, it signals to the person I am sending it to
that we have shared high cultural values.
It's a kind of snobbery but I think a very innocent kind of snobbery,
the kind of postcards you choose define you.
Go to a museum for instance and people are buying postcards.
They're not necessarily writing wish you were here
and sending them to their nearest and dearest like we used to
but people still like to have them,
they still like to have around,
they're nice objects, nice things and also they are very cheap
so you leave the museum thinking you bought something,
you've got a relic, and it only cost you 90p or someone like that.
Gilbert and George have done some amazing things with postcards,
namely, stick them in patterns.
Oh, get on with it.
Why did you choose to live as artists?
It was not our choice, we are driven to be artists.
What's your favourite colour?
We have no taste, we are artists.
These Gilbert and George patterns of postcards from phone boxes
and tourist shops are supposed to represent the male urethra.
It is meant to be ironic or are they just taking the piss?
I mean is that art or artifice?
Come on, that doesn't look a bit like my urethra.
Actually I don't know what it looks like because I don't think I've ever looked at it.
OK, if you can't beat them, glue them.
There, I'll call that Donald McGill's Blackpool Tower,
must be worth a bob or two.
The postcard is a form loved by many artists
and I hear someone is doing something special with mail art.
That's art using the post.
To find out more, I'm going to Chelsea College of Art.
My name is Nigel Bents and I work at Chelsea College of Art,
and I'm involved with something called mail art.
My explorations into mail art
made me go in all sorts of different directions
until I discovered that for me the postcard is an exquisite form.
It wasn't until some years later
that I came across somebody called Reginald Bray,
the father of mail art.
Bray also produced some remarkable postcards,
in their concepts they were just tremendous
and there's a couple that I'm going to show you now.
It does what it says on the card really,
it's to any resident of London
and this postcard he sent to any resident in London.
Sadly it didn't get sent,
it's got a rubber stamp here of insufficiently addressed,
but a tremendous idea.
He was successful in sending postcards
that were more specific, he'd find a picture postcard in the shop,
the Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands,
and would address it to a resident nearest this rock.
He then came across a format for which I guess he was most well known
which was his autograph card postcard
in which he gathered the addresses of whoever was in the news
or whoever needed their autograph taking
and he would send this card with a bit of blurb at the top there
saying who he is and who he was.
He sent tens of thousands of these off, and on the back the recipient
would sign their autograph and then post it back to him
and he amassed a huge collection.
It seems nothing is beyond Nigel Bents imagination
in his testing of the resourcefulness of the postal services,
but deep down Nigel is also a determined postcard collector.
I'm collecting some large letter postcards at the moment,
I'm trying to amass all 50 of the American states.
The most important postcard for any collector and every collector
is the one that you haven't got.
It doesn't matter at all about any of the ones you have,
as soon as you have them, that's done, it's on with the next.
I do not have North Carolina yet, I will soon, it's in the post.
I do not have Alaska, it's too expensive at the moment,
it's £14-£15 and one person in America issues them every so often.
And Hawaii, which doesn't exist so I intend to design it myself
and then distribute it to needy collectors who need Hawaii.
Stone me, postcard intercourse, and who are my correspondents?
Ah, Jimmy McGovern! Hero of Hillsborough and the street,
with an amusing tale of how his postman
reads all his cards and hopes to visit all the places on them.
I sense a play coming on.
Nicholas Parsons! Heaven.
"I love postcards and keep those sent to me by friends." Ah!
"I enjoy sending postcards..."
Bzzz! Repetition, sorry Nicholas.
Oh, my old mate Bill Oddie.
Ooh, gracious, not of the feathered variety.
These cards can be my homage to Reginald Bray, the autograph man,
after all, it is mail art and they are all male.
That reminds me...
I'm sure there's an old postcard album
somewhere up here in the high Andes.
Hello, Little Ted.
Quite an eclectic selection, comic stuff, rare views,
ah, Butlins, must be worth a few quid.
Next stop, the UK's largest postcard collectors fair.
The organiser of the postcard fair is Barrie Rollinson,
if ever a man knows his clientele, it's Barrie.
What a queue! Mainly men,
with the occasional sighting of the fairer sex, presumably.
I've got a waistcoat like that. Ah, there's one.
This is amazing, postcards, postcards everywhere
and not even time to blink.
Everything! There's another one.
On every stand, boxes and boxes of pictures and messages,
cheap cards, expensive cards.
Barry, everyone here seems a postcard addict.
They have a history and a memory,
that's what we all collect,
memories that give us pleasure to remember these things.
What's the one postcard you've yearned for?
It's so easy for me to answer, my grandfather was Mayor of Rotherham
in 1939, and a picture postcard of my grandfather in his mayoral robes
would be an absolute delight for me. I would cherish it,
Wow, if you could have a cornucopia of cards, this would be it.
Nearly 150 dealers, this is the ideal place to cash in on my album.
Ha! They'll bite my arm off.
Yep, she'd go for my album.
Hi, would you look at my cards,
-I think they're rather special.
Some are a bit loose.
From our point of view these cards are rather on the modern side,
we tend to sell older cards than this.
They changed the size of the cards
and the bigger size cards are the more modern ones,
which we don't have any of at all,
or if we do they're in our cheap boxes.
I wouldn't actually be interested in buying that really.
No, oh, dear. Well, thanks for having a look.
Oh, there is Brian. Hi, Brian.
I must buy something, I'll follow young Martin's lead
and go for the early motorway stuff, it shouldn't cost too much.
Have you got any motorway cards? Ah, thank you.
-They're £2 each.
-Brilliant, great stuff.
I'll give Barrie a waft of my album, he looks a generous type.
These are modern, I'm sorry there's no value.
-So I'm not going to retire on these, Barrie?
No, but if you could I'd already be a millionaire.
At least Brian from Reflections is bound to give me a good price.
Anything there catching your eye?
To be honest, to be worth any real money
postcards have got to be pre-1920.
We class these as modern cards
and so the chances are there won't be anything of terrific value.
I don't think you'd get much more than a tenner for that.
-I know it's disappointing.
That's only three pints in old money!
But on the upside I now think my quest is all but over.
Time for a quick recap of all my favourite quotes from my journey,
for as my mate Picassos said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal"
I think there is a magic about sending a postcard today,
in fact I'd go so far as to say that it's in some ways
more of an impact it has than postcards then
because it is so unusual to get a handwritten note
from a friend or a member of your family.
That's good, thanks, Guy.
Next up, Martin Parr.
In this day and age the postcard's role
is almost gone because everyone now has got a camera phone,
you can send a picture, you can write a message on it,
you can do it instantly, you don't have too rely
on someone else to take the picture,
you can take it yourself, so everything has its time and place
and the postcard had had a great century and long may it live,
but it won't because it's dying in front of us.
Trust a photographer to be negative.
Everything in the world is represented somehow in a postcard.
In fact you could put it the other way round and say that
everything in the world exists in order to end up as a postcard.
You'll find nothing,
you find no point of reference
which doesn't echo itself in a postcard,
isn't illuminated by it, any aspect of human life
and the things we see and do.
What more can you ask of an object?
Tom, I'm won over.
As James Bond once nearly wrote, postcards are forever.
Excellente, so I'll start my talk in 1902
and the first split back card,
then cover some of Tony's gorgeous ones.
Then talk about the messages on the back
as tantalising glimpses of Edwardian life,
hit them with the amazing number of deliveries,
so the card was a phone call, e-mail, text or Twitter
all rolled into one.
Rounding up nicely with holiday postcards
of the post-war period,
Butlins and all that.
Finally the Holy Grail for the collector, an authentic card
sent off the Titanic at her last port of call in Ireland,
this one went for £6,500,
Jack the writer didn't survive,
that'll create a hush around the room.
I could even pass round my own album,
somebody might but it as a memento.
But how to start?
It just has to be a Donald McGill joke to win them over.
Tonight's the night!
They're going to love this!
Gentlemen and ladies, my talk is on the picture postcard
so I must start with my favourite Donald McGill saucy caption.
Lady store assistant is saying to a male customer,
@Yes, sir, go straight through Ladies' Underwear."
Yes, the are picture postcard as we know it started in 1902
-when the post office first allowed split back that we...
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The surprising story behind the humble picture postcard, playfully told by comic creation Nigel Walmsley. With their own language and bespoke rules, postcards were the texts and emails of their era, at a time when households received up to four postal deliveries a day. Postcards became a holiday staple, but they were once an important means of communicating events - from election results to rail crashes. Entering the world of collectable cards, it's easy to understand the value of a card posted from the Titanic. It's harder to see why anyone would want to collect cards of holiday camps or motorway service stations, but they do. Some consider postcards an art form, others are fascinated by the messages on the back, poignantly stranded in time. Nigel Walmsley is mostly amused.