Melvyn Bragg reveals archive footage telling the history of modern Britain. A look back to the 1970s, when British holidaymakers started heading abroad.
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Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented,
and changed forever the way we recall our history.
For the first time, we could see life through the eyes of ordinary people.
Across this series, we will bring these rare archive films back
to life with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.
We will be inviting people with a story to tell to step on board
and relive moments they thought were gone for ever.
They will see their relatives on screen for the first time,
come face-to-face with their younger selves
and celebrate our amazing 20th century past.
This is the people's story, our story.
Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967
to show training films to workers.
Today it has been lovingly restored
and loaded up with remarkable film footage preserved for us by
the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives.
In this series, we will be travelling to towns
and cities across the country
and showing films from the 20th century that give us the Reel History of Britain.
Today we are heading into the 1970s,
when package holidays really took off,
and millions of British holidaymakers decided to swap Morecambe for the Med.
# Espana, por favor. #
Today we are at Bristol Airport,
which in the 1970s witnessed one of the great democratic booms
in British leisure life, the package holiday.
Coming up, the essential holiday wardrobe.
I mean, guys had never worn shorts in their life.
SCREAMING AND LAUGHTER
Of course they took Blackpool to Benidorm, but they had to.
-They wanted Watneys Red Barrel.
-And the secret of a golden tan.
You would go to the local supermarket,
buy a bottle of lemon and olive oil, and you would slap it all over.
Sometimes it was vinegar. So you smelt like a chip cooking!
We have come to Bristol Airport in the West Country,
because this was one of the first airports in the country to embrace the foreign holiday boom.
When it opened in 1957, this airport handled 33,000 passengers.
By 1973, almost 300,000 people were checking in.
And today, it is one of Britain's top ten biggest airports outside London,
along with the likes of Dublin, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.
Until the 1970s, most British people holidayed at home in places like Blackpool.
Dads were more likely to be seen sporting a knotted hanky than a sombrero.
And although package holidays can be traced back as far as 1841,
they were almost exclusively the preserve of the rich and the well-heeled.
Then at the end of the '60s, a combination of cheap fuel prices
and the invention of the first jumbo jet made mass foreign travel accessible to all.
By 1970, more than 5 million people in Britain could boast
a foreign holiday.
For tour operators, it was boom time.
The largest one was Clarksons,
credited for turning Benidorm into "Blackpool with sun".
And the package holiday revolution was upon us.
My guests today have come from around the country
with special stories to tell about package holidays.
Some will be seeing the films we are about to screen for the first time.
-Showing us their holiday photos.
-My first romance.
And revealing what it was like
to be part of that '70s package holiday revolution.
Lesley Meredith and her brother Martin Hancock from Cheshire have come today,
because when they were growing up,
their family was one of the first to take advantage of the new package holiday boom.
Just looking back, things weren't always as you expected.
Like changing the hotel on you at the last minute, all those little things.
It didn't seem to get in the way, though.
No, you forgot about those things once you got the sun on your back.
-Once you are there, it doesn't matter.
-Were you the first in your family to go?
We were, weren't we? Not many people in the street went away.
Now, what have you brought?
That's walking around Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.
Me in my Kylie shorts, not a good look. Not in Tunis!
And they were coming out of the bars to watch me.
I didn't know any better, because I had been to Spain,
you walk around in a bikini and shorts in Spain.
But you don't do it in Tunis, and no-one told me.
-But you weren't arrested?
-I was nearly arrested.
It caused a stir, to say the least.
Martin and Lesley have dragged out some long forgotten
home movies from the attic, movies they haven't watched in years.
They have brought them along today.
Here is Lesley aged 19, and Martin aged six.
What memories will these family holidays to Tunisia and Spain bring back for them?
We had always gone to the south of England,
and it was something new, an adventure.
Nobody else I knew went abroad.
It was just something that people didn't do.
I was so excited. I used to count down the hours.
I used to make a little chart for all the hours and count them down, ready to go away.
It smelt different. You experienced something new.
Here are Lesley and Martin in their own home movie,
shot on a super eight camera.
From the '70s onwards, cameras like this meant that holidaymakers
could preserve their trips abroad for ever.
It was just wonderful, all those memories.
My mum making everyone laugh, because she used to do.
You have got so many memories, but they are tucked away,
and you need something like that to let them surface again. It is lovely.
Watching their home movie of a holiday abroad
reminds Lesley and Martin of the days when sunbathing was a serious matter.
You would just go and you'd sizzle.
You would go to the local supermarket and buy a bottle of lemon
and olive oil, and you would slap it all over and lie there baking.
Sometimes it was vinegar. You smelt like a chip cooking!
I always used to try and get a bit of a suntan, even as a kid, thinking,
I need to get brown so that when I get to school, everybody will say, "Wow, where have you been?"
I had no sun cream on. I thought, I will be all right.
I had massive blisters across both shoulders. It was really painful.
My mother had to smother calamine lotion all over my shoulders
and stay out of the sun for the next few days.
A holiday romance was a perk of the package holiday,
and Lesley remembers her first encounter with a Latin Lothario in Spain.
The Spanish boys, they loved the English girls.
And there was a guy in a bar, a local,
and he asked if he could take me out to a disco.
I said, OK, I'll come. But he stunk of garlic! Everybody stunk of garlic!
We weren't used to that, you see. But I only went out with him once.
My first romance abroad.
Package holidays abroad were relatively cheap in the '70s.
Lesley and her family were quick to take full advantage.
The first holiday was 1973 abroad, and it was to Calella in Spain.
It cost my dad £63, full board. £63! Can you imagine that?
Lesley's mum, Gwen, died 16 years ago,
so seeing her family all together on holiday in the '70s reminds Lesley
how precious their time together really was.
My dad did three jobs at a time just so that we could go away.
And actually, my mum had got a heart defect,
so my dad was sort of a "live for today" type of person.
So he would save like crazy so we could all go away as a family,
because we never knew if there would be another,
so very important for us, family holidays. It is lovely to look back on.
Today we're at Bristol Airport, which witnessed the mass surge
in the package holiday business of the 1970s.
In the 1970s, millions of British people turned their back on the traditional British seaside holiday
and sought sun, usually in Spain.
I am meeting the travel journalist Simon Calder to find out more.
Why did package holidays take off when they did?
Year Zero in modern travel is 1970.
It was in January of that year that the very first
Boeing 747 took off in scheduled service, and that was really
the point at which the economics of air travel were transformed.
Suddenly the airlines needed to fill lots of empty seats,
and they found that simply by cutting their prices, there was
a whole new market of ordinary people who previously had been excluded.
Within six months of its launch, the new Boeing 747 had carried a million passengers.
A year later, there were 100 jumbos in operation around the world.
Mass air travel had taken off.
People used to go to the British holiday resorts.
In the north-west, it was Blackpool and Morecambe.
So there was a huge change there?
You can also pretty much measure the decline of the British seaside resort from 1970.
As soon as we realised that actually the Mediterranean wasn't out of reach,
of course you would go for guaranteed sun.
You would go for much lower prices,
and remember that Spain in the 1970s was somewhere unbelievably
cheap compared with inflation-racked Britain.
One of the charming things is that they took Blackpool to Benidorm.
Of course they took Blackpool to Benidorm, but they had to,
because we would only cope with resorts which were in our own image.
Abroad was very scary, of course it was.
Do you think so? Or people just liked what they knew
because it was fun?
Do you think people were scared of a beach in Benidorm?
I think they were very nervous about everything like foreign food.
They had never tried garlic or olive oil,
quite frankly it could play havoc with your stomach.
So they wanted familiarity. They wanted Watneys Red Barrel.
And of course, being a very service-focused industry,
the Spanish delivered exactly what we wanted.
It wasn't just the Spanish who delivered what we Brits wanted.
Our own home-grown holiday camps quickly realised if you can't beat them, join them,
so Pontins headed to Spain and set themselves up as Pontinental.
Paul James from Kent worked for the company as a cabaret performer,
and remembers how nice the holidaymakers were.
But I was impressed by how cheerful people seemed, and how tolerant,
lots of the crowds, getting on with it and having a great time.
Because it was cheap. The guests then were so easy to please.
We were all in the same boat. No-one had ever been abroad before.
Basically, it was Pontins and Butlins, but with sun and sangria. Fantastic.
-It's one of the themes, the way the British take the British with them.
We are going to transport Paul back 40 years now to a time
when he was a 20-year-old aspiring entertainer in Torremolinos.
What memories will these films bring back to him?
It was new to everybody, this is the thing.
So you got off that plane, and you thought, wow, it's hot.
They had been going to their holiday camps in England,
and probably taking a coat with them for the summer.
And you see people turn up with amazing things like shorts.
Guys had never worn shorts in their life.
SCREAMING AND LAUGHTER
The old shorts, the lot!
Of course, topless was the thing, as well.
They had never seen girls go topless.
They would go on the beach, and off would come the tops. Amazing.
It was all brand-new, and of course everything was so cheap.
The first Pontinental holiday dates back to 1963,
and the boom just grew and grew.
Good exchange rates meant that prices were low,
and people flocked to rip off their clothes and roast in the sun.
I think it was £55 to go out for the holiday.
They were getting great value for money, which we don't get any more.
They were paying nothing for the holiday, paying nothing for their drinks.
The kids were having a ball on the beach.
It was guaranteed sunshine every day.
Life was so simple, for nothing.
Pontins holiday brochures boasted "food sympathetically inclined to British tastes".
The aim was to create the UK with sun, as this 1966 BBC travel programme,
made by a young Michael Parkinson, explains.
But the other reason that the British come here is that they know what holiday camps are like.
When they venture abroad, they like to know what they are getting.
The food reflects the national desire
to stop once and for all the flow of cards to Britain which said,
"the weather is lovely, but the food is very greasy."
It is simple, British, and there is plenty of it.
The thing is, they were Brits.
If we had gone in there and did what they do now,
which is completely continental, they would have hated it.
You had to do bingo. That was very important.
All the things that you would have done on the English site,
you had to do there.
If you hadn't done bingo, there would have been riots.
Seeing these holiday films has taken Paul back to the happiest
years of his life, when he was the man responsible for ensuring a good old-fashioned knees up.
When I saw that film today,
I realised how lucky I was to be around at that time.
That was the best ten years of my life,
and I would never be able to better it.
THEY SING "HOKEY-COKEY"
On Reel History, we are screening rarely-seen archive films
about package holidays in the '70s to some pioneering
holidaymakers and those who worked in the industry.
Doreen McKenzie has flown here today from Belfast.
She took advantage of the job opportunities in the booming new
holiday business and became a travel rep, like thousands of others.
She ended up making a career of it.
I am celebrating 40 years in travel, and I started off when I was 19,
and I always wanted to travel and see the world.
It does seem that people were happy, cheerful, glad to be there.
-There was some kind of liberation.
-It was, it was an adventure. They had lower expectations,
but it was a bit of an adventure.
It is the opposite now, they have higher expectations.
One thing that sticks in my mind is when we had long flight delays.
They always sent the girl reps out to tell the public.
The boys didn't do it so well, or maybe got a little more trouble.
We are taking Doreen back to when she was a fresh-faced holiday rep in Majorca,
before automated systems kicked in.
Some of the things that stood out was the lack of technology we had.
We had to handwrite tickets and we had to do that on paper
and take them to the airport, check people in on flights.
And then you went to the aircraft and seeing everybody off,
actually did the head count, closed the doors and waved everybody off. So there wasn't the restriction.
We didn't have security threats that you have nowadays.
In fact, the average time from check-in
to boarding in the 1970s was just 20 minutes.
It was a speedy turnaround, but there were often drawbacks.
Frequent delays meant spending the night in the airport terminal was not uncommon.
Seeing those people on the film lying around the airport brought back some horrendous delays.
We used to have to tell them, "You've a two-hour delay." We just did not know.
You didn't have your hand on instant technology to know the answers.
So it was having to just keep them penned in, waiting and waiting.
In the 1950s,
only one in 100 people travelled by air for their annual holiday.
By the '70s, it was one in ten.
What do you think of it?
-You like the aeroplane?
Once holidaymakers finally touched down, it was up to reps like Doreen
to make their holiday an unforgettable Spanish experience.
You would give them a glass of cava.
You sold them as many excursions as possible, because you made commission on that,
so, once a week, I had to take a busload of people to Tito's Nightclub.
Another night I had to take them to a barbecue.
That was the difficult one, because they got a lot of sangria at that,
so, as long as you brought 50 people back in the coach,
you knew somebody else would bring the other 50 or whatever!
What lasting impression have these films left on Doreen?
What it makes me want to do is clear my loft out
and find the memorabilia and look at it,
because those were great days and they are lost, unless you get an opportunity like this.
It was the development of modern aeroplanes
that made the package-holiday boom possible, and in the '70s,
working as a cabin crew was about as glamorous a job as you could get.
48-year-old Stephen Manley-Clarke, from Wiltshire, has come along today
to tell us about his childhood ambition to be a flight attendant.
-What have you brought along?
-Um, what I've brought here is some of my scrapbook memories.
This was in the mid-'70s when I was a determined 12-year-old,
wanting to fly for British Airways.
And they are very influential in my determination to fly.
Um, I was able to write to them quite frequently
and obtain trips around airports, even flights, and helping them on board.
I got presented, as you can see, with this wing.
Now I have a genuine one here.
-So that is really the start of my career.
Stephen's career aspiration wasn't just a flight of fancy.
Today, he's about to remember the first holiday that inspired him to become a high-flyer.
I was in awe of everything at the airport,
the experience of checking in, going on the flight and the holiday itself.
If I look back, the flight was probably my best part of the experience of a package holiday.
I was very determined to become cabin crew.
In the 1970s, cabin crew fashion was it.
Celebrity designers from Mary Quant to Valentino dressed flight attendants.
And when Air Europe needed a new image, who did they turn to, but 12-year-old Stephen?
There was a competition in a travel paper
and I was tasked with designing a cabin crew uniform
for Britain's newest airline at that time.
Sure enough, I won this competition, I was awarded a flight to Alicante
for designing some ideas for their new cabin-crew uniform,
which, I think, they used some of them.
It wasn't just the crew who liked to dress up.
Even at 30,000 ft, style and sophistication were never compromised.
It was a big event. People did dress up.
I can remember when I first started flying, people would put on a suit, tie,
have nice dresses on. It was a special occasion.
Travel has been my life
and I think it really does stem back from the mid-'70s
and I think it was a bug that I caught and it's still with me.
Former Bristol ground staff Jean Pitt and Jane Hosegood
ran the Clarksons holiday desk here at Bristol Airport in the 1970s.
Clarksons was one of the biggest package-tour operators in the country.
-So you were at Clarksons?
-Can you tell us about the early years?
It was just a most exciting time.
It was a lovely company to work for, very friendly,
and we did look after the passengers.
Did you feel that something new was going on?
-Do you feel you were part of an exciting new...
-It was exciting.
You could tell when they came back, they were over the moon.
All of them...with sangria! Many of them had never flown before. I hadn't.
What did you think of this package-holiday movement? What are your views and reflections on it?
Well, I had never been on one when I took the job.
But I could see that it opened up a whole new world.
I think a lot of families had a marvellous opportunity
to go at a very reasonable cost and have a lovely time together.
Jean and Jane are about to relive the days
when they were the face of Clarksons Bristol.
The whole job was... It was very taxing at times.
And dealing with people.
I think I matured during the time I worked for Clarksons.
There was one funny incident I remember,
where we had a long delay, overnight.
I rang London office and said, "What do you suppose I should do with them?"
They instantly said, "Take them on a mystery tour."
And I thought...
So I had to get the coaches and I got those
and the only thing I could think of was Cheddar, Wales and Weston.
We went to these places and, going past somebody's house, one woman screamed out
as we were driving along, "Oh, such a mystery tour, that's my front door(!)"
So, you can't please everyone.
By 1974, Clarksons had grown, in the space of only nine years,
from handling 4,000 annual holidays to over 1 million.
But they simply couldn't build hotels fast enough.
Benidorm's Hotel El Toro has been the series of a host of rows
between British holidaymakers, who arrived to find the building still being finished.
Yet, the El Toro, according to Clarksons brochure,
should have opened on 3rd April.
They were bought out by the giant firm Court Line in the rush to stay ahead,
but this extraordinary growth, coupled with a steep rise in fuel prices, burst the bubble.
Along with many other tour operators, Court Line went bust,
taking Clarksons and a number of other companies down with it.
In August 1974, they went into administration,
leaving 40,000 holidaymakers stranded.
Jane Hosegood remembers the day well.
Well, that was very sad, I was in Yugoslavia on holiday.
The rep, Tony, came down to breakfast and said,
"I may as well tell you, the Big C has crashed."
We all had to get ourselves back to England by any means.
There were no aircraft organised at that time.
Both Court Line and Clarksons are bankrupt,
so, when passengers came to check in,
if they were booked through Clarksons, they were turned away.
-How do you feel about going on another package holiday?
-Oh, no, thanks! No, thanks.
The collapse of Court Line led to increased regulation of the industry
to give holidaymakers better protection in the future.
What happened in the '70s with the package holidays, I think,
was what had been the privileges of the few became the opportunities for the many.
We're one of the most travelled nations in the world and, in a big sense,
it began here with package holidays in the '70s.
Next time on Reel History, we are at the Medical School in Birmingham,
recalling the birth of the National Health Service in 1948
and meeting some of its early patients.
I was the first baby born into the National Health Service in Great Britain.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema, travels across the country to show incredible footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives, and tell the history of modern Britain.
This episode comes from Bristol airport and looks back to the 1970s, when package holidays really took off and millions of British holidaymakers headed abroad.
Former Pontins entertainer Paul James remembers when this most British of holiday chains first set up camp in the Mediterranean. Jean Pitt and Jane Hosegood talk about what it was like being some of Bristol airport's first package holiday reps. And Stephen Manley-Clarke recounts how his passion for air travel, beginning with his first package holiday, led to a life spent in the air.