Postcard From Summer 1954, Part Three – Scarborough

In 1954, the Manchester Evening News launched a “Special Investigation” and tasked my uncle, John Alldridge, with answering the question –

Holidaymakers, do you get value for your MONEY?

What follows is his report on Scarborough. It gives a good idea of what holidays were like 65 years ago. Jerry F

Scarborough: Fair Do’s Is the Motto

The first thing they showed me here at Scarborough was a man trying to stand up on a pair of water-skis behind a speedboat that was towing him relentlessly across the bay at 30 knots.

It was raining hard at the time. And every now and then he would disappear from view behind a wicked wave. Whenever this happened a man in oilskins and a yachting cap who was watching all this through field glasses from the comparative security of the lighthouse would wave his cap and shout encouragement.

It might have been some would-be Olympic hope being timed over the measured mile. In fact it was the chairman of the directors of The Spa (Scarborough) Ltd, Mr William B. Hagenbach, trying to sell a new idea for next summer to the Town Clerk of Scarborough; the rugged, athletic type in the oilskins and the yachting cap being the Town Clerk.

Jerry F, Going Postal
Scarborough Sea Front.
Scarborough seafront,
Benjamin Shaw
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

After the sluggish, apathetic things-could-be-a-lot-worse-old-boy philosophy I have encountered in some old-established seaside resorts the vigorous, almost brutal, way with which Scarborough faces realities is breath-taking.

This part of Yorkshire breeds plenty of characters. It was a boy from around here who, tired of sleeping under the counter in a grocer’s shop, went out and discovered Australia. Only an eccentric could have built that arrogantly Victorian Grand Hotel so close to the sea that, were you so inclined, you could high-dive into it from your bedroom window. The result of that sturdy piece of whimsicality is that today you can dine over the sea in the finest – and perhaps the longest – dining-room in England.

You will meet plenty of Scarborough folk who will tell you that the town is Not What It Was. Of course it isn’t. Change is the breath of life by which a determined resort town lives. Fall out of step in the parade and a couple of centuries of elegant prosperity won’t keep you in business.

The men who run Scarborough know that, and live by it. Over the brandy and cigars they may wax nostalgic about the days when Patti sang at the Spa and when the South Sands at low tide was the most exclusive promenade north of Rotten Row.

Nowadays at the Spa they have Tom Jenkins and his Palm Court Orchestra, George Crow and his Blue Mariners, Reg Lever, and an open-air ice show competing.

And now there is a Fun Fair, placed with gaudy effrontery at the very foot of the ruins of that Norman castle where Piers Gaveston was besieged and captured in 1312.

One of the peculiarities of Scarborough is that it isn’t one town but four. Which means that you can, if you wish, ignore the penny arcades and peep-shows down there by the harbour and exist in splendid, if rather expensive, isolation up there on St Nicholas Cliff. For 45s. a day you can enjoy French cooking and sleep in a bedroom furnished in Recency style with a view from your window that might be Antibes.

You can live just as well, and very much cheaper, a little lower down the hill among the whelk stalls and fish shops. (And if you have never tasted fried Scarborough codlings straight off the boat then you have never tasted fish.)

Scarborough, being a borough as well as the oldest seaside resort in Britain (there were day-trippers coming here as long ago as 1680), probably has a very imposing motto. Something in Latin about health and beauty, no doubt. But the motto which keeps Scarborough ticking over despite the worst that an English summer can do to it is very much younger: “The Customer is Always Right.”

A few seasons back, Scarborough bought a scale model of the Treasure Island schooner Hispaniola (she was originally a collier, built at Lytham). She cost Walt Disney £17,000. Scarborough took her off his hands for £3,500. They set her up in the harbour as a floating sideshow. She paid off her purchase price in the first three months.

One of the few places in England where the news that Pakistan had beaten England in a Test was received with something like approval was Scarborough. Pakistan visit Scarborough next month to play a local side and that victory at the Oval will be worth an extra £500 in gate money, they reckon here.

But if they believe in going out unashamedly after the brass at least they guarantee value for money. Being Yorkshiremen, catering very largely for Yorkshiremen, they know they must.

In some resorts I’ve visited they shudder at the very sound of that word “complaint”. It’s inelegant, almost ungentlemanly, to mention it. In Scarborough they like you to shout – and shout loud – if you’ve got a grumble.

On the whole, Yorkshiremen don’t need encouragement. Nor do the Scots or even the Londoners. Only the folk from Lancashire seem anxious to avoid a fuss, prepared to pay up.

Why should this be ? Can we still afford to take short measure in Lancashire ? Or are we going soft?

Complaints there are, but here in Scarborough complaints get attention on the spot. If proved, the remedy is often short and drastic. More than one proud hotel on the South Cliff has felt the sting of official disapproval. The town guide is still the social register where seaside catering is concerned. Three black marks from the Complaints Department and that name disappears from the guide – maybe for good.

“Fair do’s for all” is good old-fashioned Yorkshire. Its nice to see it in practice.

You see it, for instance, in the advertising for that magnificent – and probably unique – outdoor attraction the Open Air Theatre (this year it’s “Chu Chin Chow” on the longest stage in the world): “Ticket-holders are requested not to assume that a performance will be postponed because the weather is wet.”

In other words – in Scarborough the show must go on.


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© Jerry F 2021