The King Of The Saucy Postcard

I needed the Wikipedia for the statistics on how the miserably underpaid Donald McGill produced 12,000 designs for his “seaside postcards”. These ran ultimately to 200 million copies, from which he saw no royalties. I would not have known that at the time, but the genre itself I remember perfectly well from my childhood. This must necessarily have been well after the initial smashing of the prewar industry by “local censorship committees” (what a Stalinist expression!) in 1954. It revived somewhat in the Sixties, which by no means looked the same among the English provincial lower-middle classes as they did in California.

George Orwell treated seaside postcards as expressive of proletarian culture. This cannot be the whole story. Although my background was not working class, I was nevertheless intensely exposed to the Art of Donald McGill. Sociologists may talk about them being the only printed versions of music-hall jokes, but in fact this low humour not only lived on into the early TV comedy shows but utterly dominated them. These shows the middle classes also watched, if only to prove that they could afford televisions. My father would roar with laughter at the most antediluvian kilt joke, while punishing me for far lesser infractions of the great gentility code of No-Sex-Please-We’re-British.

I could have been exposed to Donald McGill only on visits to the seaside. Given that we lived far inland, therefore, something about the world portrayed in the naughty postcard must have resonated with what I saw around me the rest of the year. The Wikipedia site describes a “working-class outlook that youth and adventure, and even individual life, end with marriage” and “a worm’s-eye view of life where marriage is a dirty joke or a comic disaster”.

Well, not always so comic. The example chosen to illustrate the Wikipedia page is from McGill’s cheerfully “saucy” double-entendre, but what I remember best was desperately pessimistic. In this world, a man’s life ended with marriage because sex was restricted to the honeymoon. Women never saw conjugal relations as anything but bait. The McGill designs I remember were all about the scrawny milquetoast being bullied by the obese battleship. He has not had sex since exactly 30 days after his wedding and the wife was ready to belt him one with the rolling-pin for even thinking about it. McGill’s married woman is an archetypal zero-sum thinker: if her husband gets anything he wants, whether sex or peace and quiet in the potting-shed, it necessarily means less of whatever she wants.

The men of the world I remember remained horny for life, while the women switched overnight from real or fake libido to savage bluenosery, or pretended to. I never saw the slightest real-life approach to Terry Pratchett’s comic creation “Nanny Ogg”; had she existed in my vicinity, we would no doubt have moved. My parents certainly disapproved of a contemporary’s, who in their forties were obviously still having sex with gusto.

At some level, marriage as portrayed by McGill – for the man, a matter of ferocious nagging, celibacy and enslavement – was what I expected and what I therefore avoided. Well, wouldn’t you? Perhaps the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 was after all onto something, though for quite the wrong reasons. Donald McGill may indeed have “depraved and corrupted” me by destroying my capacity for a normal perception of marriage.

Posted on September 25, 2018 at 17:54 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, Hugo Grinebiter's Schooldays

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