The changing faces of the seaside: top 10 in pop culture

Thousands of words have been written and innumerable photographs have been taken about people at the seaside. But do we ever stop to consider exactly whose stories and experiences get told, and whose get left out? This popular cultural Top 10 provides a different take on the fringes of our 'island story', highlighting the connections and disconnections between the seaside and Britain’s diverse ethnic communities.

By Daniel Burdsey

Daniel will be speaking on the Changing Faces of the Seaside on 12 July, as part of the Maritime Lecture Series


1. Orchard Beach: the Bronx Riviera by Wayne Lawrence (2013)

Wayne Lawrence’s beautiful and moving photographic account of multiracial communities on Orchard Beach in New York’s Bronx borough provides a powerful challenge to stereotypes about who visits, and who is seen to “belong” on, the shoreline.

Image of seaside photo collection by Wayne Lawrence
Orchard Beach: the Bronx Riviera by Wayne Lawrence (2013)

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2. Gypo written and directed by Jan Dunn (2005)

Documented through a triptych of perspectives from the same fragmenting working-class white family, themes of refuge, romance and the seaside coalesce in Jan Dunn’s absorbing film, Gypo. Set in Margate, the movie portrays the precarious and traumatic nature, as well as the convivial and inter-cultural elements, of refugees’ lives at the seaside.

3. Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland written and directed by John Retallack (2018)

First performed in 2001, John Retallack’s captivating play tells the story of an emerging friendship between two teenage girls – one white British, one a refugee from Kosovo – in the seaside town of Margate. This updated version, following the women’s later lives, is touring in autumn 2018. Check it out at a theatre near you!

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4. Last Resort written by Rowan Joffe and Pawel Pawlikowski, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (2000)

A young Russian woman, Tanya, and her son arrive in the UK to meet her English fiancé. When he does not show up at the airport to meet them, they claim political asylum and are taken to a seaside refugee holding centre in “Stonehaven” (actually Margate). Tanya’s relationship with a helpful English amusement arcade manager – which progresses from friendship to romance – provides her with support in the face of her many difficulties as an asylum-seeker.

Image from the film Lost Resort
Last Resort written by Rowan Joffe and Pawel Pawlikowski, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (2000)

5. Bhaji on the Beach written by Meer Syal and directed by Gurinder Chadha (1993) 

The most well-known and iconic portrayal of minority ethnic adventures at the English seaside, this charming story of a group of British Asian women on a day trip to Blackpool, combines the fun of the seaside with a serious take on social issues such as racism and domestic violence. The film demonstrates that the role of the seaside as a break from traditional conditions, structural relations and the normative behaviours of everyday life is undoubtedly a cross-cultural phenomenon.

6. Canvey – The Promised Island directed by Riete Oord (2018)

This BBC documentary explores the experiences of a community of Hasidic Jews, who have moved from Stamford Hill in London to set up new lives on Canvey Island on the Thames Estuary. The programme sheds light on their engagements with local residents – all under the watchful eye and support of Chris Fenwick, manager of pub rock legends, Dr. Feelgood!

Image of Hasidic Jews in Canvey Island
Canvey: The Promised Island. Spring Films/ BBC

7. The Great British Seaside by Martin Parr (2018)

As part of the Great British Seaside exhibition, Martin Parr was commissioned by the National Maritime Museum to produce a new series of photographs to highlight the contemporary seaside cultures of the south-east. The result is a delightful series of images that portray the seaside at its very best: inclusive, multicultural and fun! 

Image of people enjoying the seaside - Martin Parr photo
Clacton-on-Sea, Essex 2017 © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

8. Ghosts written by Jez Lewis and Nick Broomfield, directed by Nick Broomfield (2006)

No one watching this harrowing film will be left in any doubt that the seaside and coast can also be dangerous and deadly landscapes, especially for precariously-employed migrant workers. A powerful remembrance of the lives of the Chinese cockle pickers who lost their lives at Morecambe Bay in 2004.

9. Race, Place and Diversity at the Seaside by Suki Dhanda (2018)

Like the work of Wayne Lawrence, Suki Dhanda’s terrific photographic exhibition at the Plymouth College of Art challenges us to reconsider the landscapes of the English coast, and to think differently about who works, plays and lives there.

10. Race, Place and the Seaside: Postcards from the Edge by Daniel Burdsey (2016)

Based on a decade of research – including ethnographic fieldwork in a seaside town – this book is the first to document in detail the connections between the English seaside, race and whiteness. Bringing together a wealth of original testimonies from minority ethnic, migrant and refugee interviewees, it illuminates the seaside as an environment they not only like to visit, but also one they increasingly call home.

The Great British Seaside: Photography From The 1960s To The Present​ runs from March 23 to September 30 at the National Maritime Museum.Buy tickets

Banner image: Shoeburyness, Essex, 2017 © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos