'As soon as I touched my seaweed': the British seaside in sound and film

In 1925, British filmmaker Claude Friese-Green filmed a road journey he took from Lands End to John O'Groats. Using a very early colour film process, he captured local people from around Britain on screen. The finished result was the Open Road, a travelogue in many short episodes. Friese-Green visited Blackpool Pleasure Beach, filming the rides and stalls, and this is just one of the extracts of historic film we've used in Beside the Seaside, a new exhibition which opens at the museum on Wednesday, 17 September 2008.
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Oh I do like to be beside the seaside: songs and film clips capture the classic British seaside holiday
The exhibition features a 4-minute audio-visual presentation containing songs and film clips reminiscent of the classic British seaside holiday. The film was great fun to put together. Before we employed a professional company to give the film a creative edit, I did lots of research at the BFI National Archive and the British Library Sound Archive to choose extracts for the film.
The BFI's Archive Producer, Jan Faull was extremely helpful, and pointed me in the direction of 4 brilliant films, which the BFI are kindly letting us use in the exhibition. As well as the Open Road, the presentation will feature an early clip of Morecambe Seafront, shot in 1901 by Edwardian filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon. This fantastic footage shows holidaymakers walking and travelling in horses and carts in all of their finery along the promenade. For that authentic seaside feel, the audio track over the top of the film is that classic tune Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, recorded at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom on the Wurlitzer organ.
There is a transport theme to two of the other BFI films featured in the presentation. Rail travel revolutionised the British seaside holiday, allowing more visitors to access resorts cheaply. Scenes from the Cornish Riviera (1904) was sponsored by the Great Western Railway to publicize the Cornish Riviera Express, a new route which opened that year, taking passengers from London to Penzance. It features shots of Looe and Polperro, which look very much like the Frith & Co. photographs of these villages in the exhibition. Blackpool, a Nation's Playground (1938) produced by London, Midland and Scottish Railways in conjunction with Blackpool corporation, offers a light-hearted look at this popular resort, encouraging tourists to visit the town by featuring girls in bathing costumes frolicking on the beach.
As soon as I touched my seaweed, sung by Clive Rowe from Taunton, accompanies the footage of the Cornish seaside. This amusing song is part of a common genre of popular seaside songs, reflecting on seaweed's 'lucky' properties and its ability to predict the weather. The song was recorded in 1977 and forms part of the British Library Sound Archives's Traditional Music in England Project, an oral history project to record and catalogue folk songs from around the country.
The last two film clips featured in the presentation are from the archives of British Pathé, and look at the post-war seaside holiday. The comic sketch Mum's Day Out (1946) tells the story of a put-upon cockney husband who is forced to do stay at home and do the washing while his wife goes on a day trip to Southend with her friends. Seaside Day (1954) highlights a day in the life of Margate, showing a Punch and Judy show and crowds flocking to the resort on the Thames steamer, the Royal Sovereign.
Together, these clips reflect the working and leisure life of the British seaside in the first half of the 20th century. They show how for generations of British holidaymakers before the advent of cheap package holidays in the 1960s and 1970s, Britain's holiday resorts were the place to see and be seen.