As the country sweltered through its longest heatwave in decades and temperature records tumbled, Cinema Paradiso gets into the holiday mood with a selection of the best films set at the British seaside. They're not all about sea, sun and sand, however, as our coastal resorts have also provided the setting for plenty of dark deeds.
The Earliest Excursions
From the earliest days of British cinema, the coast has loomed large. One of the first films ever projected in this country, RW Paul and Birt Acres's Rough Seas at Dover (1896), presented a view of waves breaking against the pier. Originally made for a Kinetoscope viewer, this landmark film can be seen in the BFI collection, RW Paul: The Complete Surviving Films 1895-1908.
Acres returned to the shore for an early slapstick comedy, Landing at Low Tide (1896), in which a boatman carrying a woman falls over in the sea, while a combination of postcard views and risqué humour informed Tom Green's Seaside Views, Alf Collins's Her Morning Dip (both 1905) and AE Goleby's A Seaside Episode (1908). Girls in swimsuits also featured prominently in the opening frames of GA Smith's A Visit to the Seaside (1908), which was made in Brighton in Kinemacolor and is the earliest commercially produced film to use a natural colour process. But the most amusing seaside specials of the period were made for Cecil Hepworth by director Lewin Fitzhamon, who had collaborated on the landmark chase film, Rescued By Rover (1905), which is available on the BFI disc, Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers. In Seaside Girl (1907), May Clark is pursued around Bognor Regis by a couple of mashers and a kilted Scotsman, while in A Seaside Introduction (1911), Hay Plumb gets into trouble when he tries to help Alma Taylor after someone steals her shoes while she's paddling in Lulworth Cove.
The Golden Age of the English Seaside
The most remade British seaside saga is Hindle Wakes, which was first adapted from Stanley Houghton's hit play by Maurice Elvey in 1918. Ironically, the part of Fanny Hawthorne, the Lancashire mill girl who defies convention by refusing to marry the boss's son after a romantic dalliance during the annual 'wakes' holiday to Blackpool, was played by Colette O'Niel, who was the RADA-trained daughter of the 5th Earl Annesley. American Estelle Brody took the role in Elvey's 1927 silent remake. But the renamed Jenny Hawthorne in Victor Saville's 1931 sound version was played by Belle Chrystall, who brought an authentic Preston accent to a part that went to Paris-educated Reading native, Lisa Daniely in Arthur Crabtree's 1952 interpretation (see below). It's often claimed that this is the fourth and final screen adaptation, but Laurence Olivier co-directed a tele-version in 1976, with Rosalind Ayres as Fanny Hawthorn.
The Fylde coast proved popular with northern holidaymakers after paid leave became a statutory right in July 1938. But Gracie Fields had already discovered its pleasures in Basil Dean's Sing As We Go! (1934), after she had cycled to Blackpool in search of work after losing her job at Greybeck Mill. Starting out skivvying in a boarding house, she sells Krunchy Wunchy Toffee, poses as a spiritualist and fills in as a 'human spider' and a 'vanishing girl' in sideshows on the Golden Mile, while trying to broker a deal that will lead to the mill being reopened.
Seeking to enter the TT Races on the Isle of Man, George Formby also had to entertain the visitors by busking on beach to pay for his lodgings in Monty Banks's No Limit (1935), which can be found in Volume One of The George Formby Collection. Work and pleasure similarly co-mingled in Carol Reed's Bank Holiday (1939), which follows nurse Margaret Lockwood, beauty queen Rene Ray and Cockney parents Wally Patch and Kathleen Harrison from London to Bexborough for a little romance and relaxation. With its scenes of revellers scoffing fish and ships, swimming in the sea, sleeping on the beach and sneaking into hotels for a dirty weekend, this non-judgemental drama provides a more authentic snapshot of the working and middle classes taking their leisure than any other picture of the period.
The ensemble approach was also employed in Ken Annakin's Holiday Camp (1947), which forms part of the wonderful Huggetts Collection available from Cinema Paradiso. Founded by such entrepreneurs as Billy Butlin and Fred Pontin, holiday camps proved hugely popular in the postwar period and film-makers flocked to capture their distinctive atmosphere. While the Butlin's in Skegness and Clacton respectively hosted Alfred J. Goulding's Sam Small Leaves Town (1937) and James Hill's Every Day's a Holiday (1964), scenes in Bryan Izzard's Holiday on the Buses and Claude Watham's That'll Be the Day (both 1973) featured the Pontin's in Prestatyn and on the Isle of Wight. Among the other fictional camps to hit the screen around this time were the Greenside Caravan Centre in Christopher Hodson's The Best Pair of Legs in the Business (1973), Bernie's Holiday Camp in Ken Russell's Tommy (1975) and Camp Funfrall in Norman Cohen's Confessions From a Holiday Camp (1976).
One of the most poignant seaside scenes in British screen history sees Patricia Roc and Gordon Jackson return to their favourite resort in Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's Millions Like Us (1943). It's clear from the opening montage filled with charabancs, fairground rides and sunbathing bodies that Eastgate is thriving. When the newlyweds check in for their honeymoon, however, they notice the bomb damage to the buildings along the front, the barbed wire keeping people off the mined beach and the flashes of gunfire coming from across the Channel.
But Brits were determined to have fun once peace returned and the British Transport Film Unit did its bit to promote seaside holidays in such enduringly delightful shorts as West Country Journey (1953). Lancashire Coast, Holiday (both 1957), The Coasts of Clyde (1959) and Down to Sussex (1965). However, Lindsay Anderson captured the public's changing attitude to the traditional seaside holiday in O Dreamland (1953), a docu-realist short filmed in Margate that's available from Cinema Paradiso on the three-disc BFI collection, Free Cinema (1952-63).
As the standard of living rose and prices on the continent fell, British holidaymakers began to head abroad. Consequently, the best seaside film of them all, Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953), includes a cheerily dotty Englishwoman played by Valentine Camax. France was also the destination for the tourists in Anatole de Grunwald's Innocents in Paris (1953) and Jeremy Summers's San Ferry Ann (1965), while Ingrid Bergman and George Saunders ventured to Naples in Roberto Rossellini's A Journey to Italy (1954).
Bringing the holiday movie to a younger audience, pop star Cliff Richard crossed the continent at the wheel of a red Routemaster bus in Peter Yates's Summer Holiday (1963) and set a trend that has continued in the form of Ed Bye's Kevin and Perry Go Large (2000), Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar (2001), Ben Palmer's The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) and Damon Beesley and Iain Morris's The Inbetweeners 2 (2014). But, from the introduction of package holidays, film-makers have tended to focus on the funny side of foreign travel in the likes of Gerald Thomas's Carry On Abroad (1972), Bob Kellett's Are You Being Served? (1976), Lewis Gilbert's Shirley Valentine (1989) and Steve Bendelack's Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007).
Holiday cruises also got the comedy treatment in Ralph Thomas's Doctor At Sea (1955), Maclean Rogers's Not Wanted on Voyage (1957), Jack Lee's The Captain's Table (1959) and Gerald Thomas's Carry On Cruising (1962). Indeed, the merry band led by producer Peter Rogers couldn't resist a summer break, as they demonstrated in Carry On Camping (1969), Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), Carry On Girls (1973) and Carry On Behind (1975).
Blackpool & Brighton
Resorts along the UK coastline have appeared on screen and Cinema Paradiso is currently taking reservations for trips to Torquay (Henry Cass's Last Holiday, 1950), Hastings (Jeffrey Dell's The Dark Man, 1951); Hunstanton (Charles Frend's Barnacle Bill, 1957), Brixham (Michael Winner's The System, 1964); Lulworth Cove (Mike Leigh Nuts in May, 1976), Whitley Bay (Michael Tuchner's The Likely Lads, 1976), St Agnes (Carl Prechezer's Blue Juice, 1995), Bexhill-on-Sea (Andrew Kötting's Gallivant, 1996), Whitstable (Roger Michell's Venus, 2006); Eastbourne (Gurinder Chadha's Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 2008); and Gairloch (Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin's What We Did on Our Holiday, 2014). But the most filmed seaside destinations are Blackpool and Brighton.
Standing 518ft, Blackpool Tower has swayed in the Irish Sea breeze over films as different as Lupino Lane's spy romp, No Lady (1936); Bernard Vorhaus's mill comedy, Cotton Queen (1937); John E. Blakeley's Frank Randle farce, Holidays With Pay (1948); George King's noirish thriller, Forbidden (1949); Alfred Travers's circus saga, Double Alibi (1957); Paul Orerenland's gay boxing drama, Like It Is (1998); and Peter Chelsom's Pleasure Beach dramedy, Funny Bones (1995).
Notwithstanding the elegance of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton has often been depicted as a hotbed of crime. No place outside London has played itself more often on screen. But comedies like Henry Cornelius's Genevieve (1953), John Paddy Carstairs's One Good Turn (1955) and Silvio Narizzano's Loot (1970) have been few and far between. Instead, Brighton has been the scene of murderous crimes in Robert Hamer's Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), Val Guest's Jigsaw (1962), Michael Winner's Dirty Weekend (1993), Paul Andrew Williams's London to Brighton (2006), Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace (2009) and Rowan Joffe's Brighton Rock (2010). No wonder author Keith Waterhouse once said that Brighton was like a place that was helping the police with their inquiries.
Shadows were also cast over the promenade in Walter Forde's Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (1939), Joseph Losey's The Damned, Sidney J. Furie's The Leather Boys (both 1963), Michael Winterbottom's I Want You (1998), Adrian Edmondson's Guest House Paradiso (1999) and Penny Woolcock's Exodus (2007). However, Woolcock also produced one of the most joyous celebrations of our seaside heritage in the compilation documentary, From the Sea to the Land Beyond (2012).