Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: The saucy postcard

 

* Sixty years ago this week, a 79-year-old man stood trial at Lincoln Crown Court for a breach of the 1857 Obscene Publications Act (OPA). That man was Donald McGill, Britain's pre-eminent saucy postcard artist, who by the time of his death had drawn some 12,000 nudge-wink pictures. One of the offending postcards featured a young man holding a gigantic stick of rock protruding from his groin. McGill claimed that its phallic nature had never occurred to him.

* McGill and three other defendants were victims of a crackdown on publications that supposedly threatened Britain's moral fabric. The election of a Conservative government in 1951 had seen prosecutions under the OPA increase substantially, and saucy postcards bore the brunt. Local people set up regional committees to censor postcards, with varying levels of strictness; Eastbourne, for example, implemented a total ban on McGill's work.

* A 1951 article in the Daily Mirror revealed how plain-clothes officers would ask local shopkeepers if they would be prepared to send a particular postcard to their daughter; if the answer was "No", it would be removed from sale. In 1953 alone, some 32,000 postcards were destroyed. With the industry under threat, double entendres began to tread far more carefully. "Have you cotton wool balls?" asked a generously-proportioned woman of an embarrassed male chemist.

* McGill was found guilty and fined £50 with £25 costs. "I'm not proud of myself," he said in interview later in his life. "I always wanted to do something better." Six years after his trial, the collapse of the prosecution of Penguin Books over Lady Chatterley's Lover saw restrictions on postcards eased, but the Isle of Man's regional postcard committee didn't disband until 1985. When it did, it issued a saucy postcard to mark the event.

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