Idealog - March 2007
A Sense of the Past
The Netherlands Maritime Museum in Amsterdam has a large collection of historic ships in an adjacent harbour as well as an extensive indoor exhibition. At the centre of the floating collection is a replica of the VOC Amsterdam (the initials refer to the old Dutch East India Company) which was built by 400 volunteers between 1985 and 1990. As such it is a product of the interest in many things from Dutch exploration and empire-building to maritime and military history. The 1980s were at a peak of interest and activity in all matters historic, which with the rapid growth of tourism in mind was also derided as a preoccupation of a backward-looking 'heritage industry'. For my own part I regard much of the scope and level of the criticism as superficial, a product of another, media, industry which was driven by the need to generate newspaper and TV content. There was little regard for what were really very different sets of motivations amongst the many heritage-related projects. As well as straight commercial opportunism, which was attracted to many of these schemes, and which certainly shaped the direction of many of them, there were also all kinds of deeper aspirations to do with understanding, presenting and learning from the past in effective new ways.
The original VOC Amsterdam ran aground in a storm near Hastings in 1749. In time the wreck sank in to the mud and became covered. 220 years after the loss it was rediscovered when a very low tide helped to expose the ship. After considerable archaeological examination during which some artefacts were removed and placed in the Hastings Shipwreck Museum the wreck was given full legal protection from diving and further removal of remains.
The replica is highly detailed and beautifully made. This might lead some critics to claim that, like many replica-building projects, it presents a fasle picture of the past: where are the social, health and naval problems that were associated with 18th century life? Do visitors realise on seeing what might be considered a romantic sailing vessel that conditions were crowded, insanitary by modern standards and ruled by harsh attitudes?
The answer has to be no: it is only part of the communication to those generations who did not live at the time about what the ship was like. We can't "step back in time" (and what a pity long prison sentences cannot be imposed on those shallow PR people who use that terrible cliche). Even if we could attempt to create all of those conditions on a museum reconstruction - and we couldn't afford to and it would be equally unacceptable to try for social and safety reasons), we would only get part of the way to the "authentic" experience, whatever that was. No form of communication about past times can give us more than a smidgeon of the full story. Each book, TV documentary, film drama or academic lecture can only select so much according to the knowledge and preconceptions of the authors and performers. The 'Amsterdam' is a showcase which provides essential experiences for those who visit it, but it is only one of a range of presentations about the past that the visitor ought to use in order to just begin to get the full picture.
The Outdoor Classroom
Under the inspiration of many writers and innovators, the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw ideas develop to take teaching and learning into the world outside the school and home. Some, like the Boy Scouts movement, were aimed at building the individual psychologically and socially. Others were related to academic subjects or a mix of the two ideas. Some important examples are shown here.
Dr Cecil Reddie founded Abbotsholme School in Staffordshire as a place to develop both the minds and bodies of its pupils in pleasant surroundings. Working within a community was important. Reddie had been influenced by Rousseau and John Ruskin and he admired the German secondary schools which emphasised involvement in the outside world. Even so, in an example of a long period of idea-swapping between the United Kingdom and Germany, he in turn inspired one of his teachers, Hermann Leitz, to return home to set up a similar school at Ilsenberg in 1899. Others followed in Germany as Leitz built up his activities.
Robert Baden-Powell counted British and American influences amongst his antecedents when he ran his famous camp for boys from contrasting communities in 1907. Out of that event on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, came the Boy Scout and Guide Guides, Cubs and Brownies movements which were not outdoor classroom activities but educationally-aimed nonetheless.
Just after the First World War a German educator, Kurt Hahn, was employed as Secretary to the last Chancellor of Imperial Germany, Prince Max von Baden. In 1920 Hahn set up Salem School which also had aims of developing character and self-discipline. Hahn stood against the rise of Nazi control during the early 1930s and in 1932 was forced out, having written to his pupils to say they had to choose between the school's principles and those of the Nazi party. Kurt Hahn fled to England. Two years after leaving Salem he founded Gordonstoun in Scotland. The new school had its own strong blend of personal and social development set in the Highlands communities close to Inverness. The present Prince of Wales would become its most famous (though apparently reluctant) alumnus.
Hahn was to have another achievement in Britain. As the Second world War broke out, Gordonstoun moved to Plas Dinan in North Wales. Sharing a similar concern that had motivated Baden-Powell much earlier, Hahn and Lawrence Holt of the Blue Funnel shipping line began another school, at Aberdovey. This would attempt to improve the mental and physical qualities of boys entering the merchant navy. It was the first centre of the Outward Bound movement. As such it would expand into a series of centres and be used by many organisations anxious to train employees to be self-reliant and successful by using demanding physical and team-building techniques. There is a strong element here that also led towards much more informal adventure holidays, notably through companies like PGL after the war.
The last example of outdoor education shown above is the Field Studies Council which began life in 1947. It has already been the subject of a separate posting. The Council grew out of the observation of the difference between London children and their new neighbours when they were evacuated early in the war to Cambridgeshire. However, its work was not primarily aimed at individuals and human communities but at knowledge about the natural environment. Many field centres were opened and helped in the academic education of thousands of pupils and students.
Click here to read all similar timeline postings
The James Bond movies are amongst those adventures which have a world-wide remit full of glamour and excitement. Was it the films set in exotic eastern locations which spurred a generation of gap-year travellers to explore south east Asia?
To those of us who remain largely desk-bound there is another layer of fascination which also applies to other cinema productions. Finding out that "Batman Begins" was mainly filmed here in the UK adds to the realisation of the magic of the movies. The US-military Vietnam drama "Full Metal Jacket" had 'realistic' battle scenes filmed in the former Beckton gas works in east London. The latest Bond-fest, 'Casino Royale' has its own examples such as a park in Buckinghamshire which stands in for a Ugandan rebel camp and a test track in Bedfordshire for the world-record breaking car roll-over supposedly happening in Montenegro. Elsewhere in the film the Bahamas are used for Magagascar and Miami, Prague locations stand in for Montenegro, bits of Venice and - again - Miami.
The famous Casino Royale of the film is in Montenegro, a small state in the Balkans, once part of Yugoslavia. Ian Fleming's inspiration for the casino was in Estoril, Portugal, where he played Chemin de Fer. In his novel this turns into baccarat. The recent film changes the game again - to a variety of poker, presumably to bring it into line with modern gambling aspirations. For many Europeans wanting to glimpse the high life it might be Monte Carlo that gets their walk-through custom since that is probably the gambling resort most established in their minds. From Bond movies to BMIbaby weekend breaks is a no-frills short cut.
Sue Beeton's book on "Film Induced Tourism" is an excellent introduction to the links between cinemas and destinations, while Tony Reeves' "Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations" describes, amongst other things, where famous films were really made.
Beeton, S (2005) Film-Induced Tourism, Clevedon, Channel View
ISBN 1 84541 014 9
Reeves, T (2006) The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations (3rd ed), London, Titan Books
ISBN 1 84023 207 2
Films Inspiring Travel
Lonely Planet, whose guide books have inspired millions of travellers, is running a mini-festival of films that did the same. A number of UK venues will be showing "The Italian Job" (Turin), "Amelie" (Paris) and "Volver" (Madrid). I'm not sure whether Michael Caine's Mini-festival of crime has actually caused many people to go to Turin, or whether "Volver" will get them to Madrid (but then I haven't seen that one). "Amelie" sounds a better bet (no, not yet seen that one, either).
Leaving aside TV documentaries and travel publicity films, it's interesting to think which cinema features create a wish to see the locations featured. Putting together a few thoughts of my own I notice they include quite early ones, doubtless from an impressionable age. The magical Albert Lamorisse film "The Red Balloon" of 1956 has all but disappeared. It is a children's story of a boy following the eponymous balloon as it exerts a life of its own, drifting across Belleville in Paris. Also French was was amazing "Dream of Wild Horses" set in the Camargue in 1960 - horses splashing in slow motion through the marsh waters and grass fires near the Rhone Estuary: poetic and beautiful against a remarkable music track. We don't rate Disney "Real Life Adventures" as very real any more, thanks to whimsical square-dancing scorpions and the like, yet "The Living Desert" was a great favourite. After that ... all kinds of movies from "The Alamo" to "Zulu" made me want to pack the bags and go. It's like that sequence in "2001" where the ape throws a stick into the air and turns in slo-mo into the great wheel of a space station. From little aspirations great expeditions come.....
Making Tracks For The Coast and Country
The importance of the invention of railways in the growth of tourism has been widely understood, although sometimes it is air travel that is credited with creation of the package holiday. Equally important to leisure travel is the growth of informal education through the railways. For most people, systematic, formal education for all dated in the UK from the later nineteenth century. There were many earlier schools than the Board Schools which resulted from the Education Acts of 1870 onwards, but they were less comprehensive in every sense. In that overworked and ambiguous phrase it was the School of Life which taught most people and shaped their view of the world. Part of that in the six decades prior to the establishment of universal primary, and then secondary, education, was rail travel.
It was middle-class adults who were affected by the scheduled services first, and they also benefitted first when they used organised group excursions. Children might be included in some of them but it was often the special groups of older people who travelled on these journeys first. A trip to witness a public execution in Cornwall (1838) was a gruesome pioneer. A Sunday School teachers' excursion a rather more wholesome activity followed soon afterwards in 1844. This was to the aspiring resort of Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast, soon eclipsed by Blackpool further south. Thomas Cook's religious foray into Loughborough from Leicester was the origin of his famous company in 1841, but without overnight accommodation it was not itself a tourism package as such. It was only the first of a number of entries by religious leaders into the tourist market. Education - and often, propaganda - was what they were aimed at employing. The exploration of the world through mass travel had begun.
Pictures, Context and Meaning
Listening to a guest lecture on analysing tourist publicity reminded me of the importance of two factors about interpreting images. First, the context can radically alter the meaning; and second, the meaning is a construct in the mind of the viewer.
It's possible to create rules about what the different components of a picture will be seen as meaning. In a tourist photo blue might equal sky, yellow sand reflect sunshine and holidays, scenes of beach activity mean leiure and fun. A comfortably-off family might see a travel opportunity: but a family in poverty might see an unobtainable event and feel disappointment, envy and even resentment. The viewer is an equal partner in the triangular contract between the message producer, the message and the viewer themselves.
Move the same photo to a press report in a tabloid red-top and the context changes with the different treatment. The fanciful version above right swaps blue sky and sand colours with cheerful text for we're-all-doomed black and ominous copy. The picture stays the same: its core values are the same but with a new context our interpretation is different so the meaning and significance of the message is altered. Of course it has to be added that looking at these two in the context of this web site affects how they are seen, which will be as a tourist photo used as part of an discussion about tourist photos ... no-one will see them as a real publicity photo or a news report.
There is more to this tourist imagery than meets the eye .....
Kiss-Me-Quick and candy floss might have ruled the waves for most Blackpool visitors, but classical culture got in there as well. Travelling fairs used to bring entertainment and some of the world's wonders to Britain's townsfolk each spring and autumn. Seaside resorts made these shows fixtures along the front and in the age of the train folks would flock to them.
Blackpool built piers, Pleasure Beach, the Winter Gardens and the Tower in the Victorian heyday of sun, sand, sea and serendipity. The north winds might blow but there was always plenty indoors to be discovered. And those Victorians knew how to add a bit of class to their marketing mix.
The Tower complex grew alongside an aquarium which was always popular and it is still there to be discovered. Pop in to any Pets At Home and plastic Grecian temples can still be bought to join the tropical fish at home. They're as much part of the scene as treasure chests and pirates. In the tank pictured is a large mock-up of part of a sunken city around which the fish swim. For the show designers it must have almost been like subliminal education of the milltown masses - and in the neighbouring Winter Gardens there's another bit of Grecian art in the shape of statues of semi-naked gods and goddesses. Nowadays we go to see the real Greek landscape where once we only saw it in amusement arcades. Was it Blackpool where we got our first taste for the Mediterranean?
Set Out To See
From the top of Blackpool Tower it's easy to see the geography of tourism in this famous Lancashire resort.
The promenade, with its tram system still operating, connects everything behind the beach and the breakers on the Irish Sea. Just inland of the North Pier is Talbot Square at the end of Talbot Road, and this is at the heart of the Blackpool story. Close to here were the early mass tourism developments including the first hotels. The Town Hall also looks out over the Square, as well as Yates's Wine Lodge, which still serves visitors.
North Pier was largely financed by Halifax business men who jokingly referred to Blackpool as 'Halifax-by-the-Sea'. West Yorkshire folk did not automatically turn to Scarborough, in Yorkshire but a distance away. Many used Blackpool and also Morecamb, further up the coast, and even in the nineteenth century wealthy businessmen might commute from fine houses they had bought on the western coast.
Blackpool's first railway station began to bring in the thousands who would flock to the resort over the decades. They would pour down Talbot Road, past the Talbot Hotel, into Talbot Square, all named after the Talbot Clifton family who owned land here and developed the whole street. From the Square they could enter the North Pier with its restautants and dancing: later, when the South Pier (now known as the Central since a third pier was built) was opened they could walk along the promenade to see and be seen and to enjoy the more gaudy amusements that it contained. North of Talbot Road and Square the middle-class sensibiities of the North Pier continued into Claremont Park and the hotels such as the Metropole.
The archaeology of tourism is laid out to see from the great height of the Tower.
Hi, Hi, Everyone, Hi, Hi!
For around fifty years the glove puppet, Sooty, entertained children on TV, and videos of his performances are still available.
Sooty was the creation of Harry Corbett, and engineer from Bradford. In 1948 Corbett found an appealing teddy-bear glove puppet on a stall on Blackpool's North Pier, seen above, and bought him for seven shillings on sixpence - 32.5 pence in modern day money. It represented a higher sum in those days. Corbett was an amateur magician and children's entertained and incorporated the all-yellow puppet into his act with great success.
In 1952 Harry Corbett was invited to perform on BBC TV. In order to make the figure more distinctive he daubed its ears and nose with chimney soot, which also gave the bear a new name. Corbett was instantly popular and stayed so until his retirement in the 1970s when his son Mathew took over, and Sooty continued to appear on TV until around 2000. All the shows were simple in format, the Corbetts adding a few more characters and enacting gentle slapstick comedy on a tiny stage that they stood next to.
Each show ended with a dose of water-pistol spray or other indignity imposed by Sooty on his owner and the words "Bye, bye, everyone, bye bye" in a long-suffering tone.
The Blackpool Heritage Trust has commemorated the discovery of the glove puppet by a blue plaque at the entrance to the North Pier: it shows a version of Sooty not seen in his TV adventures - he has legs. In his paw he holds a magic wand as used by Harry Corbett for his TV conjuring tricks - though the glove puppet needed both paws to hold it.
Dark Side of the Dream
I remember in school during the 1950s a heated discussion one break time. Several boys were arguing against one dogged individual about space exploration. It was around the time that the political race between Russia and the USA had been launched, when the Soviets put, one after the other, a satellite, a dog, a man and a woman into orbit round the Earth. We had been brought up on the heroics of Dan Dare and the true British achievers of the Boy's Own Paper. We wanted men to go into space. Our plucky opponent argued, until he was saved by the bell, for robots to explore the heavens, rather than cumbersome, inefficient space ships with humans and their life-support systems on board.
By the beginning of the 21st century, when Dan Dare in the 'Eagle' comic had reached most planets in the universe and found them full of exciting new friends and foes, the reality of space exploration was very different. The American space shuttle programme was struggling desperately for both real success and for the funds that would follow only in the wake of success. The Russians boosted their Soyuz programme by taking the first of a handfull of rich, and carefully chosen, capitalists to the International Space Station at a cost of $20m each. The ISS itself is heavily criticised ( as well as heavily supported) for absorbing huge resouyrces which could have been better spent on unmanned exploration. Robot craft in the Pioneer and Voyager programmes have produced spectacular successes in their journeyings through our solar system. Supporters of ther manned projects have pointed to numerous spin-offs which they say have benefitted humanity in general, from computer systems to velcro, and from Teflon coating to ballpoint pens which would write in zero gravity.
The two recent books, by Marina Benjamin and Gerard J Degroot cut these claims down to size. Their titles, with the words "dream" and "dark side", set the scene. They share much of the same ground - or space - and even similaraties in their cover typography. Benjamin is perhaps more amenable to the idea of putting people into distant space exploration while telling how the dreams of her titles have faded upon waking to the human and budgetary cost of what has often been failure. Degroot is clearly against: it might have been magnificent, but it was still madness, he writes of the American lunar quest. Far from being a lucky spin-off from space technology, those ballpoint pens cost a fortune when the astronauts could have done what their Russian counterparts did - use pencils. Teflon was invented pre-World War II, but NASA put a new spin on the story and left people thinking it was a space age bonus.
When space tourism is again being actively promoted (see Idealog posting on this web site for 25 February 07) it would be as well to maintain a healthily critical view of what the spinners are turning out.
Somewhere, that classmate of mine from fifty years ago is probably going around with a wise smile on his face.
Benjamin, Marina (2003) Rocket Dreams: How the Space Age Shaped Our Vision of a World Beyond, London, Chatto and Windus
Degroot, Gerard R (2006) Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest, New York, New York University Press
ISBN: 13 978 0 8147 1995 4
Mike Higgs and Hawk Books reprinted the Dan Dare stories from Eagle comic in a series of hardback editions covering 1950-1960. The revered artist Frank Hampson led a studio team in writing and drawing the very British, very 1950s space sagas. Silver surfers wanting some unadulterated reading bliss might find them through dealers. Original comics are also to be found on eBay.
Higgs, M (ed)(1994) Dan Dare: Terra Nova Trilogy, London, Hawk Books Ltd
0 948248 59 9
£18.95 (originally - collector's prices now)
Holodyne: The Action Cycle
What is tourism?
Tourism is a way of discovering the world: its places and people.
Tourism is a form of travel. There are four types of travel, though the traveller might simultaneously mix these four in different proportions. The four are exploration, conquest, business and tourism. Exploration might be that of the first traveller ever to step foot in a place, or it might be that of anyone visiting a place they have not seen before even though many others have. Conquest can be military, ideological or economic. Business can be to do with trade and commerce or any form of employment or occupation - merchants, teachers, charity workers etc. A journalist investigating a story might be exploring and on business at the same time, then in the evening becomes a leisure traveller enjoying the entertainment on offer. A soldier might be using force to win a battle - that is not well defined as business which is a peaceful activity - but then spend time in rest and recuperation as a tourist.
These forms of travel - tourism being one - bring the traveller into contact with new places and people and lead to a myriad instances of discovery. Discovery comes through other means, however, as well.
People have four ways of discovering their world. Babies discover it through personal contact, with parents and other humans, and also with the immediate surroundings of their clothing, cot, and room. This circle of contact is with them from their first day to their last. It can be extended by travelling, at first in a parent's arms, then a baby buggy, next a car or other form of transport. For them, the age of travelling had begun, and they start as leisure travellers: tourists.
Next encountered as their circle of contact enlarges to take in the TV set, the radio, music player and computer station, followed by books, newspapers and journals, but also photos and graphics on consumer goods, postcards and reproductions of paintings, are the mass media. While not strictly forms of mass media themselves this group can include family photos, letters and phone calls, all of which depend on communications media but which work one-to-one.
Last encountered, and first relinquished, is formal education. Through the stages from primary to tertiary and possibly continuing education, the student undergoes a mode of discovery which works in a very special way, but which also is notable for incorporating at various times all of the previous three modes. Indeed, each mode draws on the activities of the previous one. So travelling extends, and incorporates, the circle of personal contact. The mass media use reporters and correspondents who travel and make new contacts on behalf of their audience of users but then employ their particular medium in order to communicate. Educators use every mode, and, of course, the learner does the same when they use educational systems in order to educate themelves.
The next three phases follow on. 'Interpretation' is that which includes the actions which help us decide the meaning and significance of the discoveries made in the first phase. We are influenced by a range of factors (the broad headings for which are shown) such as our own physiology, psychology, knowledge and culture. For example, if we are hungry the discovery of a shop selling food will have a different significance than if we had only just exited a nearby restaurant. The influence of the people and cultural frameworks (philosophers, politicians, our family and social groups) is very important.
The next phase is that in which we take decisions. This might be a process within our own mind or it might involve informal or formal activities. It might require a family discussion or a fixed-procedure meeting. These again depend on cultures and systems but what is key to this phase is the process rather than the framework.
Finally, in the fourth phase, we take action. It can involve any of a number of possibilities, the nature of which is hinted at by the sub-heading shown. The outcome will, one way or another, lead to further discoveries, and so the cycle continues.
Of course real life is not so prescriptive as this model suggests. There are overlaps, simultaneous activities and great variation in the time taken by each phase - and indeed the speed by which it all happens. The model is trying to suggest the important elements and to point towards the complexities which exist.
An early academic discussion of this idea, in which the model was presented as a spiral in order to incorporate the time element, can be found in a conference paper delivered in 1988 and published shortly afterwards:
Machin, A (1989) The Social Helix: Visitor Interpretation As A Toool For Social Development, London, Belhaven