The seaside, like football and the railways, is a distinctly English and largely nineteenth century invention. At the Festival of Britain in 1951, a replica of a seafront represented hope and modernity – once the preserve of the sickly elite, the seaside had become one of the great English egalitarian institutions. But when the advent of cheap flights allowed us to go and see how the rest of the world did it – with better weather and sandier beaches – our boarding houses and bandstands slowly rotted away. As the economy forced a reassessment of our holidaying habits, resorts from Morecambe to Bournemouth enjoyed a renaissance. Capitalising on the uniquely English combination of irony and pride, the English Riviera has been reborn.
In many ways, our national character has been defined by our relationship with the seaside – and in tracing its development, we can see how our ideas about health, wealth and happiness evolved. Our aspirations and snobbery, our attitudes to sex, our keen sense of fair play, our chequered relationship with national pride and our ability to laugh at ourselves have all been played out against a backdrop of stormy skies, pebbly beaches and sticks of rock. The seaside is the place we go to get better, to let our hair down, to downsize, to retire, to take drugs and to hide.
Ranging from Agatha Christie to the Prince Regent via Billy Butlin and Brighton Rock, Travis Elborough explores how a coastline peppered with quasi-Oriental piers makes us quintessentially English. Erudite, charming and surprising, WISH YOU WERE HERE is a gloriously unorthodox social history of a nation of islanders.
‘In this brilliant book, Travis Elborough does a wonderful job of analysing the history of our masochistic love affair with the seaside. It would have been so easy for this book to have been stitched together from a few light-hearted anecdotes culled from some casual reading. But WISH YOU WERE HERE is much more than that. Elborough, who grew up in the West Sussex resort of Worthing in the Seventies, has done his research thoroughly and writes with enormous wit and feeling. His book punches far above its weight in both style and substance.’
— Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday
‘Elborough is an English nostalgist in the mode of John Betjeman, and his new book is about the tacky, wistful, sticky, glitzy, gloomy heap of deckchairs, boarding houses, pinball machines and glitterballs we call the English seaside. Elborough, who was raised in Worthing, in West Sussex, is more interested in the culture of the seaside than its history, and as a cultural commentator he is a terrific companion. WISH YOU WERE HERE is quirky, chatty, charming and optimistic – an ideal read for the English beach.’
Frances Wilson, Sunday Times
‘Travis Elborough shows a subtle understanding of the charms and allure of the seaside holiday. Perhaps, he reflects, “the true magic of the seaside is that its pleasures are individual and fleeting.” Meticulously researched and trenchantly expressed, WISH YOU WERE HERE is as bright and breezy as a trip on a pleasure steamer.’
Michael Simkins, Daily Mail, “Book of the Week”
‘Elborough chronicles our love (or otherwise) of our seaside, and his elliptical approach, his wit, and the exuberance of his prose marks this book out from a hundred others on the same subject. Timely, bittersweet beach reading for a nation that is, once again, “all at sea”.’
Andrew Martin, Sunday Telegraph
‘Elborough’s overview of our lasting love of fish and chips, Brighton rock and paddling is the perfect beach book.’
‘I can’t put this down. Elborough has a unique sense of humour; it’s very funny.’