“It was not only in Farol that brusque changes were taking place…they were happening at a breakneck pace all over Spain…. Roads, the radio, the telephone and now the arrival of tourists… were putting an end to the Spain of old. And for those who wanted to see it as it had been, there was not a moment to be lost.” – Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’
In the first few years of the 1960s, in the days just before and then during the Freddie Laker days of early package holidays, my grandparents visited Benidorm in Spain several times.
For people from London who had lived through the Luftwaffe blitz of the 1940s and the killer smog of the 1950s they applied for passports (which was practically unheard of for ordinary people) and set out with pale complexions on an overseas adventure and returned home with healthy Mediterranean suntans and duty free alcohol and cigarettes.
They brought back exotic stories of exciting overseas adventures and suitcases full of unusual souvenirs, castanets, replica flamenco dancing girls, handsome matador dolls with flaming scarlet capes and velour covered bulls that decorated their living room and collected dust for the next twenty years or so.
In the photograph my grandparents Ernie and Olive were roughly the same age as I am now and they were clearly having a very good time sitting at a bar enjoying generous measures of alcohol, the same sort of good time that I like to enjoy when I go travelling.
I’m guessing of course but Grandad, who looks unusually bronzed, seems to have a rum and coke and Nan who looks younger than I can ever remember her appears to have some sort of a beer with a slice of lime and that’s about forty years before a bottle of Sol with a bit of citrus became anything like fashionable. With him is his brother George (no socks, very impressive for 1960) and his wife Lillian. Nan and Grandad look very relaxed and with huge smiles that I can barely remember. I wonder how they managed to be among the first early holidaymakers to visit Mediterranean Spain in the 1960s?
In 1950 a Russian émigré called Vladimir Raitz founded a travel company in London called Horizon Holidays and started flying people to Southern Europe and the package tour was born. Within a few years he was flying to Majorca, Menorca, and the Costa Brava. In 1957 British European Airways introduced a new route to Valencia and the designation ‘Costa Blanca’ was allegedly conceived as a promotional name when it first launched its new service on Vickers Vanguard airoplanes with four propeller driven engines at the start of the package holiday boom. By the end of the decade BEA was also flying to Malaga on the Costa Del Sol.
The flight took several hours and arrival at Valencia airport some way to the west of the city was not the end of the journey because there was now a one hundred and fifty kilometre, four-hour bus ride south to Benidorm in a vehicle without air conditioning or air suspension seats and in the days before motorways on a long tortuous journey along the old coast road. Today visitors to Benidorm fly to Alicante to the south, which is closer and more convenient, but the airport there was not opened until 1967.
I am curious to understand how they were able to afford it? Grandad was a bus conductor with London Transport on the famous old bright red AEC Routemaster buses working at the Catford depot on Bromley Road (he always wore his watch with the face on the inside of his wrist so that he didn’t break the glass by knocking it as he went up and down the stairs and along the rows of seats with their metal frames) and Nan worked at the Robinson’s factory in Barmerston Road boiling fruit to make the jam. We were never short of jam in our house!
I cannot imagine that they earned very much and at that time the cost of the fare was £38.80p which may not sound a lot now but to put that into some sort of perspective in 1960 my dad took a job at a salary of £815 a year so that fare would have been about two and a half weeks wages! Each!
The average weekly wage in the United Kingdom today is £490 so on that basis a flight to Spain at 1957 British European Airline prices would now be about £1,225.
After paying the rent on the first floor Catford apartment Grandad used to spend most of the rest of his wages on Embassy cigarettes, Watney’s Red Barrel and in the Bookies so perhaps he had a secret source of income? He does look like a bit of a gangland boss in some of these pictures or perhaps he had a good system and had done rather well on the horses.
Benidorm developed as a tourist location because it enjoys a unique geographical position on the east coast of Spain. The city faces due south and has two stunningly beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean Sea that stretch for about four kilometres either side of the old town, on the east the Levante, or sunrise, and to the west the Poniente, you guessed it – the sunset, and it enjoys glorious sunshine all day long and for most of the year as well.
Today, Spain is a tourist superpower that attracts fifty-three million visitors a year to its beaches, 11% of the Spanish economy runs off of tourism and one in twenty visitors head for Benidorm. The city is the high rise capital of Southern Europe and one of the most popular tourist locations in Europe and six million people go there each year on holiday.
Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…
Please read on, it is a fascinating story…
Benidorm, Plan General de Ordinacion
Benidorm, The War of the Bikini
Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan
Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island
Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest
Thanks to http://www.realbenidorm.net/ for the use of the image
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JI was born in 1933 in Arran Road Catford opposite the Large Golliwog. in the grounds of the Jam Factory.
Sadly When I returned It had dissappeared,
For many years I kept a bottle of Fruit Mince, with a golliwog on the label. Still somewhere in my belomgings in Brisbane Australia. I now love in Thailand for much of my time.
Thanks for the message, nice to hear from someone who remembers the jam factory!
I lived in Spain for 7 years and we went to Benidorm. Cannot say that Benidorm 2005 impressed me very much. It was overcrowded and hot and sticky and very tacky.
Now Golliwogs.. you have me there.. I have three of them which I bought in Herne Bay in 2009. The lady who ran the shop had to shut down because she refused to take the Gollies out of sale… I love my Golliwogs and in NO way at all are they racist or insulting.
a good post as always Andrew
Thanks for the comment. I hope your computer is fixed now? I wrote another blog about Robertson’s Golly, I don’t know if you ever saw it http://aipetcher.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/alife-in-a-year-23rd-august-robertsons-jam-and-golly-badges/
We live a half-hours drive from Benidorm-never really go there. The last time was 2 years ago, i went on my Harley for a rideout through the town with some friends-over 500 bikes with a police escort through the town-sounde like a squadron of B52´s- the tourists loved it! Nice post Andrew.
Thanks for the comment. I saw something like that in Cuenca in 2009. Hundreds of bikes roared through the old town and everyone stood and cheered!
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My husband was a student in Madrid and when called home to work spent all his free time in Spain…at that time – very early sixties – the beaches were inhabited by cactus and goats…no high rise, rooms in a bar if you were lucky…
It must have been wonderful but I wonder if in 50 years time people will look back and say “this was such a lovely place in 2015”. It makes you think! Thanks for the comment!
What an interesting piece of personal history and history of Spanish tourism – thanks I enjoyed the read!
Thanks for the comment.
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Absolutely brilliant reading I’ve been been going to Benidorm for 38 years, and have seen so many changes some good some bad still remember when we had, r photograph taken when we got off the plane, looking tired and getting the picture on way home and laughing how we looked.The straw donkeys we all bought the memories I have I will never forget the generations of my family still going and. I hope to have many more happy times in lovely Benidorm.
Thanks for you memories Moira. I was in Benidorm in April, what a wonderful place!
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More fascinating history for me. My first employment, at Lloyd’s Insurance in Leadenhall Street was in 1960 – £340 a year
My dad always told the story of buying his first house for £800!
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Mine was £2,500 in Wimbledon in 1964
Such small numbers seem hardly possible. Wimbledon would cost a lot more today. I knew some people who lived in Wimbledon they used to clear out and let the place out for a fortune during tennis fortnight!
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That was an end of terrace 3 bed Victorian. Some ten years ago when I was looking to return to London, others in the terrace were close to a million. Goodness knows what they are now.
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Another enjoyable post for me to get nostalgic about. My first trip to Benidorm was in either 1957 or 1958 when it was just being discovered. It was magical, the most exotic place I’d ever been to, even outdid Sitges which was my first Spanish experience and that blew my mind! I still love Benidorm, it’s not tacky, but just more commercial, with sophisticated hotels alongside budget hotels, popular bars alongside boutiquey bars, something for everyone in fact. The beaches are still great out of season, the people still dispensing drinks with good humour and smiles, and I’ll always remember that first vision as you come over the hill outside and the town/city is laid out before you. Thanks for reminding me of it all, Andrew.
Thanks for adding your memories to the post. I went to Benidorm in 1977 and at that time it was tacky but it has improved and I really like it.
My Sister lives in Alicante and last year we went there for the day despite the objections of her husband who claimed to hate the place and never wanted to go there. By the end of the day he had to concede that he had changed his mind.
My grandparents and my parents were taking similar adventures themselves around this time, and like you intrigued as to how on earth they afforded it. However guess they just saved all year for their amazing trips.
My granddad used to collect his 6d coins in a large whiskey bottle.
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