We take a look at Bamforth & Co Ltd, looking at their pioneering work in cinema and the famous saucy seaside postcard.
In the 1850’s when he left school, James Bamforth had developed a great interest in photography, and the family business of painting and decorating had encouraged his love of painting; but unlike his father, he preferred to paint scenic backcloths rather than walls and doors.
By 1870, he had developed his passions into a business producing slides for ‘magic lanterns’ which would be taken around the village halls. One of his five sons, Harry, went to New York to set up an office for their developing company; while Janey, one of his two daughters, assisted with props and wardrobe.
In 1898, Bamforth partnered up with the Riley brothers in Bradford who had been making films
for two years. This partnership, known as RAB Films, lasted until 1900, producing 14 short films. It was during this phase that James Bamforth developed the technique of film editing, with the short film Kiss in the Tunnel which can be viewed on the Yorkshire Film Archive’s website.
By 1900, the lantern slides had developed into picture postcards. Many of these early cards featured an illustrated scene along with a single verse of a poem or hymn; this also led to the hobby of deltiology as people tried to collect the full set. The saucy seaside postcards where first made in 1910, to be sold in Yorkshire and Lancashire seaside resorts.
In 1913, Bamforth decided to restart his film making business. This continued successfully at first, and by 1915, they had made in excess of 100 silent movies, surpassing Hollywood in quantity and quality. Escalations in World War One led to them halting production, which sadly was not continued after the war ended.
Bamforth did continue production of postcards and they quickly became the market leader in Britain, and by the end of the First World War, were producing 20 million postcards a year. By 1960, they had become the world leaders and at the height of their fame.
They are most famous for their comic scenes, often featuring a fat lady and her short, bald and skinny henpecked husband; unattractive skinny girls, trying desperately to find a boy; courting couples; and the comedy favourite, the mother-in-law. They also produced topical cards featuring popular jokes or catchphrases from radio and TV; commemorative cards for special events; and a whole series of scenic cards.
By the 1980s, these postcards were no longer fashionable so when Derek Bamforth was ready to retire, he decided to sell the business to Scarborough based E T W Dennis & Sons Ltd. Dennis continued to produce postcards under the Bamforth name as well as their own. When Dennis folded in 2001, the Bamforth & Co Ltd name, along with the rights to 50,000 designs, was bought by Leeds based Ian Wallace.
In 2010, to celebrate the centenary of the saucy seaside postcard, Wallace relaunched the series in association with Jane Evans Licensing Consultancy. There is also a museum of Bamforth’s postcards at the Picturedrome Cinema in Holmfirth, celebrating a true staple of a Yorkshire summertime.