If “the past is a foreign country”, virtual holidays from previous decades might be just the kind of escape we need to get away from the hemmed-in, static present. Here are ten fab flicks from travel’s many golden ages.
The last days of the English Riviera
This ten-minute British Pathé film from 1968 describes Torbay as “the opulence and luxury you’d expect to find somewhere along the Mediterranean… where international entertainers like Max Bygraves choose to stay”. Shot in the saturated hues you find in postcards from the era, it captures a British resort just before the dawn of cheap foreign package holidays.
In the 70s, cheesy ads lured British holidaymakers to… well, anywhere else. This classic ad clip assures TV viewers that a Thomson rep can “set you free”.
A US road trip in the Fifties
I’m not sure what’s most wonderful about this half-hour film made by Dutchman Henny Hogenbijl, who travelled with his family across the USA in the summer of 1955. The cars are gorgeous. The band (Stan Kenton, live at the Albert Hall) is superb. The main streets, mountains and empty highways evoke the great era of fly-drives. As of its time as Kerouac’s On the Road, this is what Beat families did half a century ago.
Soviet-era train across Siberia
The Huntley Archives own a lot of great travel footage. This 15-minute film, with English commentary, of a rail journey from Moscow to “Peking” (via the Trans-Mongolian branch) dates from the Sixties, when the USSR was still many years away from glasnost and perestroika. Tractors deliver linen to the couchettes and local workers are displayed as “heroes” along station platforms. A cruise at Lake Baikal is the only break in the week-long journey.
When cruise ships still looked liked ships
Here’s a whole page of cruise clips from the Seventies, including a promo for the Castle Line, a buffet (and queue) on a Mediterranean cruise, and a vintage ad for Costa cruises, with Moroder-esque soundtrack. Funnels, liner-influenced bows and the smaller scale make cruise vessels of the era look positively quaint.
Cyril Stapleton’s music would make a commute from Surbiton to Waterloo seem romantic. Here it enhances a professional-looking Fifties film showing the endless joys of a coach holiday. There’s significantly less silver hair on board than you’d see these days, as the driver, toothless and dressed like a milkman, whisks his happy passengers to Stonehenge and the Scottish Highlands.
Heathrow in 1955
“London Airport” shows off its new passenger terminal, cutting-edge radar, and control tower with “glass-walled penthouse”, while a plum-voiced narrator applauds the “more than 50 movements an hour at peak periods”. Buses to planes display international destinations (“Stockholm”, “Paris”), whetting the appetites of well-dressed passengers. Those who are also well-heeled can take a helicopter to the city, fitted with floats for emergency river landings.
East Anglia with local colour
Made by British Transport Films, ‘East Anglian Holiday’ was shot in trendy Technicolor. The main narrator speaks in RP, but the best of the commentary is delivered in a rich local accent. Informative and full of detail, it’s the opposite of celeb-led contemporary telly travelogue. The British Film Institute has lots more of these BTF productions .
New York: 20th century city
The most filmed metropolis in the world is all over the internet, from silent films made in the Twenties to grungy documentaries from the Eighties. This split-screen short from The New Yorker provides street scenes from several decades shown alongside film of the same streets today (well, in 2017, when people could still go out).
The “Prince of Sales” goes on a junket to The Argentine
Edward, Prince of Wales liked to visit exotic locations, ostensibly to promote UK commerce – for which he became known as the “Prince of Sales”. In 1931, he travelled to Buenos Aires to open the British Empire Trade Exhibition. It was the time of tango and a sort of belle époque for the Argentine capital. This footage from Amsterdam’s Eye Filmmuseum shows the heir apparent at the races and in Bariloche in the lake district.