That this is not a conventional guidebook is apparent as soon as one reaches the contents page. For opposite is a reproduction of the garish-pink cover of The Morecambe and Wise Joke Book, with Ernie’s face grinning out from above a fleshy polo-neck consisting of no fewer than three chins. (Clearly, Seventies celebrities were not quite so precious as their latter-day counterparts about exercising image control.) In some way, this picture encapsulates the essence of the resort of Morecambe: it has associations with joviality and mass popular appeal, but is nevertheless rather shabby and has the unmistakable air of belonging to a vanished world. And just because the face in question belongs to Wise, rather than the man christened John Eric Bartholomew, doesn’t make it any less true.

This, then, is not the sort of guidebook that the Lancashire Tourist Board would produce – which is only to be expected of a collaboration between a “cultural commentator” and a woman who found fame creating punk-era collages that grafted domestic appliances onto nude models. It is, rather, an essay on the faded glory of British seaside towns, punctuated with pictures that contrast former glories with today’s dereliction and tawdriness. Here is a shot of the mayor presenting George Formby with a floral ukelele; there, a decaying holiday camp, built to resemble a cruise liner, at Middleton Sands. Here is the space-age viewing tower of Forton motorway service station; there, the looming, cyclopean presence of Heysham nuclear power plant. (Bracewell asserts that, when it was built, holidaymakers were dissuaded from visiting more by the prospect of sharing B&Bs with the construction workers than by any fear of radiation poisoning.)

With its miniature landscape format and washed-out, matt-printed photographs, this book is reminiscent of a volume in Martin Parr’s Boring Postcards series. But whereas Parr’s mission statement, both there and in his photography, seems to involve sneering at the lumpenproletariat, Bracewell insists that his is not an arch approach. He namedrops like a true Postmodernist (both Flaubert and Roxy Music, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tommy Steele), but stresses that “the English coastal landscape is above all irony-proof”. Certainly, the overriding tone is one of wistfulness: how could the Midland Hotel, a graceful Art Deco curve that once received flying visits from the likes of Coco Chanel, have become a boarded-up wreck with “Danger” painted in red along its façade?

This is not a guidebook for tourists – but there are no longer very many tourists in Morecambe anyway.

First published in World of Interiors issue 258. Reproduced with permission.

I Know Where I’m Going:
A Guide to Morecambe and Heysham

by Michael Bracewell and Linder Sterling  (Book Works)

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