Let's smile again as famous postcards are revived

They are postcards showing buxom women in risqué comic scenes and could have been thought consigned to a bygone era.

But 100 years since they first started shocking and amusing audiences, the images of voluptuous nurses and henpecked husbands are making a comeback.

The series of world-famous saucy seaside drawings by late Huddersfield-based artist James Bamforth are being relaunched to mark their centenary.

Businessman Ian Wallace said he is hoping the classic cheeky cartoons, which could soon be appearing on everything from mouse mats to boxer shorts, will give everyone a light-hearted boost in times of economic gloom.

Mr Wallace, 63, bought the firm Bamforth and Co nine years ago and now owns the rights to more than 50,000 of the postcard images with their kilt-wearing Scotsmen, bare-breasted sunbathers and un-PC gags.

But he has waited until the 100th anniversary to sign a licensing agreement, which he did yesterday with the Jane Evans Licensing Consultancy at the Brand Licensing Europe Exhibition, at London's Olympia. Mr Wallace said of the postcards, often thought of as synonymous with the traditional British holiday: "They always look good and they always make people smile.

"All we're hearing about at the moment is cuts, cuts, cuts. It's good to have something we can all laugh about. I think we should laugh more. We know that aspects of the Bamforth range of daft, comic ideas will appeal to certain people in all countries."

The dirty humour is certainly not for the prudish.

"One card depicts a football manager on the sidelines, shouting to women players: "Well played ladies – how about swapping shirts!"

Another shows a bus driver buried under the bonnet of his broken down vehicle. "Would you like a screwdriver," the female conductor asks. "Not now love – we're 10 minutes late already!" comes the reply. The cards seem to sum up a part of Britain's cultural heritage, which would later give birth to the likes of Benny Hill and Carry On.

"Maybe they're not to everyone's taste but if you can't laugh at Bamforth postcards what can you laugh at?" said Mr Wallace.

"They are classic images which have really stood the test of time."

In 1870 James Bamforth began his business in Holmfirth, near Huddersfield – a small town now most famous for being the setting of the long running BBC comedy Last Of the Summer Wine.

Bamforth was a portrait photographer who later specialised in lantern slides.

But it was the saucy postcards, launched in 1910, which sealed his firm's reputation.

At their peak, the racy postcards, which took off in the 1930s, were selling 16 million a year.

Mr Wallace, who is originally from Huddersfield, said: "This company was making films before Hollywood and then they went on to produce these postcards, which are an institution.

"They sold millions and millions and millions of them.

"They were sold all around the world. I think this move will give them a new lease of life."

Bamforth and Co collapsed in 1988 and was then bought by the Scarborough printing firm Dennis. Mr Wallace bought the rights in 2001, after that company also collapsed.

Nostalgia of the Bamforth kind is big business at the moment.

In August last year an original set of paintings which were turned into saucy seaside postcards were sold for more than 2,000 at auction.

The postcards, created by Phil Millar – nicknamed Pedro – sold for a total of 2,250 at a sale in Warwickshire.

Millionaire film-maker Michael Winner is an admirer of smutty cards, which fans say point to a simpler age for holidaymakers.

Speaking at a 2006 exhibition of his McGill postcards collection, Mr Winner said: "How many artists would sell 350 million prints of their work? I doubt if anyone's done it.

"You'd look at the pictures and have a titter. If you are a child, anyone with big bosoms with an innuendo is naughty. Particularly as there wasn't much of it then."