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  • Writer's pictureThe Rail Holiday Maker

The Continental Holiday of a Lifetime

How do you fancy a little bit of time travel during this strange period when we can't venture far from our homes? I was at Wallace Arnold when it closed in 2005. A sad day for tour operating in Yorkshire, where WA was a household name just as famous as Thomas Cook. During that last week everything left behind in our office went into a skip. I knew that there was a drawer filled with antique brochures in the cabinets in Jon and Roland's old office. I didn't save them as they weren't mine to take and I fear they went with the waste. To throw away such an important part of travel history bugged me for a while, so I started collecting.

A timeless classic on the 1960 inside front cover

I haven't got a massive collection. I've just picked up the occasional brochure here and there. As the short wintry days are now here for a while I thought I'd give you a sneaky peek at some of the best European brochures I've managed to find.

What strikes you about the 1956 'British & Continental' brochure is how stylish it is. I would imagine that this brochure was launched in 1955, only a year after the end of rationing. Outside of my grandparents' wartime exploits, they would only ever have made it to the Yorkshire or Lincolnshire coast, so a coach holiday to Switzerland, the French Riviera, Italy or Spain truly was a different world with a limited audience. 69 guineas would have bought you a place on WA's 14 day 'Sunny Spain, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and Biarritz' tour. Elsewhere the brochure boasts that breakfast, luncheon, afternoon tea and late dinner would be included every day, as well as luggage handling and 'the provision of travelling rugs'. Luncheon indeed!

A young woman relaxing beneath a parasol, protecting her modesty with a sunhat, was Wallace Arnold's introduction to the 1960s, a decade of sweeping change. With full employment foreign holidays became more accessible for the aspirational, if still not the norm for large parts of the population. WA retained and restored one of the vintage coaches from this era as an example of their fleet during the heyday of coach holidays. For our dinner break staff shuttles into Leeds we would occasionally get a surprise vintage treat, riding in style in the beautiful old-timer. Things had moved on quite a bit by 1960, with the Norwegian fjords completing a programme of 25 different holidays throughout Europe, although the Alps, Italy and Spain continued to make up the bulk of the brochure.

As this blog is called The Rail Holiday Maker I can't not mention the brand new selection of independent rail holidays using the 'all-couchette Britannia Express'. Departing Liverpool Street Station and with a reserved Wallace Arnold couchette, destinations included Lucerne, Montreux, Kitzbühel, Tuscany and Venice, with second class connections to London from Manchester and Yorkshire. Whilst meals on the Britannia Express weren't included they could be booked for a further £2 and 5 shillings.

Hey, it's 1968 now....what did you expect?! Beneath the beach parasol a Brigitte Bardot look-a-like in red bikini relaxes with a young Jacques Brel look-a-like in skimpy blue trunks. On the table is everything they need to have a great time on the beach: a bottle of wine, two glasses, a camera and a packet of cigs (probably Gauloises or Gitanes). The image exudes confidence. These were good times and, hey man, you could dig this groovy experience next year! Whilst I'm not sure those trunks would suit my current lockdown physique, we can all dream of the return of this kind of normality. Inside, the first half of the 80-odd page brochure is taken up with air holidays to 'sunny Spain' and Italy, followed by the more enduring coach programme to the Low Countries, the Rhine, the Alps and beyond.

I haven't missed out the 1970s deliberately; I just don't have any WA continental brochures from that era. So, here's 1985 and I have to say Brigitte and Jacques have aged pretty well, though Jacques has now ditched the trunks. Hey, Jacques, it comes to us all, mate, contentment and a little bit of middle-aged spread. C'est la vie! The inside cover boasts 'no extra charge for rooms with private facilities', holiday insurance included in the package and 'free coach links from over 150 major cities and towns'. There's 'Nightrider Express Coach' for fans of 'The Hoff' or those wishing to travel through the night to the sun. Otherwise, Yugoslavia makes an appearance, along with 'Grand Eastern Europe', offering a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain, travelling along the permitted corridor through East Germany to Berlin, then onwards to Prague and Budapest.

Fast forward to 2005. I had been at WA since 2001, mainly looking after a special interest holiday programme that featured walking, dancing, gardening, painting and other activities. This was the first main WA brochure I was let loose on, with 'The Great Wines of France', 'Wines of the Rhine & Moselle' providing a bit of fizz and 'Historic Germany & the National Garden Show', 'Checkpoint Charlie & the Bridge of Spies' showcasing my love of Germany as a fascinating and affordable destination. There was also 'The Classical Music of Europe' a symphony of sound covering Germany, Austria & the Czech Republic, plus a series of 'singles' holidays, rebranded by our marketing department as 'Holiday Friends', which I considered a little patronising at the time. The whole feel of the brochure was an attempt to emulate the look of women's magazines, hoping to remain on coffee tables throughout the land long after our competitors' efforts had been binned.

And speaking of competitors, was the 2005 brochure the last ever Wallace Arnold brochure, or does this one for 2006 count? Whatever your view, this was the first WA Shearings brochure after the merger and the last brochure with input from the Wallace Arnold product team. Trying to weld together the programmes of two large companies was no mean feat and the result was a 348 page monster, sorry, I mean brochure. Yes, you read that correctly, 348 pages!! It was far too big, featuring virtually all the WA products alongside all the Shearings ones, often with little to distinguish between them, apart from the hotel quality (according to WA staff) and the holiday prices (according to Shearings staff). If you ask my good friends then working at Shearings they will probably say the same, that this was one of the most painful brochures to produce. And for the WA half of the new company the pain didn't end with the brochure's release, with the announcement that our office would close, along with the loss of most of our jobs. The new company continued to use WA in its name before dropping it in 2007.

I'll leave the last word to our models, the look-a-like Brigitte and Jacques, and a rather appropriate......


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