The advent of the package holiday and affordable air travel, back in the Sixties, was an exotic temptation for tens of thousands of sun-starved Scots. All sorts of people ventured to Spain for a week or a fortnight’s break, lured by the beaches and the promise of endless sun. Among them was one Tony Blair.

Blair remembers going to Benidorm during that decade, and loving the experience. “It was the first time I had ever flown”, he said. “After a taste of Spain - tapas, Ducados and Rioja (bit underage, but never mind) - staying in the UK seemed tame and unfashionable”.

Blair wrote those words in his 2010 memoirs, A Journey, as he touched on the subject of Britain’s old seaside towns, which were “brash and bulging with good old-fashioned entertainment” but entered a gradual decline as families began to discover the joys of the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava.

Blair doesn’t mention it, but traditional Scottish resorts suffered, too - a fate that was alluded to in 2011 when the Glasgow venue Oran Mor launched the debut summer panto in its A Play, A Pie and A Pint series. The panto was called Goldilocks And The Glasgow Fair.

“In the days when Glasgow was a big industrial city and shut down for two weeks for the Glasgow Fair, there were no package holidays”, said the series producer, David MacLennan. “There was no going to Spain. Everyone went doon the watter on the paddle steamers. The whole city emptied”.

Two year old Gregory Curtis with his mother Jill on holiday in Majorca pushing his dad into the pool. June 1969. (Photo by Bela Zola/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)Two year old Gregory Curtis with his mother Jill on holiday in Majorca pushing his dad into the pool. June 1969. (Photo by Bela Zola/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images) (Image: free)

Seventy years ago, in 1954, newspaper reports spoke of Glasgow emptying during the Fair fortnight, with Glaswegians pouring onto trains, buses and planes, bound for London, the Highlands, Blackpool, Scarborough, Jersey and Dublin. Thousands headed for the Clyde coast; Largs itself had been a popular holiday resort for a hundred years.

Even by then, however, lots of people were going abroad - lots of them, according to the Evening Times, in organised bus tours. “Many luxury buses bound for a tour of France left the city today”, the paper reported on Saturday, July 3.

Destinations on the coast and elsewhere in the UK (staycations, as they would become known, decades later) were still popular ten years later, in 1964, with rail and bus stations reporting brisk business. But Spain had become popular in the meantime, to the point where the Evening Times journalist Meg Munro, in there course of an article about Glasgow men now dressing more stylishly while on holiday, could observe that the modern male Fair holidaymaker was “probably basking on the beach at the Costa Brava.

“… From the moment he stepped out of the house at Fair weekend bound for his two-week vacation the little woman by his side has had every reason to be proud of him. The reason - unless he’s very out-of-date or very hard-up - he’s bought himself a new, Savile Row-styled lounge suit in a lightweight suiting with a special satinised finish”.

The advent of package holidays in the sun during the Sixties caused UK foreign travel to reach new heights, with the annual number of British tourists soaring from 2.25 million a year to five million between 1960 and 1967.

A fortnight’s all-inclusive beach holiday in Spain could be yours for some £76 per person - the equivalent of the average wage for two weeks. Spain, which at that time was still ruled by General Franco, was by 1972 attracting roughly a third of all British tourists.

It’s worth mentioning here Lloyd Davies, from Glasgow, who virtually discovered Majorca in the Twenties while serving a young purser on a world cruise with the Anchor Line. The island was at that time a winter resort for the wealthy.


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Rejoining the family firm back in Glasgow - it was a renowned currency-trader, Lloyd realised Majorca’s potential as a holiday resort for Scottish people. As Herald columnist Jack Webster once noted, Davies initiated what became the annual trek of the Scots to their favourite resort in the sun. The old Roman town of Pollensa, Webster added, more or less owes its existence as a summer attraction to Lloyd’s tireless efforts.

One of the pioneers of the package holiday was Vladimir Raitz, a Russian emigre who in 1949 had founded Horizon Holidays with £3,000 left to him by his grandmother. In May of the following year - a time, it has to be remembered, when money was tight and Britain was still in the grip of post-war austerity - he broke new ground by offering an all-inclusive holiday in Corsica. The price, £32.10, covered the return flight, tented accommodation on the beach, and "delicious meat-filled meals and as much local wine as [you] could put away”.

The cheapest roundtrip flight to New York that year was $466 (about £200).

Raitz’s inaugural flight, with 11 passengers, took off from Gatwick in a government-surplus Dakota DC3, and paved the way for the founding of a multi-million pound industry.

Raitz later recalled: "When we arrived at Corsica airport, there was nothing at all -- not even a little hut. [We had] to shelter from the sun under the wings of the plane while we waited for the bus to pick us up." Once at the beach, the holidaymakers were greeted by large canvas tents, each with two beds. There was an area set aside for "ablutions", a dining room, bar and dance-floor. "A pastis was a few pence," Raitz said, "a bottle of wine was nine pence.”

“Our clients were pioneers, so they had a lot of fun”, he later added. “They discovered places where there was no chance of running into their neighbours”.

Horizon Holidays quickly added other destinations, including Malaga, Mallorca and the Costa Brava. It was one of the first businesses to offer chartered, all-inclusive holidays, and was subsequently emulated by many others. In time it became one of the UK’s largest holiday operators, having enabled the masses, and not just the moneyed classes, to enjoy overseas travel.

Benidorm 1964Benidorm 1964 (Image: free)

In the summer of 1995 Raitz was one of five people inducted into the British travel industry’s hall of fame. All five had played a significant part in shaping the post-war holiday boom; among the others were the hotelier, Lord Forte, and Jim Moffat, founder of the travel agency of A T Mays.

When Vladimir Raitz died in August 2010, aged 88, his Telegraph obituary described him as the father of the modern British package holiday, who had remained proud of what he had achieved. It quoted him as once saying: “Providing a fortnight in the Mediterranean sun to a wide segment of the British public, hereto the prerogative of well-to-do members of the bourgeoisie, brought with it what can only be described as a social revolution; the man in the street acquired a taste for wine, for foreign food, started to learn French, Spanish or Italian, made friends in the foreign lands he had visited -- in fact became more 'cosmopolitan', with all that that entailed.”

Raitz accepted that the consequences of modern tourism were not all positive, saying of Benidorm in 1989 that it "looks bloody awful now -- but that's progress, I suppose”.

"On one hand, I hate to see resorts being despoiled. Take Minorca. There used to be a beach, no road to it, you used to scramble down through the scrub. Today it is ringed with hotels. To that extent, I am sad... On the other hand, I think it's marvellous that 12 or 13 million people can have a Mediterranean holiday”.