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The Southern Railway developed highly successful holiday publicity campaigns. It presented the south coast as ‘the sunshine coast’ and claimed that ‘the sun shines most on the southern coast.’ To add a more personal touch, colourful characters were introduced.
The ever-popular ‘Sunny South Sam’ was a fictitious railway guard who first appeared in 1930. The face of Sunny South Sam was used over and over again to assure travellers that there was always a helpful person to assist them on their journey. He was a down-to-earth, jolly man who made travellers feel at ease. The introduction to one of his booklets states that "I’m no great shakes at literature, but what I write is sincere". He used colloquialisms whenever he could and sold the Southern’s holiday booklet "Hints for Holidays" for "a tanner" rather than "6d", as used in other publicity.
Another memorable character was "The Little Boy". The original photograph was taken in 1924 at Waterloo Station by Charles E. Brown. The poster was an immediate success and was reprinted several times in different guises. It showed a small boy with spectacles and a suitcase speaking to the driver. The Southern Railway offered to present a framed copy of the poster to the boy whose identity was then unknown. Quite a number of parents took their children to the offices at Waterloo but all were sent away disappointed. Eventually the little boy was found to have emigrated to California with his father, who was formerly employed in the Electrical Department at Waterloo. The boy was called Ronald Witt.
The National Railway Museum has since had numerous letters from people claiming to be the little boy.
The Southern Railway claimed that the south coast was Britain’s chief holiday resort. It advertised holidays in summer and winter. The motor car was still in its infancy, a toy for the rich rather than a serious rival, and the train was almost the only way to travel any distance.
The Southern Railway was keen to publicise the fact that a holiday on the south coast would provide everything anyone could require. Booklets with titles such as "Buy British Sunshine Holidays", and "You and Me and Holidays" were produced alongside resort posters with slogans such as "Sunny Shores and Cooling Breezes, Southern Coastline always pleases" and "The Sun Shines most on the Southern Coast".
Each spring, the Southern Railway produced a book called "Hints for Holidays", based on the guide books first published by the London and South Western Railway in 1899, with information about resorts which could be reached by the Southern Railway. The book gave details of each town or area's facilities and how to reach them by train but also over half of the book was taken up by advertisements for hotels and boarding houses. The 1924 book had 260 pages, which increased to over 900 in the 1930s. The book was not published in the years from 1941 to 1945 because of the war and the somewhat smaller 1947 edition was the last produced by the Southern Railway before nationalisation.
In the summertime, visitors were encouraged to take holidays in places such as Eastbourne. Eastbourne was known as one of the South’s more genteel resorts, with Beachy Head to the south west and the Downs behind it. It was also only 66 miles from London and promoted by doctors as invigorating for the weak and a tonic to the strong.
Eastbourne also sought to attract commuters. There were several electric expresses daily to London with Pullman breakfast cars. In 1935, the Southern Railway even issused a booklet called "Southern Homes on the Conqueror's Coast served by Southern Electric".
Travellers were encouraged to go south for winter sunshine and to participate in such pursuits as rambling and golf. Rambling was a popular pastime between the wars. The Southern Railway produced booklets, posters and tickets to encourage the hobby. The ramblers' books produced provided details of a number of walks in each area served by the Southern Railway. The walks normally started and ended at railway stations. "Go as you please" tickets allowed outward and return journeys from different stations so that walkers did not have to retrace their steps.
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