Bournemouth’s ‘blue rinse’ and ‘God’s waiting room’ stereotypes

AMONG the many people to have disparaged Bournemouth over the years is James Bond.

In Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel Live and Let Die, the character of Solitaire is heaping contempt on St Petersburg in Florida as a place full of “oldsters” who go to bed at 9pm.

“It sounds rather like Bournemouth or Torquay. But a million times worse,” says Bond.

That image of Bournemouth as a retirement destination has persisted.

The 1990s sitcom Waiting For God was set in a Bournemouth retirement home and much of One Foot in the Grave was made locally.

And one phrase recurs when the national media write about the resort: “Blue rinse”.

“The only way is Bournemouth: Are you ready for a ‘blue-rinse reality show’?” ran a Daily Telegraph headline in 2015, for example. “Seaside town that is washing out its blue-rinse image,” was how the Independent presented a 2013 feature.

Where did that image of the town come from?

Bournemouth Echo:

Bournemouth Square and Old Chirstchurch Road, c. 1920s

When Bournemouth developed rapidly in the Victorian era, it was known as a health resort, with high concentrations of elderly people and nursing homes, says Will Haydock, visiting fellow in the faculty of health and social science at Bournemouth University.

It was described as a “paradise for wealthy invalids” and its early residents opposed the building of a railway station for fear of visitors spoiling its character.

Bournemouth’s few pubs tended to be away from the town centre and in 1915, it had the lowest number of “on-licences” for alcohol in England and Wales, Dr Haydock noted in a 2009 paper called From Blue Rinse to Hedonism? Drinking in 21st Century Bournemouth.

And the town’s reputation for being more genteel than other resorts stayed with it.

The use of the term “blue rinse” or “blue rinse brigade” to refer disparagingly to older, conservatively-inclined women is said to have entered the nation’s vocabulary in the 1970s. The hair tint that gave it its name peaked in popularity after the Second World War – but has anyone asked for one lately?

One Daily Echo reader says: “As a hairdresser’s apprentice in the 1980s, yes, a lot of requests for a blue rinse, or apricot was popular as well.” Ironically, similar tints are fashionable today – though not with the coiffured look most famously spotted by Mollie Sugden as Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served?

Are we still ‘blue rinse’ today?

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Bournemouth was a stag and hen hotspot but that trend may have declined

Bournemouth’s population has remained older than the average – and for a long time its death rate outstripped its birth rate, so that the population only grew because of people moving into the town.

Between 2014 and 2039, it is predicted that the population aged 65-84 will have grown by 15,200 to 43,500 – a rise of nearly 54 per cent. The population of over-85s will have almost doubled to 12,00 in the same period, it is predicted.

The ageing population is mostly down to the locals getting older, rather than people moving here to retire. As of 2014-15, the number of retired people moving here only exceeded those moving away by around 200.

But the growth of two former colleges into the town’s universities has attracted many more young people. In the 1990s, its mushrooming number of nightclubs attracted lovers of particular dance music genres, while people came by coachloads or for stag and hen nights. In 2008, then-mayor Stephen Chappell declared: “Bournemouth happily sees blue rinse and hedonism existing side by side.”

The town’s genteel image may have been one reason there was so much concern about binge drinking and the explosion in the number of licensed premises, Bournemouth University’s Will Haydock says.

“The increase in stag and hen dos – and indeed just the development of the ‘night-time economy’ through the 1980s and 1990s – was partly seen as challenging for Bournemouth specifically because of that blue rinse image and the ‘respectable’ history, but I think Bournemouth is now seen differently,” he says.

“Issues around alcohol generally – and particularly ‘binge’ drinking – are also more generally less prominent now than a decade or two ago.”

Stag and hen party business have declined more recently as breaks abroad became more affordable for those customers, he says, and British people have been drinking less. Heavy drinking is now more common among older age groups, while students are less likely to drink heavily than students were 10-20 years ago.

Bournemouth’s image prblem?

Bournemouth Echo:

Bournemouth 7s is among the events that attract younger visitors

Does the constant use of the “blue rinse” idea in the national media get in the way of promoting the town to potential visitors?

Jo O’Connell was PR manager for Bournemouth Tourism a decade ago and now runs her own consultancy, JellyRock PR.

She says: “I remember crumbling inside when I used to pitch the resort to the national travel editors and they would respond with ‘But isn’t Bournemouth just for the blue-rinse brigade?’.

“There we were, telling them about ‘the coast with the most’, with our plentiful attractions, stylish accommodation and water sports offering and we were rebuked with an outdated stereotype. However, we did convince them to come, and yes, when they were here they were blown away with how different reality was to their preconceived ideas.

Bournemouth Echo:

Jo O’Connell of JellyRock PR. Photo: Shealan Faere Butler

“That was a decade ago and now Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch have truly shaken off that image. People use the beach differently now – you can see that with the number of people who use the beach for running, yoga, outdoor swimming and the boom in stand up paddleboarding. Of course, it’s an amazing place to retire to but the university, arts college and language schools also make the area far more cosmopolitan and international.

“One point that is often missed is how the area is also recognised as a creative hub – the UK’s Silicon Beach. We have a vibrant creative industry where UK and global brands pour millions of pounds into the area for branding, PR, social and creative. We offer far better value than our over-inflated, ego-led London counterparts.”

Craig Mathie is vice-chairman of the Destination Management Board in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, and managing director of the Bournemouth 7s festival which draws a younger demographic to Dorset.

“I wholeheartedly believe that Bournemouth is one of the most vibrant and exciting destinations in the UK,” he says.

“I believe that our reputation as a retirement village should be consigned to history as we aim to realise the potential afforded to us by the beautiful coast we live on. Of course, we can always do more but the reality, in my opinion, is that this is a great place to live for people, young and old.

“Having grown up locally, I know first hand how much there is for young people to do in the local area. Alongside our much-lauded natural assets, the conurbation is full of vibrant areas, a host of excellent events, activities and attractions and an aspirational and positive business community which offers fantastic careers for people of all ages.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Cllr Mohan Iyengar

Cllr Mohan Iyengar, BCP Council’s cabinet member for tourism and leisure, believes the area should not fret too much about the unfairness of the blue rinse stereotype.

“We get the blue rinse thing returning but we get the other end of the spectrum as well – that we’re the ‘stag and hen capital’,” he says.

“Between those two extremes, we exist.

“It’s a bit like politics – people will think what they want to think. What we want to do is effectively focus down hard on who we are and what we do.”

He wants to promote the area as a place for “wellbeing” and also to make more of cultural assets such as the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum and Poole Museum.

“I think what we definitely want to do as an administration is make it a place where people of all ages want to come,” he says.

“We’ve got the young ones coming. We want the working age people with families not just to come and visit but to come and live here as well.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Longtime Bournemouth resident Hugh Ashley

Hugh Ashley, a longtime Bournemouth resident and author of In Praise of Westbourne, is frustrated by the lingering image of Bournemouth “as a town filled with bath-chairs and walking sticks propping up old folk, aimlessly wandering through the gardens”.

“The national press continues not to check on reality in today’s world, and frequently uses photos which indicate that the town is backward. The situation makes my blood boil – because some writers just do not bother to research the reality of the town as it is today,” he says.”

“I was brought up in Westbourne in the 1940s and 1950s, and there was a ‘feel’ of age here – but I was young and everyone seemed old to me. Southbourne also had a similar image. But that was all 70 years ago – and like everywhere else, the world has changed.

“I groan when people say that Bournemouth is ‘not as good as it used to be’. I think that the town has, over the years, grown rapidly with innovative ideas and generous helpings of entertainment, accommodation and shopping facilities. But somehow, many media sources haven’t bothered to keep up with the changes.”

He appreciates the town’s “thriving and successful” universities, its hotels, gardens, beaches and entertainment.

He adds: “I loved Bournemouth when I was a kid and I love it now that I am an old man and believe it or not, I don’t have a bath-chair.”

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