Something of a cover-up on the beach

Something of a cover-up on the beach

A "No Bikinis" sign on a Thai beach prompted a considerable debate last week although it appears to be little more than a storm in a B-cup. The sign appeared on Koh Samae San, a small Chon Buri island owned by the Thai Navy which apparently disapproves of this type of swimwear.

In a slightly confusing statement the Navy said it wasn't actually a ban but simply an attempt to dissuade beachgoers from wearing bikinis, to respect "Thai culture". The sign has since been removed.

It is a reminder, paradoxical though it may seem, that Thailand is very conservative in many respects despite the obvious contradictions. Samae San is a small island and if the Navy doesn't approve of bikinis that's their choice. There are plenty of other beaches where bikinis are not seen as a threat to society.

It sparked memories of being among a crowd of mainly Thai citizens gathered on Jomtien Beach hoping for a sighting of Halley's Comet back in 1986. At one stage there was a sudden buzz of excitement suggesting the comet had been sighted, but puzzlingly the binoculars and telescopes were not pointing at the sky. Instead they were zeroing in on a couple of European ladies who had parted company with their bikini tops and were lying there like beached mermaids.

For a while, the beach view beat anything outer space had to offer.

The presence of these ladies did not go unnoticed by students on an astronomy field trip which had suddenly got a lot more interesting. For the next hour Halley's Comet was all but forgotten as a steady stream of giggling pupils paraded past the two women. You could hardly fault the students whose assignment was after all, the "scientific study of heavenly bodies".

Explosive outfits

Most people are aware that the bikini is named after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the US tested nuclear bombs from 1946-58. Frenchman Louis Reard had just designed a two-piece swimsuit when the first bombs were dropped and he quickly named his design the "bikini". Fashion writer Diana Vreeland gave it a boost when she described the bikini as "the atom bomb of fashion".

Although the bikini quickly caught on in France it was frowned upon in the US where it was regarded as far too risqué. But once Ursula Andress emerged from the Caribbean in the 1962 Bond film Dr No we knew that bikinis were here to stay (with the exception of Samae San).

Itsy bitsy

While discussing bikinis it would be remiss not to mention the 1960 Bryan Hyland hit Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. I was a teenager at the time and the song naturally caught my attention, although my mother was not quite so impressed.

The lyrics were kind of cute although the reason this novelty song has lasted the pace for more than 60 years is perhaps more a tribute to the popularity of the bikini rather than the songwriters. However, the song definitely helped in the acceptance of the bikini. If you need a little livening up this morning a quick burst of Itsy Bitsy might just do the trick: "One, two, three, four, tell the people what she wore…"

The hole digger

Speaking of novelty songs brings us to Bernard Cribbins, the multi-talented English actor who sadly died last week aged 93. Cribbins appeared in dozens of films including The Railway Children and several Carry On capers, and was a regular face on British television. However, I remember him most for two clever songs that became big hits when I was a teenager.

The songs, produced by George Martin shortly before he joined the Beatles set-up, were Hole in the Ground and Right Said Fred. They were labelled as "novelty" numbers, but were a bit more than that and reflected English culture at the time.

Hole in the Ground features a labourer digging a hole who is approached by snooty bowler-hatted gentlemen who criticizes his work: "Don't dig it there, dig it elsewhere." The early 1960s was a time, particularly in London where there were plenty of road works and construction, when bored City gentlemen were often spotted at lunch-time eating their cheese and tomato sandwiches while earnestly watching the hole diggers at work.

Cribbins was particularly proud that on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs distinguished playwright and singer Noel Coward chose Hole in the Ground as his favourite song.

Time for a cuppa

Right Said Fred neatly summed up the role of the tea break for the British working classes. It featured three men unsuccessfully attempting to move heavy furniture, most likely a piano, in a house from one place to another.

As the lyrics explained: "Tried to shift it/ couldn't even lift it", with each verse ending with the sensible "…and so we had a cup of tea". After six tea breaks, they end up leaving the furniture "standing on the landing".

The song became a workers' anthem. In 1989, a pop group named itself Right Said Fred after Cribbins' song and went on to have their own novelty hit with I'm Too Sexy, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the narcissistic fashion world. Naturally, the group had a cup of tea after recording it.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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