Archive photos show Manx tourism’s quirky side

These pictures of tourists in 'Joe's Bar', Douglas, appear in a new book

These pictures of tourists in 'Joe's Bar', Douglas, appear in a new book

Have your say

Never before seen photographs of the island’s tourism past will be revealed this week as The National Fairground Archive celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The Archive is marking the milestone by releasing a book of 100 carefully selected photographic treasures.

Among them are a series of fascinating pictures of tourists pretending to be drunk in ‘Joe’s Bar’, Douglas.

In his unique open-fronted shop on Strand Street, Alf ‘Joe’ Grey (1904-1999) built a comic yet realistic photographic stage set featuring a make-believe bar in an old fashioned pub. He called it Joe’s Bar and he ran it with his wife Hetty and photographer son Howard.

It was open only during the summer months, when countless groups of holidaymakers chose to have their photographs taken while wearing novelty hats, drinking out of oversized bottles of whisky or Guinness and appearing totally drunk.

From 1950 until 1971, Alf Grey served people on holiday who wanted to return home with a souvenir photograph of themselves, their friends and their family having a good time far away from the domesticity of the home and the monotony of the factory assembly line.

Alf had a lifetime’s experience in professional studio portraiture and so it is of no surprise that he used only the very best cameras, lighting and film processing techniques.

His creation, Joe’s Bar, was in no way a ‘Snap and Run’ establishment and became a leading holiday attraction.

The National Fairground Archive started life when a University of Sheffield PhD student studying the social history of travelling show people received a donation of one box of paraphernalia by the infamous fairground family, The Shufflebottoms.

Two decades later, the Archive is open to the public, sprawls over three floors of the University of Sheffield’s Western Bank Library and employs five full-time members of staff.

As one of the leading repositories in the world for material relating to all aspects of popular entertainment, the Archive holds 150,000 images, 4,000 books and journals and 20,000 items of ephemera, including rare posters, handbills, tickets and programmes.

Treasures of the National Fairground Archive is available as part of a special 20th anniversary box set, published in a limited edition of 200 copies, priced £100. Subscribers will have their names printed in the final work. To register email Matthew at

Back to the top of the page