The title for the post comes from a McEwan's advert in the 1980s. At the time there was no doubt in my mind it was true, but now - in parts - I wouldn't be so sure. John Alexander's book is short on text and big on photographs, a few dating back to the late nineteenth century, but many taken in the past ten years. Growing up there in the 1970s and 80s, of course, I didn't have anything to compare it to, but it didn't seem so bad. I gather there's a general consensus that it really started to go downhill after the police began busting drug gangs in Newcastle, whence they decamped to the coast. The Coast TV series also mentioned it as the place "people who can't afford Prague or Tallin go for stag and hen parties", which probably says all you need to know.
Most interesting perhaps are the few photographs of Whitley Park Hall and views of the sea front in the years before the war. The hall, built in the eighteenth century, was acquired by the local council in the 1920s and demolished in 1939, no Luftwaffe required, a pattern that seems to have been continued by the concil over the years. The recent photographs show many decrepit and boarded-up buildings with rather unlikely-sounding plans for redevelopment.
Alexander's view of the town does seem a bit unrepresentative: in the introduction he notes a surprising lack of available photographs from the 50s through to the 70s; and his section on shops, noting that the vast majority have come and gone, he singles out Finlays and Carters, but omits to mention J Scott. It's a nostalgic coffee-table book, quite depressing in places but also enjoyable.