Boxing Day, 1958: a dozen travellers comprising the first-ever chalet skiing party left London Victoria by train for the port of Newhaven. They sailed overnight to Dieppe on the north coast of France. Then began the long and winding rail journey to Grindelwald in Switzerland. In those austere post-war days, the holiday looked like an impossible dream: two weeks of skiing, being looked after by hosts in a chalet and plied with unlimited wine.
Their guide and organiser was Colin Murison Small, who has died at the age of 93.
Many 21st-century travellers will not know his name. But with vision, courage and innovation, Mr Murison Small helped create the travel industry that British holidaymakers enjoy today.
The key to that first season: affordability. “Each participant had paid 30 guineas [£31.50] for travel and full-board accommodation,” he told me on the 50th anniversary of that pioneering trip. At the average wage in the late 1950s, it would take about a month’s labour to earn enough for the trip.
That holday price today is equivalent to £625 – less than a week at the average British wage in 2024.
The catering included tea when they returned to the chalet and unlimited cheap wine at dinner.
In 1959 the average male needed to work for three weeks to earn enough to pay for that precious fortnight; for women, it was five weeks.
“Yes, the accommodation was simple in those days – but it had to be because money was short and Brits were limited to a foreign currency allowance of £25.”
Mr Murison Small created the role of chalet host: a person who combines cooking formidable meals with creating a cordial ambience for the guests, making a disparate bunch of strangers feel like the best of friends. His company, Murison Small Ltd (later to become Small World), catered for single travellers as well as groups of two, three or more. Anyone could book confident that they would be part of a like-minded party.
The concept had been born the previous summer. In 1958 Mr Murison Small had travelled with friends to Yugoslavia for a bargain holiday on the Adriatic coast. Two of his pals’ girlfriends were unemployed at the time, so the others agreed to cover their costs for…