Summer holidays: Soviet style

10 August 2018

Cultural Studies | History


The Sun, the Sea and Bright Ideas, 1965. Image © BFI

As the thermometers refuse to budge from the high 20s, supermarket freezers become devoid of any ice-based products and social media fills up with photographs of far-flung beaches and pools, thoughts inevitably drift to summer holidays of times past.

This year, however, my thoughts have been focused rather specifically on the summer of 1965, and the beaches of the Black Sea. As an intern here at Adam Matthew, I have been introduced to the third module of Socialism on Film, which gives an intriguing insight into culture and society behind the Iron Curtain. One film which has particularly caught my eye and provided 20 minutes of amusement is The Sun, The Sea and Bright Ideas.

The film is centred around the USSR Pioneer Camp “Orlyonok” near Novorossiysk on the Black Sea and showcases the day-to-day lives of its summertime inhabitants – some of the 12 million Soviet schoolchildren who spent their summer holidays at the 7,800 state-funded camps across the USSR. Its narrator has an off-putting sombre tone to his voice and admits regretfully that “the story we’re going to tell you is somewhat sketchy and far from complete” but he needn’t worry, the film certainly achieves its aim of demonstrating the ingenuity and team spirit of the Soviet children as they enjoy their 40-day holiday at the camp. Seemingly without any adult intervention or indeed supervision (I have spotted just one person over 16), the children create a harmonious community where they swim, play on the beach, dance and sing around a campfire. However, as our narrator reminds us, “self-service, bright ideas and pleasant surprises are encouraged” and here the camp becomes a thinly-guised model of ideal society – the children work together to cook surprise meals for each other, they paint glass doors and windows to prevent accidents and, most spectacularly, they turn “a heap of cardboard” into the means for a full-scale recreation of the ancient Olympic Games, complete with snakes and donkeys.


The Sun, the Sea and Bright Ideas, 1965. Image © BFI


In doing so, they embody the spirit of the Young Pioneers (the Soviet Union’s equivalent of the Scouting movement) and their motto “Всегда готов!”, or “Always prepared!”. Certainly, it is the children’s readiness to act – to wake up and make their beds, to cook a meal for innumerable others or take action against the risk posed by glass doors – which makes this both a distinctly Soviet production and a holiday very different from those occupying my thoughts in an average August.


Socialism on Film Modules I (Wars and Revolutions) and II (Newsreels and Cinemagazines) are now available and Module III (Culture and Society) is due for publication in Spring 2019. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find out more.


About the Author

Emma Woodcock

Emma Woodcock

Since I started at Adam Matthew in the summer of 2018, I've worked on a range of projects including Socialism on Film, Food and Drink in History and America in World War Two. My academic interests lie in Early Modern book history, literature and politics.