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Reproduced courtesy of P&O Heritage

P&O menu card titled 'To Let The Cat Out Of the Bag', from a series themed 'Nautical Expressions'

Date: 1940-1970
Height: 255 mm, width: 355 mm
Medium: Paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Christopher Beazley
Object Copyright: © P&O Heritage
Object Name: Menu
Object No: 00049798

User Terms

    P&O menu from a series based on 'Nautical Expressions', by G. Thompson and printed by Charles & Read Ltd. Features an illustration of a grinning sailor about to be flogged on deck while the man who intends to inflict the punishment is holding a cat and an empty bag. A crew member can be seen on the edge of the image dropping a cat-o-nine-tails into the sea. Text on the side explains the origins of the term 'to let the cat out of the bag'.

    SignificanceShipboard menus such as these were often printed to be souvenirs and were collected as mementos of what for many people were 'once in a lifetime' voyages. Many shipping companies produced their own series of collectable menus with themes such as exotic destinations, historic events or, as in this case, nautical terminology.
    HistoryThis P&O menu card contains an explanation for the origins of the nautical term ‘to let the cat out of the bag’. When sailors were punished for misdemeanours, the punishment often came in the form of a flogging. The whip, or cat-o-nine-tails used to inflict this punishment was kept in a red bag - hence the saying. The text on the menu card also offers an alternative explanation. The term 'to let the cat out of the bag' can also refer to an old country trick of substituting a cat for a pig in a bag and selling it at market. If the customer was wise enough to check the contents of the bag before purchase he ‘let the cat out of the bag’ and uncovered the deception.

    By the 1960s the stately passenger cruises of the 1920s to 1950s were in decline due to increased airtravel. However in the early 1970s, the passenger cruise lines transformed the cruising experience to attract a new market. In 1974, the Cunard Line Queen Elizabeth II hired international celebrities to perform cabaret acts aboard ship.

    The QE2 ushered in the concept of 'one-class' cruising, as the ship's facilities and amenities were made available to all passengers. Regardless of the staterooms or berths passengers had booked, they enjoyed the same service, menus, entertainment, and activities. People began taking cruises for short vacations, rather than solely as a means of transportation. Some argue the 1970s television series the Love Boat also had an impact.

    In the 1980s cruise lines began launching giant passenger liners, some capable of carrying over 2,000 people. These vessels were designed as all-inclusive magnificent floating hotels with casinos, running tracks, spas, champagne and caviar bars, basketball courts, private stateroom verandahs, and three-story nightclubs. Ports of call were not the main reason for cruising anymore as people became interested in the whole experience of just being on board. Cruise Lines actively marketed their shipboard experiences rather than destinations. The message was 'luxury for the masses'.

    Souvenirs had always been an important part of the cruise experience, and many items issued to passengers such as menus, destination cards, cocktail stirrers and match boxes were kept as momentos of what for many people were 'once in a lifetime' voyages, often honeymoons or romantic cruises.

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