Billy Butlin serves holiday fun on an industrial scale
It was the brief window in the year when everyone seemed to live like a king and had the apparent capacity to spend with seemingly reckless abandon (due largely to the thrift-like saving that had gone on for the 12 months prior).
In 1951 only 61 percent of manual labourers were entitled to two weeks' holiday with pay. By 1955 it had shot up to 96 percent.
It was a halcyon period for UK resorts with package holidays abroad virtually unheard of.
The war had meant many people hadn’t enjoyed a proper holiday for years and there was an automatic rush for the coast.
The period signaled boom time for Billy Butlin and his chain of resorts.
He actually opened his first in Skegness as far back as 1936.
Though he wasn’t the first to open a holiday camp, his always stood out by virtue of their ‘industrial’ size.
Holiday camps, at the time, took at most a few hundred campers – Butlin’s, from the beginning, could accommodate two thousand.
Billy Butlin’s first venture in Skegness was actually a fairground. Whilst running that business he noticed that many of his customers were stopping in nearby boarding houses. They, as was the protocol in such places, were expected to leave their accommodation in the morning and not return until the evening. Billy Butlin had stayed in a holiday camp in Canada and saw the benefits of this form of holiday. When his first camp opened in 1936 – offering a week’s holiday for a week’s pay, it was a massive success.
“It’s the one place where the youngsters can be allowed to go off and enjoy themselves without any worries”, said a 1954 advert.
Entertainment, babysitting, beauty contests – Butlins’ holidaymakers couldn’t ask for more.
Even five decades on and their brochure still looks impressive boasting everything from private beaches to household names in the shape of entertainment.
In the 1950s, as people started putting thoughts of war behind them, the resorts must have looked totally out of this world.
They offered everything people had been missing.
The holiday camps were affordable, food was plentiful and there was more than enough to keep you occupied when it was raining.
Despite the fact many holiday camps had been turned over to military use in the war, they reopened their doors to holidaymakers within weeks of the ceasing of hostilities.
By the mid-1950s, there were hundreds of camps throughout the whole country. An annual publication Holiday Camps – Directory and Magazine listed many of them and described the facilities. Pontins were also big news at the time which provided similar round-the-clock entertainment and service. There were also smaller versions like Warner’s camps and other more family-run ones.
The reverberating tones of ‘goodnight campers’ told you it was bedtime, well that and the playing of the National Anthem.
The only time the merriment would stop on the dance floors would normally be an announcement to tell you “Baby crying in chalet…”.
If you weren’t being waited on hand and foot by an army of Butlin’s redcoats you’d more than likely opted for the only other way to spend your British summer holiday, in the 1950s guesthouse.
The fearsome, larger than life landladies became legendary.
Competition for holidaymakers reached fever pitch in the era as competing resorts tried to outdo each other in the marketing. Blackpool’s strapline was “All The Best and Best For All”, Fleetwood, “For A Holiday Tonic”, Penzance, “Bathed in the Western Sun”, and so on.
Dave Manvell: “Butlin’s holiday camps at Filey and Skegness were great favourites with Sheffielders, for their annual trip to the seaside during the ’50s.
“After the austerity years of the ’40s, Butlin’s was paradise with its swimming pools, bars and theatres offering family fun and entertainment. The accommodation was very basic in chalets that only offered somewhere to sleep and leave your belongings. “Not that much time was spent in the chalets anyway. There was so much to do as well as fitting in mealtimes. There were bars to drink in, ballrooms to dance in, and theatres to catch the up and coming stars of ’50s TV. For the children there where fairground rides. paddling pools and boating lakes and, at Filey, there was a real elephant to ride on. After a day packed with fun and entertainment it would end to the strains of “goodnight campers”.
Michael Glover: “This annual coach trip to Blackpool was one of the few great and regular moments of family celebration (another was Christmas), times set apart from the rest on account of their specialness. On these occasions, that abiding watchfulness about money was thrown to the winds. It was as if at these two points in the awful, penny-pinching grind of the year, so carefully separated from each other by six-monthly intervals, the usual rules and prohibitions were tossed to the four winds. New clothes were purchased in which to flaunt ourselves along the seafront. Once in that magical holiday terrain, gifts were purchased with near reckless abandon. I remember so well not only that I was once allowed to buy three gifts for myself when at the seaside – one of these was a sailing boat which would later become the pride of the Firth Park Boating Pond – but that we would eat out at a fish and chip shop almost every night of the week, carrying the whiff of hot, lightly salted and heavily vinegared chips for as long as they would last in the general direction of the Pleasure Beach and, legs and weather permitting, even beyond.”
Margaret Emery: “In the ’50s, the family holiday was usually taken at Bridlington. Such was the demand for tickets on Sheffield United Tours charabancs that long queues would form outside their offices hours before they opened. In those days it wasn’t about losing weight, it was how much you had put on during your holiday week. On arrival in Bridlington the whole family would go down to the pier to be weighed on this elaborate brass machine with a plush red seat on which you sat to be weighed. At the end of the week this was repeated and anyone not putting weight on would be very disappointed.”