My Butlins by Peter Jones
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My one and only holiday at Butlin's (Clacton) was in 1975, when I was 9 years old, and it has left a lasting impression on me ever since. Though I have travelled the world I can honestly say that that particular holiday was probably one of the best!




Photo: In the chalet lines.
| EXIT | My Butlins | Beaver Club | Uncle Whizz | Afternoon Delights | Yo-Yo Comp | Talent Contest | Roy Castle | Times Past |
Peter writes...

Peter Jones
 My parents, my sister and I were there for two weeks during the summer of '75 and we stayed in chalet K 111, which was located in one of the two-storey blocks.

 We travelled by coach to Clacton from where we lived in Dagenham. The journey took an unparalleled SIX hours. I can't explain why, you'll just have to take my word for it, but when we got there it all seemed worth it.

My sister was heavily into the Bay City Rollers [70s pop group] at the time and she spent most of the two weeks walking about bedecked in tartan and hobbling comically around on platform shoes (as did most of the country's 14-year olds).

Then there were the chalets themselves. I don't know why they were called chalets because our one was just a cupboard with a dividing wall between the double bed and two bunk beds. There was a sink, but no toilet. I have to admit I have no recollection of the chalet maids, I think I was just too wrapped up in the magic of it all to notice. I do remember the staircases though. Our one was not spiral or circular, it was just the usual fire escape type, one short flight leading on to the next until it reached the top storey.

Our meals were in the dining hall, I remember the strangely thin tomato soup starters. In fact, the 1969 camp plan seems to be pretty much as I remember it in 1975. The Tannoy announcements, how could I forget - we would laugh and mimic those all day... "Radio Butlin(s) calling." Ha! It really was just like Hi-de-Hi wasn't it? All of the day's activities were announced across the camp. Cosmic!

Butlin's Beaver Club
Butlin's Beaver Club
I was of course a member of the Butlin’s Beaver Club and my proud claim to fame is that I was yo-yo champion of that particular fortnight... heady times indeed!


Image: Butlin's Beaver Club badge.
Uncle Whizz!
Clarence the Rabbit
The children's entertainer was typical of the species and called 'Uncle Johnny' - a magician-cum-ventriloquist. His dummy was 'Clarence the Rabbit'.

Image: Clarence badge.
The Junior Theatre was as dark as a snooker hall and was where the ventriloquist/magician bloke operated. He would bowl on stage hailing the expectant crowd of kids with a:-

"Hello everybody!!!"

Our response would come back at him like a Legoland Hurricane Katrina:-

"Hello Uncle Whizz!"

Of course, we should have responded with 'Hello Uncle Johnny', but before his entrance, his wife (I think it was) would come on stage and press-gang our allegiance into colluding with her in the orchestrated and very naughty reply of 'Hello Uncle Whizz'. We were all more than willing to comply with such a devious request and in so doing, knock poor old Uncle Johnny into a mixed state of feigned astonishment, disappointment and disgust. Once he'd suitably recovered he would inform us that he was going back off stage and on his return he would expect the correct 'Hello Uncle Johnny' reply. We had been berated, but the conspiracy ran too deep, and now we were hooked. We were all in it together and we needed another fix.

 So on his next entrance we let him have it again, but this time it was even more virulent and vociferous.

"HELLO UNCLE WHIZZ!"

Betrayed a second time, and the complicit assistant/wife nodding and grinning in smug contentment somewhere behind him. That's entertainment.

Afternoon Delights

I spent many an afternoon at Butlin's drinking Limeade whilst listening to the sound of *Don Estelle and Windsor Davies, hitting the charts with 'Whispering Grass', on the juke box in one of the cafeterias. I just wish now that we had more photos of the camp itself, but we do have a cine film though, of the outdoor swimming pool and a show jumping event.

*From the BBC tv series 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum.'

I remember in particular the roller skating rink where I fell over and broke the corner off my front tooth and have subsequently had trouble with it ever since. My Mum went bonkers when I showed her! We also took part in the Butlin's family version of the Generation Game (didn't win), but I remember being petrified up there on the stage in front of the whole camp. My sister and I didn't have any choice, my Mum and Dad made us do it. Well scary!
Father and Son
PJ and his Dad standing on the edge of the sportsfield, with the chalet lines in the background.

 


Photo: Father and Son.
Mother and Daughter
Peter's Sister and Mum standing on the edge of the sportsfield, with the chalet lines in the background. 



Photo: Mother and Daughter.
Indoor Pool
Viewing gallery by the indoor pool. 





Photo: The indoor pool at Butlin's Clacton.

There used to be a little train that circled the playing/sports field which I spent a fair bit of time on, but most of all I was completely amazed by the free, yes FREE, fun-fair close to the main entrance. WOW! What about those curious 'lounges' on site? You could just go in and sit there, there was nothing to do except just sit. One was called the 'Safari Lounge' and had all kinds of big game hunting effigies dotted around the walls and ceiling, and mock-leopard skin upholstery on the furniture. Tres chic... NOT!

I remember, next to one of the cafeterias, there was a radio-control tank game. None of your new-fangled virtual stuff, these were real toy tanks. It was a kind of large landscape of roughly 8 or 10 feet square, with four radio controlled tanks positioned on the surface. There was a bridge to cross and bushes to navigate and maybe a couple of miniature walls to get around. You put your old shilling-sized 5p in one of the four slots (each tank had its own corresponding slot) and away you went. The controls were just two simple up-and-down levers and it lasted for what seemed like an eternity.


The Yo-Yo Competition
First Prize
The 'Junior Theatre' is where I won my yo-yo competition. I didn't know it at the time, but my Mum and Dad were secretly watching in the audience. My Dad and I had fallen out over a particular yo-yo trick we'd developed ourselves, which we named after one of the Butlin's fairground rides (the Big Wheel), and I decided to storm off to the competition final alone. I thought they would just leave me to get on with it, but I should have known better... they were there all along.





Certificate: First Prize.
   
The Talent Contest

[Of all the competitions and events of a Butlin's holiday, possibly the most prestigious and enticing (and fun to watch) was the 'National Talent Contest' which was rehearsed, and later performed live, on the full-sized stage in the Gaiety Theatre.]

Peter recalls...

My Mum's name was entered into the talent contest auditions without her knowledge! And she only found out a few days later when (the guilty party) my Dad craftily escorted her to the notice board which contained the list of competition entrants where, to her utter astonishment, she saw her own name.
The Talent Contest
My Mum sang the old Jimmy Young hit from 1951, 'Too Young' and although she may have needed to be a little squiffy on gins and orange to get up on stage in the first place, when she let rip, she knocked 'em bandy.


Photo: On stage in the Gaiety Theatre.
There were two preliminary auditions leading up to the final in which my Mum competed against two other acts:
A bloke in his thirties singing 'Everything is Beautiful' and two teenage girls whose song nobody seems to recall. The winners turned out to be the two girls, though there was no second or third place offered for the others. In our eyes, my Mum was the clear winner even though my sister and I later admitted to her that we had been hiding behind the auditorium seats, with embarrassment, the whole time she was raising the rafters.

Roy Castle
Peter's parents with Roy Castle
Roy Castle headlined there that season as you can see by the photo of my Mum and Dad with him after the show. Don't know who the cat in the background is though!! 


Photo: Peter's parents with Roy Castle.
Even though Roy Castle just happened to be playing at Clacton during our holiday, my Mum did actually like his act, which is why I think they had their photo taken with him after the show.

Years later, coincidentally, I worked with Roy a number of times on the road...

One occasion during the late 1980s I will never forget, was a gig he did on a Thames riverboat. I worked as a sound and light engineer at the time and on this particular night I was operating the 'follow-spot' for him. About a third of the way through his routine my light inexplicably died and went out, leaving Roy and the entire stage in complete darkness.

Roy was a genuine, fantastically talented performer, a fact that anyone who has ever caught his act could testify to, and this occasion proved to be no exception. There, in the heart-stopping darkness, with a string of ad libs, and off the cuff remarks (at my expense I might add) he quickly had the crowd roaring with laughter. He managed to keep this up until we got the temperamental 'follow-spot' working again, and in so doing, he had turned the entire episode to his advantage without any hesitation. He had kept the audience entertained like the true professional that he was, through a very sticky and uncomfortable few moments.

Times Past

I remember going into the on-site cinema (and being amazed that I could just walk in without having to pay) and seeing 'The Poseidon Adventure', which I believe was released around about that time.

[Note: The Poseidon Adventure was a 1972 action and adventure film based on a novel by Paul Gallico. In the 70s it was often many years before newly released films were shown on television, and audio cassette tapes were the fad. Video recorders weren't mass produced until the 1980s, so the chance to see a recent feature film was big a treat.]

Much time has passed since then, but I shall never forget the summer of 1975 and I'm just waiting for the advent of the first time-machine so that I can slip back for a quick taster of those far off, safe and happy days.

Peter Jones
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