The school summer holidays, six whole weeks of doing nothing and going back to school seemed ages away. What a great feeling that was and what made it even better was when your mum and dad said you would actually be going on holiday, and not any old holiday, but to a Holiday Camp. Butlin’s or Pontins, how bloody fantastic! (Little did we know) A totally British institution, the holiday camp. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that has anything like it.
The first Butlin’s was opened in 1936 in the glamorously named Skegness by Billy Butlin who’d had a terrible holiday on Barry Island in his youth, (and who hasn’t?) and wanted something better. He grew up traveling around the country with his uncle’s Fun Fair and branched out into having his own Fair which became so successful he was able to develop a static fair in Skegness in 1927 which, in turn, morphed into a holiday camp when he built “chalets’ which allowed people to stay for a week or two. Food was included (three meals a day) and there was live entertainment every night. The weekly rate in 1936 was between 35 shillings and £3, approximately £173 today. Cheap at half the price!
I’m not sure how fancy the inside of the chalets were back then, but having been to a Butlin’s in the 1980’s I can truthfully say, they are crap. It always seems that no matter what time of the year you plan on going, it rains. I can clearly remember a couple of occasions when I spent a wet and soggy week in Bognor Regis (another glamorous sounding place).
Most of the camps seem to be built in the most unsunny (is that a word?) places, with names that do not conjure up daydreams of palm trees, beautiful beaches or even nice weather. [Bognor, Skegness, Pwllheli, Clacton, Minehead, Barry Island] It’s usually so cold you can’t use the swimming pool for fear of losing your toes to frostbite, the arcade is full of whiny children and the playground is a flooded mess. Mum and dad trying to make you play board games and wishing they hadn’t bothered to book the holiday at all. Looking out the window onto the desolate landscape is what British holidays are made of.
I think the main reason we were taken to Butlin’s or Pontins was because of adverts like this, which made it look like your parents would have the best time and wouldn’t have to put up with you all day. A holiday club is all very well, unless you are that extremely shy child that doesn’t make friends easily, then it was a week in hell.
But on the plus side, without Butlin’s we wouldn’t have such jewels as the Glamorous Granny Contest, Miss Lovely Legs, Holiday Princess (aka, Bathing Beauties) or Red Coats (Blue Coats if you were at Pontins).
Ironically though, the best sentence I’ve found in the history of Butlin’s is this beauty:
“The first day of the camps opening saw snow and during the next three days of the season Bill (Butlin) was aware that although the holiday makers had settled in very well they seemed to lack enthusiasm.” (emphasis added)
That pretty much sums up how everyone feels about a holiday camp nowadays – Lack of enthusiasm.
But what about in America. There is no such thing as a holiday camp… there are, however “Summer Camps.” It couldn’t be called a holiday camp, as a “holiday” includes a celebration, i.e. Christmas and July 4th. But I digress. An American “Camp” is something that children do, on their own, in the mountains, or the middle of nowhere. Parents just pack up their kids and ship them off. You know, you see them all the time in films. Little wooden cabins in the forest near a lake, which apparently you are required to swim in. Sounds absolutely horrible. Not to mention, there’s usually a mad man running around said forest with a massive knife.
These camps are usually called something weird like “Camp Waziyatah.” “Camp Moosilauke,” “Camp Wicosuta,” or Camp Weequahic.” I kid you not, these are names of real camps in Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania respectively. [Although it may look like I had my fingers on the wrong keys for a moment]. I’m sure they are also designed for parents to have a child free summer.
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