By Alex Jones
CHARMING photos dating back to the 50s and 60s show Brits enjoying fun in the sun as Butlin’s Holiday camps enjoyed their heyday.
Nostalgia-inducing images, recently unearthed in TopFoto’s digital archives, include a fleet of women cycling down Clacton-on-Sea’s promenade in novelty tandem bikes; a daredevil diver launching himself into the pool in the original Butlin’s camp in Skegness; and a thousand happy holidaymakers all eating together in a communal eating hall.
Other incredible shots show a delighted group of bikini-clad tourists posing in a water fountain in Essex and Olympic hopeful and war hero John Wilkinson enjoying a seaside break.
William ‘Billy’ Butlins opened his first camp at Skegness in 1936. However, it is the 50s and 60s that most people think of as the heyday of Butlin’s and the British holiday camp. Butlin’s moved with the times in the 60s. The camps boasted a host of decidedly modern features, such as monorails and glass sided swimming pools.
Billy’s original aim was to make the British seaside break accessible to all. It started on a short visit to Barry Island where Billy felt sorry for families staying in drab guest houses with nothing much to do. He wanted to create a “place of colour and happiness” where quality activities and entertainment would be provided so that families could really enjoy their time together.
So in 1936, Billy bought a plot of land in Skegness (where the resort is to this day) and set about making this dream come true. After a hugely successful opening, Butlin decided to open a second camp in Clacton-on-Sea before the end of the 40s. Soon he had opened another three camps – in Filey, Ayr, and Pwllheli – which were handed over to the British Government to help with the war effort.
The Sixties was the company’s most successful decade with a further three resorts opened, at Bognor Regis (1960), Minehead (1962) and Barry Island (1966). Eight holiday camps around the coast of Britain were augmented by one in Ireland and Butlin’s hotels in Blackpool, Brighton and Margate. The 1960s also saw the famous monorails brought to Skegness and Minehead and an overseas (but ultimately ill-fated) Butlin’s resort established in the Caribbean.
The 70s saw foreign holidays become increasingly affordable and British staycations lost their allure. The Butlin family sold the business to the Rank Organisation. Today the company is investing heavily in its three remaining sites in Skegness, Bognor and Minehead.