Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Thursday, January 28, 2010


So all the looking at old books and photos got me to thinking about one place... Butlin's Bognor Regis. From 1973 to 1982, once a year, and very occasionally twice, my family would make the 80-odd mile journey to this magical wonderland for a week's holiday. We usually went either the first or last week of the season because those were the least expensive weeks to go. This meant that sometimes I missed a week of school in early May or late September. I wasn't unhappy about that necessarily. It did mean, though, that one time I came back from hols to discover that during my absence I had been nominated to participate in the school's Sports Day, and I had been put into the obstacle race. The obstacle race was basically all the other events combined. Run a bit, then pick up a jump-rope, untie it, jump-rope a few yards, then go under a tarp a few yards, then bob for an apple in a pan of water, run a bit, bob for candy in a pan of flour, with a wet face, thereby getting a floury face, then run to the finish. I think they incorporated egg & spoon in there somewhere too. I was ticked off. I was the least athletic person in the entire county. I wanted to know which of my classmates were responsible for such a travesty. But no matter. It's all water under the bridge, isn't it? Suffice it to say I came dead last. But I digress.

We (and by we I mean myself, my sister, Nan & Grandad, and usually Mum. Dad didn't participate. Not sure why) all would pile into Grandad's car and head for Bognor.

Butlin's in the 70s was a fantastic place. There were two kinds of accommodation, or 'chalets' as they were called. Self-catering on one side of the camp had kitchenettes in each room, and 'full board', which we were, were just rooms with bunk beds or twin beds, some had doubles, and adjoining bathroom. I guess these days the conditions would be considered somewhat spartan, but to us kids, who'd never known any different, this was great fun. However primitive the facilities were, at least we weren't camping in the open air and peeing in latrines!

We were full board as I mentioned before and so we ate in a huge dining room called the 'Kent' dining room. We were given our table assignments when we checked in, so we ate at the same table all week, for breakfast and dinner. As there were four or five of us, and the tables were tables of 8, that meant that we ate with strangers, all week. Some were pleasant. Some not so much. Some were downright loony. Once you were all seated the food would come round. You'd get a pot of tea, and breakfast would usually be something like eggs and bacon. The servers would bring it to your table with these great big plate racks holding 8 or 10 plates of hot food. Occasionally one of these would get dropped with an almighty crash and the dining room would erupt in a big cheer, swiftly followed by the appearance of a little Asian man with a dustpan and broom. The cheer was a Butlin's tradition. Great fun.

There were attractions all over the camp -amusement arcades, gift shops, places to eat, swimming pools, boating lake, games room, fun fair, and theatres. The Games Room was great - lots of ping-pong tables, snooker tables, you could even play indoor bowls or badminton. All you had to do was give the guy your room key and you'd get all the equipment. When you were done, you got your key back. There were places to sunbathe, putting green, a big field where you could play frisbee or kick a ball about, and this field was also used for other things such as the obligatory Donkey Derby, and once, The Royal Marines (I think?) set up an assault course you could try. If this wasn't enough, you could leave the camp and go into Bognor and see the shops, stroll along the seafront... there was more than enough to take up a week. And of course, in the evenings, after dinner... the theatre!

During the week we got a bunch of variety shows, sometimes with fairly big names. I remember seeing Gary Wilmot before he was popular, and we saw him up in the bar at the Princes Ballroom later and got his autograph. The first year we went, Tommy Trinder was the guest compere of all the variety shows. He was up there rattling off some old chestnut or another, my Grandad in the third row yelling "I heard that one in the Palladium in 1945!". At the end of the week was the Redcoat show. Redcoats was the name given to the entertainment staff. They wore red blazers and white pants or skirts. They were always around running all the competitions and helping people out, and at the end of the week they got to perform skits and songs of their own in the Redcoat Show. This was usually the best show of the week.

The Princes Ballroom was above the Pig & Whistle bar, with a stage, dance floor, rows of theatre style seating, a big bar, a snack bar on the other side, an arcade, a mini dance floor on one side used for kids etc., and a bunch of armchairs and coffee tables by the windows so the old'uns could relax with a nice cup o'tea and a biscuit and watch the waves. Many a happy evening was spent alternately boogieing, snacking, and playing pinball and penny cascade and Space Invaders. The other high points of the evnings were the competitions. Miss Lovely Legs was a particular favorite of mine, as were the female Redcoats who were mostly in their early 20s and usually pretty. My word! The other contests were things like the Knobbly Knees Contest, and the Happy Family Contest, which was I think the only contest I and my sis were ever involved in. During the day up  in the Princes was things like horseracing, where you could bet on these filmed American horseraces that came sealed so they wouldn't know the winners beforehand. The horses were just numbered, not named, to avoid anyone knowing any US horseracing results and spoiling it for all the rest. They also had things like the Glamorous Grandma Competition, and a very bubbly jolly lady would do a Keep Fit session one morning. Over in the Regency building you had another ballroom where they had ballroom dancing lessons and a troupe of semi-pro wrestlers would come in one day a week to put on a wrestling show. There was another bar, another snack bar, and the most bizarre thing of all - windows into the indoor pool which was upstairs. You could sit with your burgers and chips and cups of tea and watch people swimming in the pool. It was surreal. Of course, sometimes you'd get an amorous couple in the deep end who didn't know about the windows and gave everyone a show. Mothers would gasp in horror and place their palms over their kids' eyes and quickly hustle them out of the building! Ah, great memories.

Across the road from the rear entrance of the camp was Hotham Park Zoo. A great place with some half decent animals and some amusements. You could buy a bag of peanuts a feed the llamas and zebras and occasionally a penguin would waddle close by. Good fun.

There are too many funny memories to write down here, so I will bid you adieu.

1 comment:

  1. The thing about the swimming pool that always freaked me out was when that man with one leg swam by


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