I will never forget, nor would I ever want to, the great feeling of joy as I stepped through the gates of Butlins, Filey in May 1957. It was almost like stepping into wonderland and, after walking for a hundred yards or so, I stopped and stood in amazement just looking round and trying to take it all in. I was bathed in pleasant music coming from heavenly speakers suspended from buildings and concealed in trees. I could hear laughter and other sounds of happiness from people surrounding the beautiful blue and white pool. Music and singing coming from one building, applause and laughter from another. I was almost mesmerized by the sight of exotic flowers in every tree and shrub - I would later learn the blooms were plastic but it mattered not a bit. I was awed by the coloured lanterns hanging over every road. I had started to walk again and had to stand and stare in amazement at a most beautiful fountain shimmering and dancing at least 15 feet into the sky. My eyes were drawn to the laughter and cries of happiness from children actually playing on fountains near the pool. I saw people rowing in boats of every colour on a beautiful, shrub lined lake. Every single one of them laughing and shrieking with joy. I was 26 years old, in the prime of my life, and as handsome as I was ever going to be, and beautiful girls were coming at me from around every corner. I started to notice young men and women in red blazers, white skirts and trousers. All of them calling out to people, chatting and waving and above all laughing. So this was it then! The Butlins my friends had told me about and here I was seeing it for myself on this my first ever visit and what a first impression! Here I was in wonderland, paradise, never-never-land, Utopia!!
After reporting to the entertainment office, drawing my uniform and settling into my chalet, the rest of the day was mine to explore to my hearts content. I was just spellbound by everything I saw, the enormity of the ballrooms and theatres and all of them decorated and coloured in a way that would please. Not one tennis court but half a dozen and most of them occupied, and as with the putting greens, not just one but three or four and all of them being enjoyed. Screams of laughter from a fairground that seemed to have limitless rides, roundabouts and swings. Seemingly endless playing fields bordered by beautiful rose gardens and rockeries. I was delighted by rows and rows of chalets and, like everything else, all of them painted in a beautiful array of colours. Everything seemed so big it was awesome, almost breathtaking, and I found myself constantly taking out my chalet key to glance at it - B27, Blue camp and I was making a most determined effort to not get lost!
I was quickly made to feel at home by the friendliest team of colleagues that one could ever wish to meet. In those days, and amongst what seemed an enormous array of talent, mixed with outstanding personalities, I felt very much the new boy and I dare say I was - a boxing instructor on six quid a week.
There would be many changes over the years and some of them, in those days of absolute prosperity, came very quickly. The following season we had an enormous heated, indoor swimming pool with observation windows. By 1960 we had a wonderful chairlift running all the way down to the beach. The old marquee, used for boxing which had been Billy Smart's Big Top, had been replaced by a luxurious sports stadium. The Gaiety theatre was now being used for children’s entertainment and had been replaced by a 2,000 seater with a revolving stage. Charlie the elephant had arrived and Butlins was riding the crest of the waves.
I was moved in 1962 to become part of the management team and was deputy entertainment manager of our new flagship at Minehead. The next three years were spent as deputy of Pwllheli, taking over as manager of the Clintonville and Brighton hotels for the winters. My first summer as a camp entertainment manager was 1965 at Bognor, this was followed by six years in the same position at Skegness, followed by four or five at Pwllheli, before returning to my beloved Filey.
It was wonderful to be back where it had all started and this time, as Leisure and Amenities Controller, to be backing up shops and bars, coffee bars and of course entertainment. The whole history and nature of our business having been restructured by the new MD Mr Bob Webb. I would like to wallow in some measure of glory here and say, due to my enormous management ability, the restructure was a great success!! Sadly, in my view it wasn't and whatever success we had was due entirely to the strong management teams of the departments I had become controller of. I feel it should be placed on record, without harming anyone so many years later! My counterpart the bars manager Derek Hullah, after twenty five years service in that job, had more knowledge of Butlin bars in his little finger than I had in my whole body!! The same must be said of the managers of the rest of the departments. We made it work because it had to work and not because of any special ability on my part but because of the cooperation of the others.
Sadly, so many other things had begun to change and, as the years had passed, Butlins no longer had the monopoly on the British holiday market. However, that is all 'old hat' now and there is no reason to tread that road again, I am sure it would be agreed that it has all been said.
Filey camp had not been lucrative, or indeed even self supporting, for a number of seasons. At the end of 1983 the decision was made to close the gates forever. Thousands of visitors and loyal staff left at the end of that season fully expecting to return the following year. It was not to be and we were all left to cope with our personal heart break in our own ways and some of us will carry the grief to our graves.
There is a saying "You can't go back!" and foolishly perhaps for my wife, daughter Sam and I, who had been Redcoats at Filey, we made the effort and wanted to see the camp for one last time. For whatever reason every building had been demolished and raised to the ground. No apparent attempt was being made to remove any of the rubble and the buildings - shops, theatres, bars and ballrooms, coffee bars and chalets had just been left where they had fallen. We managed to find the concrete steps of the Empire theatre, still intact but buried. We sat on them for a while as I tried to take my mind back over 20 years to my show "Rendezvous with Rocky" and all the lucky Dip shows I had presented in that theatre. We found the old offices and saw that one solitary fountain at the pool had been left standing. It was all too heartbreaking for words and we just had to leave. I have seen photos taken since and the debris has now been cleared and it is once more virtually open fields. I think its future has been well documented on Butlin Memories.
Goodbye to the love that was Filey Camp, and thank God the Guv'nor wasn't around to see it!!