Hi-de-Bye, Campers

Butlin’s Holiday Camp in ClactonButlin’s Holiday Camp in Clacton

Norman Jacobs will be taking Wanstead Historical Society members on a trip down memory lane this month, to the former Butlin's Holiday Camp in Clacton, which said goodbye to its happy campers in 1983.

The former Butlin's Holiday Camp in Clacton-on-Sea was where I spent many wonderful years, starting at the tender age of three, when, as a very young Eastender, my parents took my brother and me for our first family holiday, returning time after time in the following years. Butlin's and Clacton became such a happy part of my life that when I first got together with my partner in the 1970s, we decided to leave the East End and live in Clacton.

The Butlin's holiday camp at Clacton opened on 11 June 1938 with a grand ceremony. So immediately successful did the camp become that accommodation was doubled for the start of the 1939 season, enabling it to cater for 2,000 campers.

The late 1940s to the early 1960s became the era of the knobbly knees, the glamorous grandmother, the Tarzan look-alike competitions and the rest, a period immortalised in the television sitcom Hi-de-Hi. Many names later to find fame took their first steps towards stardom either as Redcoats or as resident singers at the camp, including Roy Hudd, Dave Allen, Michael Holliday and Cliff Richard, who had his first professional engagement there.

There was a strong link between the camp and the town as not only did Butlin's service the camp using only local businesses, but it also opened up its amenities in the winter to residents with its Winter Social Club, and entered over 20 floats in the annual Clacton Carnival.

During the 1960s, as people became more affluent, they started going abroad for their holidays where there was a guarantee of sunshine and the numbers staying at the camp began to decline. In addition, the idea of organised games led by Redcoats was beginning to seem old hat and out of step with the individualism of the Swinging Sixties.

In the late 1960s, Butlin's was sold to the Rank Organisation, who made further changes that continued throughout the 70s and 80s, leading eventually to Butlin's deciding to convert their camps into luxury Holiday Centres and Holiday Villages with upgraded accommodation, as the idea of holiday camps and being a 'camper' seemed very outdated in the modern era. To pay for these improvements they decided savings had to be made elsewhere and the decision was taken to close the Clacton camp. The announcement came on 18 October 1983 and Butlin's Clacton was no more.

My talk will be illustrated with photographs and sound recordings of the period. For those who experienced the camp themselves, it will be a nostalgic experience, while for everyone else, it will show a carefree way of life that has now vanished for ever.

Norman's talk will take place at Wanstead Library on 7 January from 8pm (visitors: £3). Call 07949 026 212

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