How it all began
Skegness was our first camp, built all those years ago in 1936, from a design sketched by Billy Butlin himself. Billy promised “A week’s holiday for a week’s wages”. Believe it or not, holiday pay for workers had only just been introduced, so his timing was impeccable and his message chimed with the national mood.
Indeed, looking back over the decades, it often feels as if the Butlins story is woven into the nation’s story.
Billy himself started out as a fairground showman. His hoop-la stand was apparently always the most popular in the fair, perhaps because he liked to make it easy for people to win! The Skegness resort was paid for with the profits that Billy made by bringing the first dodgems to Europe (thank you, Billy!) – and of course, the resort featured its very own dodgems.
Our Famous Redcoats
Entertainment has always been at the heart of Butlins, with the famous Redcoats leading the way – and not just in the conga! The first Butlins Redcoat was Norman Bradford – a jolly man originally employed as an engineer at Skegness. When Billy saw that his campers weren’t mixing, he asked Norman to get up on the stage and tell a few jokes – it wasn’t long before everyone was laughing and chatting together. He hand-picked another nine men and women and kitted them out in bright red blazers, inspired by the Mounties he’d seen during his childhood in Canada.
The Redcoats hall of fame includes many illustrious names from British showbiz. Des O’Connor and Jimmy Tarbuck started out as Redcoats in the 50s - followed over the years by Status Quo’s Francis Rossi, stargazer Russell Grant, TV hosts Rod Hull and Johnny Ball, Darren Day, “H” from Steps and Stephen Mulhern. And though never a Redcoat, national treasure Sir Cliff Richard got his first break at Butlins Clacton, making his professional debut with his group Cliff Richard and The Dreamers.
Billy was always keen to attract the biggest and brightest stars of their day, in order to put on entertainments of the highest order for his guests. If we were to travel back in time to the summer season of 1948, one of the acts we could see at the Gaiety Theatre at Skegness would be the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy. Coming right up to date, we have Madness appearing at Minehead in November 2012.
The war years and after
During the Second World War, entertainment took a back seat to the national interest, as the government commissioned Billy’s camps for use by the armed forces. Skegness became a recruitment and training base for the Royal Navy. Known as HMS Royal Arthur, it endured 52 bombs during the war. Lord Haw-Haw famously broadcast that the Royal Navy had lost their “battleship” HMS Royal Arthur with all hands. However, rumours of its sinking were greatly exaggerated.
In 1946, just six weeks after the Royal Navy left the camp, Butlins Skegness re-opened. Thanks to the hard work of Billy Butlin and a team of dedicated staff, the camp was brought back to life as a holiday resort in no time at all.
In the austere years following the war, Billy continued in his mission to bring much-needed colour and happiness to people’s lives. He did so the only way he knew: by setting new standards for high-quality, all-inclusive and low-cost family holidays, where folk could forget the stresses and strains of everyday life and just have fun. Savings stamps, issued in the 1950s and 1960s, helped guests spread the cost throughout the year.
The Swinging Sixties and beyond
In 1960, Butlins Bognor Regis opened its gates. However, after flooding disrupted building work, guests pulled together to help Billy finish off fitting doors on some chalets. In 1965, the ultra modern monorail opened in Skegness, offering a bird’s eye view of the resort while reaching the mighty speeds of 15mph. No wonder so many people say the sixties went by in a blur! It certainly was an eventful decade for Billy, as he was knighted 1964, only to retire in 1968, handing over the reins of the company to his son, Bobby.
The seventies saw Butlins more popular than ever, notching up a record one million bookings in 1972. It was around this time that Butlins merged with the Rank Organisation. Although Billy was no longer at the helm, his simple belief in the necessity of bringing sparkle and enjoyment into the lives of hardworking families was carried on by his successors. Our story during the eighties and nineties was one of huge investment in the resorts at Minehead, Bognor Regis and Skegness. The culmination of this was the opening of our Skyline Pavilions at all three resorts in 1999. Offering all-weather leisure and entertainment plus places to shop, eat and drink, the Skyline Pavilions are the pulsing heart of each resort.
Into the twenty-first century
The Shoreline Hotel, Butlins’ first ever hotel, opened in 2005 at Bognor Regis, stepping the Butlins accommodation offering up a gear. The Ocean Hotel, also at Bognor Regis, followed shortly afterwards in 2009. With another first for Butlins, the Ocean Hotel’s spa became the first spa in the UK to feature a snow cave: what you might call the ultimate chill-out zone. Making quite a splash, and bringing our story bang up to date, the ultra-modern Wave Hotel and Apartments welcomed its first guests in 2012 at Butlins Bognor Regis. The under-the-sea themed hotel is kitted out with the latest gadgets and gizmos to entertain the whole family. It really is a blast.