British holidays

Something Arthur from PMAO said about wishing for a red coat reminded me of this post topic.   I had touched on the subject whilst writing my memoirs  I copied it here so I could ensure I didn’t repeat myself, which it turned out I had done  – numerous times.

We were talking in terms of a revolution against WordPress’s fancy new frock which no one seems to be getting on board with.   But then I envisioned him being a Red Coat, which to a Brit is the term given to the reps at the UK holiday institution that is Butlin’s holiday camps.   Imagining him larking about onstage entertaining pasty British families in his own special way brings much joy.


What would you do when greeted by this shower?
a) Turn and drive back home
b) Put your foot down for a game of Red Coat skittles

Once people flocked to the British seaside to spend two weeks frolicking in the cold dark sea surrounding our isle.  We’d eat ice cream and ride donkeys along the sand, we’d sit in deckchairs watching a brass band on the bandstand.   This was all long before air travel was a viable option and back when foreigners where just people we charged at with a bayonet and musket.

As a result of this mass migration to the seaside, holiday camps sprung up.  Where everything was catered for under one roof, entertainment for all ages.

Butlin’s was one such chain we frequented, its entertainment staff dressed in a bright red blazer forever known as Red Coats, and it was once a highly sought job for anyone with a theatrical bent.   Many ex-red coats now litter our TV schedules in soap operas, or presenting Lottery shows, being homosexual wasn’t essential but it certainly helped.


A man and his hag, so often inseparable

It looked great on the surface, funfairs for the kids to play on all day, arcades, sporting activities for all ages, bingo, knobbly knee contests.  In the evening the family would congregate in the main ballroom to be entertained by the redcoats performing a variety show which would be identical every night.

Families would ride around the grounds on bikes made for 4 people, we would wave at people in costume, play some crazy golf and eat copious amounts of candy floss.   Like Disney World but on heroin.

But under this colourful facade lay the obvious truth which you realised the older you got.

How the walls surrounding the grounds were 20ft high and strewn with barbed wire, how meal times were heavily scheduled a line forming as you waiting to be served by a matronly dinner lady.   I once went back for another knickerbocker glory only to hear old ladies muttering their displeasure at my greediness “Did you see that boy, he’s having another knickerbocker glory”  Never mind it was all you can eat, the dentured old biddies were just jealous I could partake in a dessert that didn’t need to be liquidised.


The cause of the old lady’s ire.

How the accommodation of chalets were basically set up like prison blocks, the door leading straight into a kitchen come lounge which converted to beds for the kids.  All the comforts of home – if your home was Anne Frank’s house.


“I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank”

It was a harrowing experience, you longed for the freedom to run up and down the beach but instead you had to build your sandcastles in a sandpit shared with countless other kids, grubby dirty children.   I suppose the beach would be littered with dog excrement, the sandpit just contained another type of the stuff.

It wasn’t always Butlin’s, once we went to Pontin’s, they were known as Blue Coats, you can see how they were trying to influence our political persuasions at an early age.  That was in Blackpool, the self titled Las Vegas of the North.   Now if you visit Blackpool it is made up of teenagers rolling around drunk wearing unsuitable attire, maybe this happens in Vegas too?


No escape

My grandfather then bought a caravan in Northern France, we boarded the ferry and visited a foreign country for the first time.  Northern France is much the same as England, the only difference being people just spoke funny.   They shared similar weather and their failure to clean up after their dogs.

There was even less to do in France, no red coats to lead us in a conga.  We weren’t penned in, we were in an open field surrounding a lake.  We had to decide for ourselves when to eat and how to keep ourselves entertained, it was tough adjusting to life on the outside.

Leave a comment


  1. I re-read Anne Frank’s Diary recently and she was scathing about the food in Butlins.

  2. Those people scare me.
    They remind me of the horrifyingly white people on the Lawrence Welk show.
    Never before in the field of human entertainment has so much been ruined by so few… as Winston Churchill almost said…

  3. Holy shit…terrifying. I don’t know how a kid comes out of that without night terrors.

    • What is the equivalent over there? Summer camp? But then you are away from your parents so that must be good

      • I’m not sure an equivalent to this does/should exist. We do have summer camps but they would be far less brain washing and containing than the Ann Frank-ville you guys got going on there.

        • I think they really aspired to be like Disneyland but on a really really small budget. I think they even had a duck mascot which I may have a photo of me next to it.

          I think they are a dying institution now, too many people go abroad or expect a bit more luxury!

  4. This red coat lodge reminds me of the camp from Dirty Dancing. Was it something like that? I would have loved something like that I think!

    • 😀 Well, no one rescued me from the corner 🙂

      Even the one in DD was glamorous compared to British ones.

      The style of ours were portrayed in a sitcom called Hi De Hi, it’s pretty accurate if there are any clips on the web somewhere. Naff is the word that comes to mind when remembering our camps.

  5. I didn’t realize it was so tough in the UK.

    • Oh yes, very! 🙂

      They were of a time, they still exist now but I expect they are very different, this really was all we had to do, I never knew anyone who could go abroad on holiday.

      I love a bit of nostalgia though.

  6. And what’s wrong with having another Knickerbocker Glory?? Those holiday camps look insanely creepy. Like the kind of places that would be the setting for some sort of murder mystery, but not in a Cabot Cove kind of way.

    • If only it were cabot cove. They were just run down, they never really moved with the times when people demanded better standards. They host indie music festivals in many of them now, better than camping I suppose.

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