18th February 2020
This section of the website is where we print stories and anecdotes from former Redcoats about their time at Butlins. All true, of course. If you are a former Redcoat with a tale to tell, please email it to me at the usual address: redcoatsreunited @ aol dot com
Late Night Wine-Up
by Frank Worrall - Butlins Barry Redcoat 1969
I realise that some of the friends I made at Barry in 1969 may not be reading this, as they have gone on to that great Butlins Holiday Camp in the sky; or may be helping out down below in the furnace room. A few more in the latter department I think, remembering what we got up to.
We used to go out of the camp for "midnight mass" - or "socialising" as I think they call it these days, or something to do with toilets and a brewery. It was held at Lavinook Point beach, a quiet and deserted spot (until we got there) where fires were lit so prayer books could be read, and holy water was past round. I, and my trusty Ford Anglia van, would volunteer (read "be press-ganged") into taking a few Reds, along with other staff members, to some of these meetings in order to 'meditate' (I think that is the word I'm looking for). After the tenth person had climbed in to the back of the van, I usually stopped counting, and would run round to the front to make sure I could still get in the driver's seat.
On being stopped one night (sorry, early morning) on the way back, by an old Welsh copper on a bike, he opened the back doors, saw a large number of legs, and immediately closed them (that's the doors, not the legs).
'Are you from the camp lad?' he asked.
'Yes sir,' I replied in a dithery voice.
'Don't carry so much livestock next time,' and waved me on.
Those were certainly the good old days.
KERRY CONROY – Bognor 1978
BLOOD IN THE WATER
It was ‘Captain Blood’ day, and we gathered what seemed like over a hundred kids to drag around the camp causing mayhem. The kids used to love the hunt for Captain Blood, and me and Debbie and Puddles wound them up into a frenzy. Much against policy, we marched them through the coffee bar and lounges to make sure the oldies knew of their presence – COME ON KIDS – MORE NOISE.
By the time we approached the sportsfield they were ready to riot. We found Captain Blood behind the pre-arranged bush, and headed for the pool to launch the rogue off of the high board.
I would take Captain Blood up to the high board, whilst the girls were to make sure the kids stayed down on safe ground. Up to the top we went – "What shall I do with him? Should he walk the plank?" The kids screamed for him to walk, they wanted him punished for all the bad things I told them he had done.
"Are you sure?" The kids screamed an affirmative.
Then one Little B decided he had waited long enough. The little so and so by-passed the girls and made his way to the top. The little so and so then pushed ME off.
I fell into the deep end and went straight to the bottom. As a non-swimmer I panicked and started to wave my arms about. I've since learned that I should have kept still and would have risen to the top.
That was of no use to me at the time. After they had all watched me for what seemed an eternity, Lifeguard Banana decided to jump in and get me. He told me afterwards that he thought I was playing about.
Oh! the joy of being a Children’s Uncle.
Caught in the Headlights
Talking of my trusty van, it appeared on the revolving stage in the Gaiety Theatre at Barry. In the opening of 'The Redcoat Show' the house-lights went down, the audience went quiet, and the curtains opened to total blackness on stage. The centre stage started to revolve with my van on it, and me sat in it. I switched on my main headlights, and two beams of light pierced the blackness, and swept across the audience.
As the Redcoats on stage took newspapers from the back of my van, they would burst into song with:
"Extra! Extra! Read all about it: the Redcoat Show is back in town."
The 1969 Barry Redcoat Show was once again off to a great start. We had eleven encores one night. I can still hear it now. Eat your heart out Lord Webber!
Waiter! Waiter! There's a [blank] in My Soup.
My one and only trip to the Staff Canteen was early on in my season at Barry. As I stood in line, I thought I would start off with soup, I was given a dish which contained a thick brownish liquid, with an object floating in it, and was told to move along. I then made my second mistake since entering, when I asked: 'What's this floating in my soup?'
A silence settled over the canteen. I looked up to see a gigantic figure emerging out of the steam from the kitchen. Sleeves rolled up, muscles rippling, SHE said 'Who's that complaining about our beef stroganoff?' (I was in my Reds at the time). 'Glory boy,' she screamed, being one of the nicer names for a Redcoat used by the staff.
Relations with staff were to get much better, and a lot of us did start to work as one, for the good of the campers (most of the time). Back to my dilemma:
'You want more?' she said.
I meekly nodded, 'Yes Miss,' like some frightened school kid.
She dropped two more large objects into my dish, which immediately sank, leaving a trail of bubbles. I sat down and ate it all - with her watching me, while sharpening a large carving knife. It was my one and only visit to the Staff Canteen, since I was warned that certain fried delicacies, supplied by yours truly, would be on the menu if ever I went back. A frightening thought for such a young lad. You might say: 'I never had the balls to go back.'
Torn Off a Strip
My first adventure with a Redcoat young lady was when I asked one out for an evening's dining. She was blonde. I hadn't been out with a blonde before, or many other colours for that matter. We left the camp at about 11.30 p.m., since we were never off duty till then. I'd been given the address of a high class restaurant in Cardiff by my trusty fellow Redcoats,
'Oh it's a van' she said, upon seeing my vehicle
'Yes it's very handy' I said, "for putting things in the back."
She smiled. I thought this was a good sign. Off we went to Cardiff. The flashing red pelican outside the restaurant should have been my first warning, but I was very innocent at that time. (Mind you, I still am. My wife makes sure of that). We went in and were confronted by a rather large gentleman, in what I thought was the cloakroom. 'You'd like our coats?' I asked.
"I want your money" he said. "The girl's free." I couldn't understand why he wanted our money, before we'd even ordered any food. That was the first warning.
Down the steps we went into what I can only describe as a cellar, with couples sitting, more or less at tables. I say "more or less," as they weren't actually sat facing each other, and the tables weren't laid with cutlery or dressed with tablecloths. That was the second warning, and I still hadn't spotted it.
We sat down. "What would you like?" I asked my young lady. "A tomato juice," she said.
I went to the bar, as there didn't seem to be a wine-waiter, or even a menu for that matter.
"A coke and tomato juice, please," I instructed the barman. "Bloody Mary," he retorted.
I took this to be some sort of Welsh greeting. "There's rooms upstairs," he said.
"Are there larger tables up there?" I enquired.
"Whatever turns you on! But it will cost you extra," he said, and gave a rather exaggerated wink. I hadn't a clue what he meant by that, and went back to my seat a little bemused. What kind of restaurant had my trusted fellow Redcoats sent me too?
She sipped the drink. "It's a little strong," she said, as her mouth formed into a wide grimace.
"They grow strong tomatoes in Wales," I cracked. Nothing!
The lights dimmed even further. (Here comes warning number three). A young lady came onto a small stage in the corner of the room. A spotlight hit her, and she started to sing. Her voice was flat, but her body certainly wasn't. She had curves in places a young lad could only dream about. Then the dream turned to reality, as she began to remove items of her clothing.
"Yes!" I thought "It's a little warm down here. She finished up in a state that, once again, a young lad can only dream about (or an old man, for that matter!). My young lady, who by then had consumed the Welsh tomato juice, uttered a gasp "It's a strip joint." Ignoring my pleas of innocence she staggered to her feet, and made for the exit. My barman friend stuck both his thumbs up. "Another Welsh custom," I thought.
I managed to get her to the van, and into the back whereby she immediately passed out. She wasn't kidding when she said the drink was strong! This was not at all what I'd hoped for at the end of the evening. I drove back to camp. The Security guards said I seemed to have lost a few out of the back - referring to the usual load of 10 or more they'd seen in there on the nights of our trip to the beach. I ignored their comments, and drove round to her friends' chalet, who then helped her back into her own chalet.
So "thank you" my 'trusted' Redcoat pals. Because of your little joke, three people had lost their dignity that night: me, the Redcoat girl, and that poor lady on stage. It was freezing in that cellar!
Two and Two makes Tu-Tu.
My stage career began in style. Mr Simpson our Entertainments Manager would walk onto the stage in his steely grey suit, and imposing figure and bring the audience to order.
"You are very lucky tonight, as a well known Russian ballet company are appearing in Cardiff, touring England and its colonies (sorry Wales). "They have agreed to do a special performance of the English version of Swan Lake, titled: "Chase Me Round the Duck Pond," just for you lucky campers."
The curtains would open, the lights would slowly come up, and the campers would behold three very tall, and wide, dancers - dressed in all white. Vests supplied by their loving Mothers to keep them warm in this cold of Wales, pants which we had found scattered about the camp which had been lost no doubt by young ladies on there way to the laundry (it was very windy at Barry after all); pumps and finally a Tu-Tu, a short skirt (for those of you who are not classically minded). I nearly forgot the pillow stuck up our vest to give us a more feminine appearance. The audience gasped, a man said "They certainly make them big in Russia." The ladies all agreed.
As we flashed our Tu-Tus in the spotlights, we pranced and danced about the stage looking like three very graceful elephants, or camels whose humps had slipped. We glided of the stage, and ran up the side isles and down the centre one.
On one occasion, on of my fellow dancers had his Tu-Tu grabbed by a playful camper in the audience. It was quite stretched since he had been travelling at speed down the isle. He let out a scream, and floored the camper with one blow. We picked him up, and carried him shoulder high onto the stage amidst loud applause from the audience as they thought it was part of the performance. He awoke to see three hairy men leaning over him, in short skirts drawing lots for who would give him the kiss-of-life. He passed out again, the curtains closed.
Act 2 follows.
ACT 2: - The Natives are Revolting
On meeting the same camper later that week, who had stretched my fellow redcoats Tu-Tu, who said later he wouldn't have minded so much if he had been a she for some reason, I didn't understand why at the time. He also said he had plenty of offers from young ladies who wanted to straighten his Tu-Tu out. Still, on with the story:
Had the camper got over his experience I asked. "Great" he said he'd been asked by many a young lady for his autograph as the girls thought he must be a great actor after his performance. He wanted to do it again, but I explained that, for campers who stayed a second week, a different show was put on. Our act was to take them to Hawaii on a beach shaded by palm trees, where beautiful Redcoat maidens, dressed only in bras, grass skirts and little else, would gyrate to Hawaiian music. This brought loud applause from the men in the audience. But then, out of the bushes, sprang yours truly and his two trusted colleagues; dressed only in a skimpy loin cloth, and black knickers (supplied by lady campers) black from head to foot and shook their long spears at the girls. The girls ran off screaming (not the first time I've had this problem). The music would rise to a crescendo we would jump and gyrate, shaking our long spears at the audience. The women would scream. "Get 'em off!" Being innocent lads we at first thought they were asking us to leave the stage, but learnt later that even the great Tom Jones used to suffer the same chant.
The girls came back with exotic fruit. One had the biggest pair of melons I have ever seen, and offered them to me. I didn't know where to put my spear while I got my hands on them. We all danced together in the moonlight, all was well and the curtains closed. All good clean fun - not one swear word, just good family entertainment. If anyone thought differently then it was all in their mind, and imagination.
A Brown Tale
By Joe Taylor
This reminds me of my swimming colleague and fellow Redcoat, Terry Brown from Bradford, who'd been at Skegness before my time as a Redcoat in 1976. Terry was a superb swimmer and coach, and was entirely responsible for my later enthusiastic teaching career.
Terry had himself been taught by a coach in Bradford, who had worked with the acknowledged 'master' of swimming teaching in America--the legendary James Edward Councilman. The book "The Science of Swimming," written by Councilman, and considered 'the bible' of the sport of swimming, was never far from Terry's mind, and he used it to exceptional effect at the kids' lessons at the camp.
A normally quiet and reserved guy, Terry burst into life when confronted by a poolside full of non-swimmers. His enthusiasm was contagious, and our team of Butlins Skegness Lifeguards, in 1976 and 1977, ran like a well-oiled machine. Like most of the coaches who worked tirelessly at the Butlins camps, Terry never sought the limelight, and so was not well-known to the majority of guests. However, the kids who were taught their first-ever swim, will remember him for the rest of their lives.
Joe Taylor - Skegness 1976-1977
I Can't Believe I Got Butter!
By Joe Taylor
In previously talking about the dining-room, it reminded me of one of the characters of the staff dining-room at Butlins Skegness in 1976. I think he was staff dining room manager. This was the guy who gave out the butter--and Butlins' butter was scarcer than Beaver droppings. He never smiled (Think Victor Meldrew!); looked ancient (but was probably only in his late 50s); and was very strict when it came to dishing out the portions. No amount of pleading got you more than the allotted square-inch of butter per table.
On enquiring with other staff, I found out he was alone at the camp, recently having lost his wife, who'd worked in the kitchens. Over the weeks I gradually got to know him--eventually having the odd pint of cider with him in the staff bar. It turned out that one of the things he'd always wanted to do was learn to swim. "Well," I said, "I can teach you to do that." His face lit up, and a big smile appeared.
I began taking him for lessons in the indoor pool, later on at night, when the pool was quiet and no one about except us lifeguards. Over the next few weeks, we went through all the basic steps on a one-to-one basis. Having no one bothering us, we proceeded speedily through my lesson plan, and he was soon able to swim 4 lengths of the pool with ease.
Later, being able to play in the pool when his grandchildren came to visit, without fear of the water, was, for him, a major achievement--and made him a different person. Needless to say, much amusement was had by the amount of butter that was on my table from then on in.
The moral of this story is "Don't let fear hold you back!" After leaving Butlins I was a full-time swimming teacher for many years, teaching thousands of people of all ages from 7yrs to 77yrs to swim. Memories of teaching all those people to swim, still fills me with pride and pleasure. The downside is, I can now barely face the sight of butter. You can have too much of a good thing!Joe Taylor - Skegness 1976-1977
By Joe Taylor
While surfing the web, I came across the name of an old acquaintance of mine, Denis Neale. (often mis-spellt Dennis). Denis was a table-tennis player, who represented England on no fewer than 495 occasions, and was England No 1 in 1975 and 1977. I met him when he was the 'News of the World' TT coach at Skegness in 1975. At the time, I was working in the main shopping centre, the Holiday Fayre, as was Denis -- part-time at the sports section.
He was a great fellow, and loved a night out. We had many a good time, on-and-off the TT table. One time in 1975, we went into Skegness to see the film "The Towering Inferno." It was so warm in the theatre that Denis and I were convinced that some sort of new Hollywood cinema gizmo, 'surround-heat' or some such thing, was in use because, as the flames on screen were rising, so did the temperature inside the auditorium. We left before the end of the movie for a swift cooling pint, so, as far as we know - the tower is still an inferno!
In 1976 when I became a Redcoat, Denis and I were neighbours on the chalet lines, S101 and 102 (I still have the key). A fair few 'Party Seven' beer cans were consumed by us that season. In due course I became the commentator for Denis's TT Exhibition Match, on the Friday afternoon, which included a game with that week's winner of the TT Competition.
Sometimes, a visiting professional would play. Denis was absolutely brilliant at these exhibitions--using pots, pans, the end of a glass pint-pot, etc, to play. Eventually I was incorporated into the proceedings. The exhibition was hilarious for the guests who packed out the Empress Ballroom to watch. Before joining Butlins I had played table-tennis at school, and then at county level, so thought I was above average at the game. How wrong was I!! One of Denis's games involved giving his opponent 19 start in a game of 21 up. In scores of attempts over two seasons, I only ever beat him ONCE.
He was truly an inspiration to the thousands of guests he coached during those two seasons, and Butlins were indeed lucky to get him, as he was England's No 1 player at the time. Denis is still involved in the game, and still one of the most sought-after coaches in the country.
I look back with great fondness at those times, and that I was lucky enough to be involved with Denis. Just another day at the office for a Butlins Redcoat I suppose, but, for me, truly those were Golden Days.Joe Taylor - Skegness 1976-1977
Ode to Billy-Joe
By Joe Taylor (Redcoat Lifeguard - Skegness 1976 and 1977)
This anecdote takes me back to the second year of my spell as a Butlins Redcoat -- two quite magical seasons, culminating in September 1977, when I and five other Redcoats were taken to the 'County Hotel' in Skegness town, amid much secrecy. We were given a cup of tea then told to get ourselves sorted -- much brushing of hair, dusting down of jackets and the like, and the girls attending to their make up. We were then told that none other than Sir Billy Butlin himself was in that very hotel, getting ready to officiate at the switch-on of the Skegness 'Illuminations.'
At the appointed time we were taken to our spot at the foot of the steps leading to the switch-on platform, where the VIP party would do the honours. Sir Billy appeared as if out of nowhere. The vast crowd went wild; the dancers beside us went through their routine; and flash-cameras went crazy -- it all went off in seconds, in a sort of blur.
I do remember just how good looking Sir Billy was, with his double-breasted suit and flawless bright white shirt -- and how tanned he looked. He stopped briefly and shook our hands individually. He said something but, to this day, I don't remember what it was, as his accent was rather strange -- that, and the noise from the crowd, made it difficult to hear. It was the pinnacle of my time as a Redcoat, and what a time it was. It quite literally changed the course of my life, all because a guy from South Africa had a vision.Joe Taylor - Skegness 1976-1977
A Snapshot in Time
By Joe Taylor
Looking at the many camp photos on "Redcoats Reunited" reminds me of Skegness in 1977 when, to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, renowned photographer John Hedgecoe came to do a shoot about "A Day in the Life of a Holiday Camp" - for the Sunday Times magazine.
Since entertainment was to feature a lot, camp management passed this to Ents. Manager 'Red' Brigden for some assistance. 'Red,' knowing of my keen interest in photography, assigned me as liaison between John and the guests. Relieved of my normal duties, I spent 2 days with John on his assignment. For me it was a dream come true -- covering all aspects of the camp, the people, and its workings, I learned valuable photo tips which I still use to this day. Seeing a pro' at work interacting with the guests was inspiring.
Upon publication of the article, John kindly sent me a signed copy of the magazine. He'd captured some amazing images with his Nikon cameras. Although these photographs would now be classed as 'dated,' they captured the camp at its peak.
Sadly, John died earlier this year. I remember him with great fondness even though our meeting was brief, but his superb body of work lives on. RIP John Hedgecoe.Joe Taylor - Skegness 1976-1977
by Frank Worrall - Butlins Barry Redcoat 1969
My tale begins in May 1969 at a Butlins camp on Barry Island, Wales. It had been extremely cold and damp, more so than usual at Barry. The campers had poured in when the camp gates first opened for the new season; high on the cliffs, where most of the chalets were clinging to the rock face. A damp mist had hung for days. Yours truly, a new green Redcoat (excuse the clash of colour) started his first week as Chairman of the Campers' Committee - twenty-four, believe it or not, carefully selected campers, who would volunteer to do their duty towards the camp's well being (Well! most would!)
That morning, upon entering Mr Dave Simpson's office, Entertainments Manager (God bless him) he was in his usual fearsome state. "There's a mole in the camp," he bawled out. We all looked at each other, since Barry camp was more or less built on a rock, we thought it to be a very brave little mole (but the Welsh were always good miners).
'Someone's complained to the National Newspapers about the chalets, saying the walls are running with water,' he continued. Jokes about holidays at Niagara Falls would not have gone down well at that time. 'Find the mole,' were his orders of the day.
I soon found the mole. He seemed quite a reasonable chap, since the drawers in his chalet were soaking wet, along with other items of his wife's clothing. I made him a committee member, and showed him all the work Butlins were doing, and all the money they were putting back into the Camp, to make the holidays better for the Campers. He saw this and contacted the newspapers again. Butlins then got a very good write up for what they did.
Mr Simpson, when first hearing of my new committee member, had expressed some doubt about not only the longevity of my career as a Redcoat; but my actual life expectancy. In the end, though, he was happy that he had got what he wanted, and always insisted on - 'Happy campers.'
The moral of this story is: 'If we all work together, we can make mountains of good will out of mole hills.' (Boom Boom!!)
When the book of our lives is closed on each one of us, some books will be fuller than others. Let yours be filled with the extra you put in to help others. As one great past- Redcoat said: 'May your God go with you.'
More tales to follow.
If you are a former Redcoat with a tale to tell, please email it to me, A.J Marriot, by clicking on the link below: