BUTLINS BOGNOR 1961 1962
HAL BROOKS and DEENA BROOKS - Part 3
It wasn't an easy move from Butlins Pwllheli to the new Butlins' Camp at Bognor. We had a very limited budget, but we finally bought a house. We arrived a couple of months before camp opened, and so I began to look for work. When builders heard I worked for Butlins, I realised how divided the town was about his opening up here. In the end I got work building the camp's bathroom block. Then, when the camp opened, I shed my carpenter's apron and donned my Redcoat uniform. Talk about continuity!! We lived on the camp, so were very fortunate that Deena's sister Coral came and stayed with her husband and three girls to look after our boys.
This time we were publicised in the local Press, reporting about us as children's entertainers working for Billy Butlin. A nice photo and a write-up announced our move into the district. The camp itself was very different from Pwllheli. You couldn't amble on the beach with a string of children. It was always too busy to keep an eye on them.
Our 600-seater theatre was now just a stage for putting on the 'Junior' shows and programme events.
We had a lovely team of Redcoats too. I remember Tracey and Eva as two of them.
We had two swimming pools, one out and one in. The indoor one had glass walls through which you could see the swimmers from the downstairs lounge.
We had a pond for our Regatta, but the grass on the sports field, a few weeks previously a building site, was struggling to take root. All the camp had been fully turfed for the opening day which was fine and sunny. The sun came out, heralding a fine spell of weather. Unfortunately it continued to shine and shine. Soon the turf dried out and shrivelled up. It was very sad. The greenest area on camp was in the lines of Redcoat chalets. We were hardly there to trample about. The campers' lines were different and, with so much walking about, I had to look very carefully where I ran the children's races. The baked ground often revealed sharp edges of buried bricks, etc.
Another disappointment for me was when I found Eric Winstone, the Camp's orchestra leader, took over the Children's Talent Show. He was contracted to provide a weekly hour-long band show, and was filling it with a children's department show. The camp's entertainments manager was a Mr. Markwell this year. I remonstrated with him over this; but Eric, a very talented and big name in show business, got his way. No Ellise Relnah either. Deena had the band's pianist, Billy Penrose, to do the auditions and work with instead. I understand it was no longer such a pleasant task for her!
Our two boys were in and out of the camp like yo-yos. They also earned a little pocket money by helping the Bingo caller, and being luggage-boys on a Saturday. So, on my one day off, I had to bring our two in very early so they could get a trolley each. There was a limited number of them who used to help campers with their luggage. The boys kept tips offered, there was no pay. My son, Jim, was saving up for a set of drums.
The season was going well and, this year, we also had clown act giving us a show. 'The Lesters' were a Danish Dad, daughter and son, performing weekly in the Bognor and Minehead camps. Another clown, also a Redcoat, was Peter Picton (Pierre the Clown). He and his partner were breaking in a skating act with performances in the weekly Redcoat Show. They also handed out the skates to campers. He was also the only Redcoat I knew with a car. We became friends and eventually I also became a clown, and his partner. That's all in my book.
We all used to decorate our chalets with knick-knacks. A favourite item was plaster seagulls, liberated from the bars on camp. I used my larger props. When Bognor opened, our chalets were smaller than the rest. The following year the campers were in them and we lived off-camp, in our own home.
We were used to the Radio Butlin announcements. Some were for cigarettes. In 1962 the first indication was published linking smoking with cancer. I was a ten-a-day man and, after a battle, managed to quit. The fact that this is being written by a 91 year old retired Redcoat, might add to the drama of these lines?
Bognor was far smaller than the Pwllheli camp. Two-storey chalets became the norm with the increasing numbers of campers. I think Deena managed to get Redcoat Johnny Ball to do 'King Beaver' for us that Season. (Johnny, of course, went on to become a well-known TV presenter.) Living in Bognor I knew many locals who also came in to work. The law was changed and now cash prizes for Bingo were the norm, not vouchers. The season ran its course - a very happy one for us too.
The following year I got my 'Junior Talent Show' back. We dealt with a 'Marauding Martian' efficiently, using the well-established routine of protecting the hunters, a solemn moment indeed! Kneeling on the ground, heads down, they repeated the Butlin's solemn oath: "I know in my heart, I know in my mind, that I have got - a popped up behind!" At that moment the quarry is sighted and the chase begins, ending in time for lunch!
The camp had opened for a brief period the previous year. A Butlins Winter Club was started, and who should be in charge but none other that Duncan, my game's question master - now also working in Bognor with his sister Mamie. In fact, when we first came looking for a house in Bognor, they were renting the house Eric Winstone rented himself for the season, and so we stayed with them until we moved into the one we bought.
A lot of the gang now live in Bognor, and we occasionally see each other:- Ron Stanway, Ken Hopson, and Bill Sadler to name a few. The 1962 season saw us living out, in our own house. New accommodation had been built for the campers, and most of the staff also lived off camp. Deena's sister Coral was also helping out again and looking after our boys. With a new team of Redcoats, including a lad this time, we were soon running a larger number of campers. No Pierre this time. During the winter Deena and I had joined him in doing a Cabaret act. We were now "Pierre & Company" - a Continental Clown Act. Deena and I were the "& Company" bit.
As a matter of fact, we did our skating and tumbling acts for Wally Goodman on two separate occasions in the Albert Hall for the Beaver Club Reunions, the first of which was televised. (I had my first pair of skates for Christmas when nine years old). Whilst we were working in the camp, Pierre was working in the Parks. I compered the 'Junior Talent Show' on the Gaiety stage this year. The season was ending, and the camp finals were being held. The different emotions aroused in this last week were extreme. From utter delight for some, whilst others saw their dreams crumble.
Living close to the camp, I often went in on special occasions and did a show for a few years after, especially on holiday breaks. On my own now, as Deena had hung up her dancing shoes! I met Tonk on one such job. He was now a star in the Granada television series "The Comedians." He told me in 1958, he'd tried for a Redcoat's job. As he never got one, he took on being a camp photographer.
Other persons remembered from Butlins: Peter Brayham, John Spencer, Johnny Leach, Bill Stewart, Archie Baker, Johnny Johnson and wife Pat, Walter Swash, Harry Venner, Colonel Brown, Wally Goodman, Knocker White.
I look on my years working for Billy Butlin as some of my happiest, and look forward to being included in the Redcoats Reunited saga.
Hal Brooks - 23rd August, 2012.
FIFTY YEARS ON:
I'm using my Redcoat skills to good effect for the Open University movement now. It's called the U3A - the 'University of the Third Age.' I have an Art Group, Paper Maché, and Modelling, and a Portraiture Group. We meet in the small Jubilee Hall, Middleton-on-Sea, West Sussex, on alternate Fridays, from 2-30 to 4-30pm. You would always be welcomed by me. The computer has shrunk the world, and one day Sir Billy Butlin, and his motley collection of Holiday Camp Entertainers, will enter into folk lore too, if indeed it isn't so already. Alas, no longer recognisable as our grand Knobbly Knees' days of yore!
To discover even more of Hal Brooks' wonderful talents, visit this website. You'll be amazed.
Website: HAL BROOKS