HAL BROOKS and DEENA BROOKS - Part 1
BUTLINS PWLLHELI 1958
Next day we got our uniforms and kit, and then got to know 'who's who.' When the camp opened Deena and I were on Pwllheli railway station greeting the campers. After a while it began to drizzle with rain. An announcement came over the loud speakers: 'Uncle Hal and Auntie Deena will be in the Montgomery Ballroom with fun and games.' That was when we started running. Tally Ho! We had one thing in our favour - we knew where the ballroom was, whereas the campers had to find it. I'm not sure what we did then, but it's likely I went on the piano and Deena organised some games.
This all happened a long time ago and I find it hard now to remember names and faces, so I thought to turn to my autobiography for guidance. This was started in the nineteen seventies when my memory was fresh. For the benefit of future understanding as to what happened in the four periods Deena and I made our contribution to the great Billy Butlin's story of offering reasonably priced holidays for a fixed sum.
We were so lucky to have a 600-seat theatre to ourselves. This had been the main theatre of the camp once, but now the adult campers had the much larger Gaiety Theatre.
We had another children's entertainer with us in 1958, Harold Manley - older than me. He was a first class 'Punch & Judy' man. He also did puppetry and ventriloquism. We shared our nightly show. Harold did the first half hour, and we did the last. He also did a show each day for the younger element in the nursery.
We got on well together and had an enjoyable season.The theatre manager, Walter Swash, soon realised I had had little experience of a theatre and he really looked after me. We had to go through a camp service area to enter it, so there was security on our doorstep. It was this seclusion that led the resident pop group leader, Rory Storm, to occasionally ask permission to rehearse there. His drummer at the time was Ringo Starr, later one of the 'Fab Four.' (The Beatles)
Every week Deena auditioned 60-70 children for our Junior Talent Show. From children who could only recite a hurried 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to some very talented children, Deena and the pianist, Elisse Relnah, chose a dozen children to appear in the week's final show, to be held in the Gaiety Theatre. I compered the show. Elisse Relnah, Walter's wife, turned our motley collection of young talent into a very special weekly event.
Johnnie Johnson, Camp Entertainments Manager, used to invite any celebrities on camp to help judge our show. This was always the case when the 'Springfield Trio' were there. Dusty Springfield and Brother Tom always obliged. [But not in this instance.]
I remember two talented children who kept in touch afterwards. A boy trumpeter - Nigel Hopkins, and a young contortionist - Lamona Snow. The winners each week were invited back for a free end-of-season holiday to compete in the camp finals. Just as a lot of Redcoats looked upon Butlin's as a chance to break into show business, so did a lot of parents for their children. (I'm told people sometimes would ring up to enquire where Deena and I would be working that year.)
I was in a BBC pantomime rehearsing in Golders Green later, when a voice called out 'Uncle Hal and Auntie Deena.' I turned round to see another member of the cast, Jimmy Tarbuck. He told me he often used to watch us working in our theatre whilst awaiting his turn to perform in the Senior Talent Competition! Another later well-known person working as a Redcoat that year was Bill Stewart, with a mop of black curly hair, different from my own ginger locks, now both very white. Last time I saw him he was billed as William G. Stewart, hosting the 'Fifteen to One' quiz show on television.
Our two Redcoat girls, Helen and Marilyn, made up the rest of our team that year. All of us fully engaged in walks on the beach; all the games held on the stage in the ballroom; and the Fancy Dress, and Tarzan competitions.
We had a good pond for our Regatta; did sports on the grass and, when the Marauding Pirate was 'discovered' on camp, we had a swimming pool to throw him into.
Another time I had a Monster from another planet to deal with. It was Al Paige, our comedian that year, wearing clogs and large gloves, with a stocking stretched over his face. He looked the part too!
When we passed the 'Pig & Whistle' each evening we waved to our guitar playing friend, Clinton Ford. His green jacket set him apart from us Reds, and his suede shoes made him a one-off. With a few pints on the piano, paid for by his admiring public, he was one of the very special people we met that year. Others were snooker champion John Pullman, table tennis champion Johnny Leach (I had a knockabout with him), and Harry Venner, another table tennis great. Another friend from this era was Al Freid, orchestra leader, and a dry wit indeed.
We were asked to select a suitable material for a different blazer to declare our status as Auntie and Uncle of the camp. We did so, but rarely wore them. We both preferred our Reds and all the accompanying goodwill that goes with them.
I thought that a 'Junior Lucky Dip Show' would go down well. Pat Johnson, Johnny's wife, was camp hostess and issued prizes for all the competitions. She made sure I had a good selection of them for the children competing on our junior stage each week.
Deena held a poetry competition. Prizes and certificates were awarded. Writing this in the year of the 2012 Olympics, I was struck with the delight of the winners receiving Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals for some of the competitions on camp. Although made of plastic, they were sought after, with the same energy as the real ones fought for in the Olympic Stadium of 2012.
The entertainments department was run by Mr. Johnson and his deputy 'Knocker' White. The campers were not aware of their presence but we were. In their smart navy blue blazers they mingled unnoticed by the campers. They knew all the answers, but were very fair from where I stood. I met them both each morning to discuss any changes in the programme, which were mostly weather driven.
The season ended and the department held its end-of-season party in great style. The girls saw to the food, and the boys saw to the fun and games. This was after a hard day's work, and I was looked after by Deena on being violently sick! We left early and went to bed. A group of Reds had decided to pool expenses and take a room in London over the winter, hoping to get work in the same vein. After our farewells we got into our van and returned to our two boys. In place of my Reds I donned my carpenter's apron and wondered what was next?
We couldn't manage to do the 1959 season, but returned in 1960. I'll tell you about that in Part 2