BUTLINS PWLLHELI 1964
I was a Redcoat for only a few weeks during the 1964 season at Pwllheli, but remember my time there with great affection and pride. 'Once a Red - always a Red' doesn't just apply to us MUFC supporters.
I went there for a holiday at the start of the season and met up with a fellow teacher trainee who said he'd got a job for the summer. I thought, "Why not?" and found myself in the office to see if there was an opportunity for me. I was taken on after a very informal interview. Only later in the season did I notice the sign on the office wall:
'You said you could do it when you applied!'
I turned up immediately after the term ended at college, and drew my set of 'Reds' from the store. What a feeling to be out-and-about in the famous coat, trying to remember that my name was now 'Johnny' and not Graham. That I was a novice was soon to be exposed. In a bar the first evening, I was approached by a girl I assumed was a female camper, and asked all sorts of awkward questions which I tried my best to answer in my best waffle - failing miserably. The next day, at the meeting, there she was - in her Redcoat gear! Swine!!
Memories of my time remain vivid: early train duty - which seemed to be reserved as a punishment detail (but tempered by free bacon butties from a dining room kitchen); theatre duty; doing the spiel in the dining room and trying hard not to do a Spoonerism when pronouncing 'Sir Billy Butlin'; being bollocked by Rocky (or was it Bill Martin) for smoking while preparing the spiel; being ordered to take over the 'Welcome' stand outside Reception from a screeching female; Redcoat overnight beach parties; falling asleep on my bed once and waking up with no idea of the time of day (should I go out wearing neck- or bow-tie?), had I missed a duty?
I did miss a meeting once (I was engrossed listening to the resident big band (Val Merrall?) one morning - they would play 'String of Pearls' just for me. Then there was the Jazz band parade down to the Sports Field.
I enjoyed all the duties, with the exception of a ballroom stint. I still can't dance to save my life, and a keen observer would have spotted me disappearing into the Gents when some dance I hadn't a clue about started - which was most of 'em. But there is photographic evidence to show that I could lead a mean Conga!
I enjoyed a chalet to myself most of the time, but a couple of weeks in they moved a young lad in who had been employed as an accordion player. He hadn't a clue how to play the thing. Seriously! I think he lasted one session in the Pig & Whistle! I returned to solo occupancy. The Springfields (?) were a successful pop group, despite having the lead singer electrocuted by a duff mike one evening!
I loved the banter with the dining hall queues, especially with the older folks - had they remembered to bring their cutlery, and so on (that was a trick question we played on them). I still remember some of the old jokes from the variety show, a man/wife comedy couple especially. All this for six quid a week, all found.
My bingo calling style seemed to attract a following, and I did eventually agree to call bingo full-time for an extra quid a week. Somewhere I have the only colour photo from those days with me at the mic'. It is hard to believe that some campers would follow me around morning noon and evening sessions, but flattering. So many other things to do!
I have strong memories of only a few fellow Reds: Selwyn Bowen, who befriended me and shared his precious days off with me, with a particularly enjoyable very sunny day off to Caernarfon. We began with drinks on a yacht which the Harbour Master looked after (or was he the Pilot?); followed by lunch with his family; an afternoon trailing mackerel lines off Anglesey; and dining later on fresh fish! Did we give Peggy a lift somewhere that day?
Then there was Maeve. It may be because of her that I have since found Irish girls delightful. We shared a few duties together, and I found her so lovely and hugely attractive, but nothing ever occurred between us - that is, until the day I left. She was on station duty and just as the train was leaving, and not until then, she said something which suggested that she had felt something towards me, and regretted I was leaving. I have only a vague memory of that moment, and I may of course been imagining things, but the train departed before any more coud be said, and I went back to my fiancée and to my teacher training, never to even attempt to contact Maeve again. I have revisited that time, in my mind, on many occasions.
The year before last I had a few days on the Lleyn peninsula, and thought I would return to that platform. There it was, down a rutted track off the main road, by the rear entrance to the camp, through which tens of thousands of campers had been ferried to Reception; gates now eerily barred and padlocked. I found myself alone on that station platform trying to bring into sharper focus that day 43 years before. It didn't work, but it was a nostalgic trip. No! only Maeve could provide answers - and she had gone.
How I wish I were back there again!
Graham 'Johnny' Eagland
Our grateful thanks go to 'JOHNNY' EAGLAND for sharing the above photos and memories.
Other BUTLINS PWLLHELI Redcoat photos: