When the Butlin Bug First Bit
In the summer of 1966, I was sixteen years old, and went on my first holiday without any parental or adult supervision. The venue was Butlins Holiday Camp, Pwllheli, and my travelling companions were two of my former classmates from junior school. It was a whole new world. Exploring the camp during daylight hours was a wonderous experience in itself, but then come dusk, a whole new atmosphere descended as, all around became illuminated by brightly coloured bulbs and lanterns.
On the first night, my friend Ian Lancaster and I decided to see if we could get served at the bar. We were so inexperienced, we had asked our waiter in the dining room what drink we should order.
So it was that we ended up ordering the popular drink of the time - two snakebites (half beer, half cider). Having been successfully served, we had a second pint each. There was no need to increase our tally, as those two pints alone had made us merry.
But everyone took it in great fun. No one rebuked us, threatened us, or felt threatened by us, or told us we couldn't get served at the bar, and so we stuck to the same formula for the whole week. It was the first time we had been treated as adults, and the freedom we enjoyed was an immeasurable confidence booster for our juvenile egos.
Although the drive-through road wasn't too attractive, once inside this Gaiety Building (above) you were transported into a true panopticon:- with its bars, restaurants, theatres, games and TV rooms, a ballroom, shops, and an amusement arcade - just to mention a few venues.
Although there were enough attactions in the Gaiety Building to keep you happy there for the whole week. Ian and I skipped over to the Regency Ballroom.
You might wonder why two sixteen year-olds would choose to go into an Olde Time Ballroom, but even then we were savvy enough to know that girls of our age would be with their parents and/or grandparents - and so it proved the case. Stifling our intoxication as best we could, we put on an air of two nice clean-cut lads, just out for a bit of fun, and talked two families into releasing their daughters into our care. Gosh, this was a great place.
My first stop was to take my girl to the Empire Cinema. What film was on, I have no idea. I wasn't watching it. As that young girl is probably a grandmother herself, now, I shall keep further comments to myself.
Abandoning the cinema, I took the young lady to one of the bars, and demonstrated my ability to be served at the bar as an adult. I know I didn't dream all this, as, below, is a photo of the two of us.
When it came to having the chairlift installed, Billy Butlin showed what a true philanthropist he was. Think about it. Firstly - it was FREE. Secondly - it was OUTSIDE the camp. Even more of his generous nature was to be seen close by, with the miniature railway. That too was free, and outside the Camp. He could have spent the vast amount of money the chairlift and railway had cost, and ploughed it into facilities and/or accommodation INSIDE the camp to generate more money for himself but, instead, chose to make his guests very happy instead. What a kind and generous man.
A couple of nights in, and I found myself on my own. Jonathon had teamed up with some schoolmates, who chanced to be there the same week, and Ian was continuing to see the young girl he had picked up on the first night. But this was Butlins, where you are never alone for long. I got invited to tag along with two lads from Nottingham I met in a bar. We all started off trying to pull a girlfriend, but then did what lads do, and sought solace in beer.
I loved those Norfolk Jackets, which were en vogue at the time. Concurrently, us lads wore hipster trousers, which you had to keep up with a wide leather belt. The trouser-bottoms had to just touch your shoes, but without kinking. [These days, there's about an extra 4 inches on the bottom of trousers, which isn't needed, and looks dreadful.] And pointed shoes were still the fashion, but not as pointy as winkle-pickers.
So how about
that for a holiday for three sixteen year-olds?
The only thing better than going on holiday for a week at Butlins, was to go there for a whole season, and GET PAID FOR IT. And that is exactly what I was destined to do - but that would have to wait seven years.