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24 September 2014
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Butlins

Point 2: Butlins

Continue walking along the Warren Road past the roundabout until you get to the gates at the front of Butlins on the right.


Billy Butlin founded his holiday camps to provide economical holidays in Britain.

The growth of his business was spurred by World War II when a number of camps were requisitioned for use as training camps, generating revenues for a post-war boom.

In austere post-war Britain, his holiday camps promised and delivered a world far removed from anything most people had experienced before.

The brightly coloured buildings with exotic names, the seemingly endless list of entertainment and activities, and the wonderful flower gardens were all available for the equivalent of a week's pay.

Occupying 165 acres of former grazing marshes, Minehead's was the largest of the postwar Butlins to be built.

Construction took place over the winter of 1961, and the camp opened its doors on 26 May 1962 after an investment of around £2 million.

Billy Butlin chose the site in Minehead after he had conducted an aerial survey of the West Country.

He considered the large flat area - close to the town and the sea, and served by good rail links - to be the ideal place for the latest addition to his holiday business.

Hi-de-Hi!

Butlins is famous for its Redcoats who provide entertainment and organisation.

Hi-de-Hi!

Life as a Redcoat launched the careers of numerous celebrities, including those of Sir Cliff Richard, Des O'Connor and Johnny Ball.

You may remember the BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi! from the 1980s, which was set at a Butlins-type holiday camp.

It would seem the humour didn't go down so well with some: Butlins banned its staff using the 'hi-de-hi!' catchphrase in 1986.

It was around that time that the Butlins name was dropped: the Minehead complex was rebranded as Somerwest World in 1986; it reverted to the Butlins name in 1998.

Good morning campers!

The holiday camp used to have its own radio station called Radio Butlin, which was broadcast on loudspeakers around the site.

Announcements and music were played throughout the day. But probably their most memorable purpose of Radio Butlin was to wake the campers every morning.

At a certain time the loudspeakers would suddenly burst into life with the famous 'wakey-wakey' call and music would blare out to let everyone know that the first sitting for breakfast was coming up.

The Tannoy system was toned down in the 1970s and was later scrapped altogether.

Status Quo

The origins of the Quo can be traced back to 1962, when Alan Lancaster - still at school in Kent - already formed a traditional jazz band.

Status Quo

The jazz band evolved into a beat group, and Alan invited his friends Francis Rossi (then known as Michael), Jess Jaworski, Alan Key and Barry Smith to join.

The band made their debut at a sports club in Dulwich, London, and soon after recruited John Coghlan to replace Smith as permanent drummer.

They originally called themselves The Scorpions, but soon changed that to The Spectres.

The group secured a residency at the Café des Artistes in London, and later appeared on the same bill as The Hollies, which further secured them a job at Butlins in the summer.

In 1965 Jaworski quit the band to be replaced by Roy Lynes. Whilst they were playing at Butlins in Minehead, the band first met Rick Parfitt who was touring holiday camps with two young ladies in a group called The Highlights.

Rock on!

Changing times and tastes

During the 1970s and 1980s, as people's tastes changed and package holidays to Spain became more popular, Butlins suffered a downturn in its business.

Butlins

The Minehead complex is now one of only three sites remaining, but it is still popular with holidaymakers and plays a vital role in the local economy.

It has 9,200 beds and nearly 400,000 tourists stay there each year with another 80,000 people visiting as day visitors. It employs 200 full-time and 1,400 seasonal staff.

It has been said that if the camp ever closed the unemployment rate in Minehead would triple. It has also been said that, when the camp is full, the population of the town doubles.

Its Skyline Pavilion (the white-roofed building) is now one of the main landmarks in Minehead. It was built in 1999, covers some 50,000 sq ft, and houses restaurants, amusements and a stage area for live shows.

Turn around and retrace your steps back towards the railway station. This time walk along the seaward side of Warren Road.

last updated: 22/07/05
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