Hi-de-hi!

Holidays camps were another interesting element of life in post-War Britain. I don’t know whether they are uniquely British but they could be. They rapidly became popular with holidaymakers on a limited budget, especially families. A sort of “todo incluido” for the time but built around participation in communal activities.

This link provides a good short history of the institution, with photos. Initially, they were viewed as being somewhat regimented. Campers were awakened via the tannoy system and expected to join in physical exercises (a barbaric form of open-air aerobics). Indeed, many camps were converted army bases.

By the time we went to Pontins in the late 1950s, they had evolved considerably. Given the unpredictability of British weather, there had to be plenty of indoor, as well as, outdoor activities available. There were pools, boating lakes, playgrounds and sports fields for open-air activities. And restaurants, bars and games rooms for the evenings and when it was raining.

Butlins was the biggest company.

I have failed to point out that holiday camps were targeted at working-class people. As a result, most visitors were not as stuffy as middle-class Brits. In the evenings, everyone would congregate in the ballroom to let their hair down. There would be a dance band and comedians and other entertainers. The basic idea was to get people involved and keep them busy from the moment they arrived till the moment they left. Plenty of alcohol was available but it was all good, clean fun and appealed mostly to families with kids.

The chap in the Union Jack shorts was one of the all-round entertainers (they were twins, as I recall) whose job it was to keep all the campers happy and occupied. They joked all day – and all night. Some minor celebrities also accepted holiday camp engagements.

These two brochure pages give a good idea of the facilities and activities available.

Every night, at the end of the festivities in the ballroom, the band played their “goodnight song” and everyone sang along. There is so much of my early life I can’t remember but, for some reason, that song has stayed with me and I can still remember every word. The lyrics were as follows:

“Goodnight, campers see you in the morning,

Goodnight, campers, I can see you yawning,

You must cheer up or you’ll soon be dead,

For I’ve heard it said,

Some folks die in bed,

So I’ll say…

Goodnight campers, don’t sleep in your braces,

Goodnight campers, soak your teeth in Jeyes,

Drown your sorrows,

bring your empties back tomorrow,

Goodnight, campers, gooood-niiiight…”

(Notes: braces are American suspenders, which everyone – including me- used to wear. Jeyes was/is a brand of disinfectant).

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6 Responses to Hi-de-hi!

  1. Hi Peter:

    I can see you have an excellent memory. Your kids must be having a ball viewing all these photos of a time long gone by.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  2. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Omar. For some stuff, yes; for other things, no. Having the photos and other items really helps.

  3. Alan Worrow says:

    Peter, we went at least twice to a holiday camp. I enjoyed those holidays. The place was Coronation Camp on Hayling Island. My memory is that it was not part of one of the large chains, although the caption on one of the pictures here http://www.hayling.co.uk/gallery/album-coronation-holiday-camp.html mentions Warners (however, I think a lot of the small fry were bought out by the bigger fish in the sixties). As mentioned in your history link, you could spend the whole day, apart from mealtimes, away from Mum and Dad. I learnt to ride a bike at Coronation. Many fond memories.

  4. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Alan. It was obviously a different age but I must say I also enjoyed our holidays at the camps. Young people could have a one-week romance. Children had plenty of activities to keep them busy (by the standards of the time). In hindsight, the families we mixed with seem to have been more sociable than people today. That’s only my perception over time and distance, though.

  5. mike says:

    hi, I remember as a kid going on our annual hoildays with my brother and sister in the 1960’s to Coronation holiday camp. Off we would go in our dad’s old Morris thousand travelling from Kent to Hayling Island and being car sick most of the way but it was was worth it for when at the camp what fun we had especially on the rowing lake and in the swimming pool. For some reason we always went on holiday in May when it was cold and i have many a happy photo of me shivering by the pool. MIKE

  6. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Mike.

    It does seem to have been such a British experience, and so very much “of its time.” I remember it as being an exciting holiday, at a time when holidays of any kind were only just becoming possible.

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