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A Personal Account of Bognor Regis by Neil Hilton Back

Butlins Holiday Camp Bognor Regis West Sussex became one of the most popular of the nine camps which were eventually built. Situated on the South coast approximately midway between Brighton and Portsmouth close to the historic town of Chichester the site enjoyed the best overall Summer climate. The arrival of Butlins placed the otherwise small but select resort of Bognor Regis on the map.

Bognor was one of the smaller camps and could not accommodate some of the facilities which were to be found at the other camps. There were no chairlifts, miniature railway or monorail here at Bognor as the site was fairly compact. The original chalet blocks were also built closer together to enable capacity to be maximised.

Arrival at Bognor by road bypassed the centre of the holiday resort and the camp was to be found on the road out to the East on the border with the suburb of Felpham, a mainly residential area. Unlike some of the other camps, Bognor was well concealed and could not really be identified from a distance. The front of the camp was lined with trees and shrubs and there was a large main entrance. A second entrance was located on the Western side of the camp adjacent to Gloucester Road but this was primarily for staff and contractors use and also included the day visitors gate entrance. This gate was ideal for access to the sea front and the short drive or walk into the centre of Bognor Regis. An external road train carried people along the sea front between Butlins and the centre of the promenade at Bognor Regis. The back of the camp extended right up to the coastal footpath and pebble beach. A stream still runs through the camp from the front to the South East side of the site and several bridges and tunnels cross it to link both sides. The large boating lake is still there close to the funfair.

Butlins Bognor Regis was brightly painted and the front of the camp was very appealing. Beyond the flagpoles and greenery lay the large outdoor heated swimming pool between the perimeter fence and the Reception Building. The neon light sign across the front of this building read `Butlins Bognor Regis Holidays'. At night this area was illuminated by colourful floodlights and the bright red neon light signs. Some of the chalets in West Camp stretched right up to the side of the outdoor pool and enjoyed an open view of the pool. A large multi level diving board was positioned at the side of the pool. Today the outdoor pool has been converted to a shallow outdoor fun pool primarily for youngsters.

Bognor always benefited from a good funfair and this aspect has not changed. The entertainment buildings here were mainly two storey built to the famous Butlin design. The panelling of the buildings were painted in a mixture of blue, yellow and orange colours. All the original chalets were built in blocks and they were two storey also. Most of the metal stairways to the first floors linked each block together. The extensive asbestos roofing was painted red to give it an authentic terracotta look. The roofing of the entertainment buildings was similarly painted green.

During the great storm of 1987 (October 1987) the camp at Bognor was hit by hurricane force winds and structural damage occurred as a result. Some trees and plants were uprooted but this did not compare with the damage which occurred just a few miles along the coast at Selsey. This stretch of coastline took the full force of the storm and many mature trees in the resorts and up into the South Downs were relentlessly torn down. A corridor of damage to the green and wooded landscape stretches towards London from here, a chilling reminder of the forces of nature.

During the last decade some major changes have taken place at Butlins Bognor Regis and some of the older chalets have been replaced with new apartments. These are located at the extreme East and West points of the camp. The remaining chalets have been completely modernised and refurbished.  They now have bay windows and Georgian spiral glass panels. The interiors have co-ordinated furnishings and although on the small side they are very comfortable. The indoor heated swimming pool was removed and the new `Splash' waterworld built in its place at the rear of the camp next to the day visitors car park. This was once part of the site of the Regency Building.

The original Laundrette and Nursery Centre buildings have been demolished to make way for the newer self-catering apartments built beyond West Camp. The amusement park/funfair remains in the same location. The famous carousel stands proudly alone at one corner of the funfair area.

In the major transformation of 1998/99 to the New Butlins Family Entertainment Resort  the centre saw the construction of the Skyline Pavilion at the centre of the entertainment area, once the Putting Green. Unlike Skegness and Minehead, the Pavilion here also houses the Noddy Toyland themed amusement park for kiddies.

Most of the original entertainment buildings have been re-clad and have lost their original appearance. The first floor of the Reception Building at the front is now home to the Bourne Leisure Central Call Centre and the Official Butlins Archives. A soft play area and sports facilities have been built on the green area between this building and the new Skyline Pavilion. The Tom Cobleigh pub/restaurant is the largest at the remaining three resorts and has an impressive frontage which looks out over the green area once known as the Gaiety Green. The Jumpin Jacks venue is located opposite the main car park at the rear of the resort and this is a favourite haunt for those on short weekend breaks from the South East. The snooker, table tennis and darts games room is located in this original York Building also but there are now no views from windows as they are completely sealed off.

One day each week the Gaiety Green played host to the Donkey Derby competition and there was also football coaching and sports events held on here. Loudspeakers were specially rigged up for the events and the noise could be heard all over the camp. Along with Radio Butlin announcements the camp came alive with sound and activity. The camps of yesterday were definitely filled with splendour and atmosphere.

Bognor Regis has been left substantially intact and apart from the refurbishments and additions it has retained most of its original facilities. This camp has probably changed the least because the facilities which were removed from other camps never existed here anyway. This camp always seemed to be full of people as were all the camps of yesteryear. The roads and pathways were filled with happy holidaymakers. Red Coats were to be found everywhere around the camps. However the crowds of guests who once congregated around the outdoor pool and sportsfield to enjoy special events and competitions seem to have left for good. The front of Bognor appears to have been purposely toned down and looks far less inviting than previously. Bognor is still however a favourite destination for those seeking an action packed family holiday and still represents excellent value for money. Its self-service half board restaurants and food courts have received much good publicity and they are amongst the best at Butlins of today. Overall guest capacity at this centre has also been retained and possibly extended.

Butlins Family Entertainment Resort Bognor Regis looks set for a good long-term future and the relocation of administration to the centre and ongoing investment was an indication of the Rank Group's confidence in the resort. After much opposition to the original construction Bognor has integrated well into the local economy. I hope the centre will continue to be a success for the new owners Bourne Leisure. Well done Sir Billy on another fine choice for this unique and quite unforgettable holiday empire.

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