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A Personal Account of Filey by Neil Hilton Back

The Butlins camp at Filey was Sir Billy's pride and joy and much thought had gone into its location, design and facilities. Filey was built on a site of varying rural terrain between the main coast road from Bridlington to Scarborough and the sea. The camp was located just a few miles South of the North Eastern resort of Filey.

Regrettably I did not visit the Filey camp personally but I have written this account from family experiences, research and with the assistance of Paul Wray who provided some interesting facts and detail.

Filey was a very large camp and its capacity was far in excess of some of its contemporaries at that time. Some holidaymakers stated that Filey was the best camp Sir Billy ever built and it certainly holds very happy memories and sentimental thoughts for those who took their holidays here during the camps history. It attracted seasonal staff from overseas in addition to those appointed by local recruitment drives.

The area occupied by buildings was basically flat but there were parts with inclines and slopes. For example, when you walked down by the side of the Beachcomber Building towards the Green Camp chalet area you walked downhill. Most of the entertainment buildings and facilities were located from the centre to the front of the camp whilst the vast areas of accommodation occupied the land to the rear of the camp. A long chairlift ride took campers over the centre from the main entertainment area towards the beach.  The beach could be accessed by a beach gate and rough road track.

The front of the Filey camp was spectacular. An enormous boating lake lay inside the perimeter fence and a long stretch of flamboyant flagpoles and decorative lights lined the road between the two entrances. The miniature railway built here was also located at the front of the camp and crossed a major part of the boating lake, a unique feature of Filey. Beyond the lake was the large outdoor swimming pool and water fountains.  Some buildings set back could also be seen beyond the trees and shrubs. Those passing Filey could not fail to notice the Butlins camp and its inviting frontage.

There were two entrance gates along the front of Filey and these were known as North and South gates respectively. North gate was used by staff and for deliveries whilst South gate was for the campers and day visitors. There was a large sign at the South gate which read `Welcome to Butlins Filey'. The camp was recognisable from a distance, particularly at night when you could see a bright hue in the sky caused by the camp lights. On the approach from the South the camp came into view as you turned the corner at Reighton. During the day you could see the chalet lines, the funfair and most of the main entertainment buildings. The chairlift could also be spotted with a keen eye and upon careful inspection the chairs/cabins could be seen moving along the line over the pylons. From the North you were able to see the line of flags along the front of the camp usually as you came from the Filey turnoff.

The entertainment buildings were all sited asymmetrically around the outdoor pool and back towards the central area of the camp. The two main dining rooms, York and Kent were positioned at each end of the front area. The Gaiety Building, Beachcomber Bar and Shopping Centre were located towards the central area along with the Funhouse and Amusement Arcade. The Amusement Park was located close to the Green Camp chalet area and the Main Reception Building.

The architecture of the Filey camp was varied with a mixture of single storey and two storey entertainment venues. The chalets were also a mixture of single storey and two storey blocks. Modern Flatlets were added during the 1970's to replace some older accommodation which had become dated. From the chairlift the accommodation at Filey seemed to stretch out as far as the eye could see.

Most of the shows at Filey were staged in the Gaiety Theatre but there was a separate Children's Theatre here similar to the one at Pwllheli. There were two Ballrooms comprising the Princes and Gaiety. The Gaiety was known as the Old Tyme Ballroom. The Empire Theatre also doubled as the Cinema and many campers would rush to the display boards on arrival to see which films were being screened that week. For those wishing to keep pace with television programmes there were TV viewing rooms also. In the old days it was just basic BBC1, BBC2 and ITV and that was your lot, so simple and uncomplicated really.

The Amusement Park at Filey was very good and included a range of funfair rides. Part of the park was covered so the unpredictable British weather did not spoil the enjoyment. Some of the funfair rides included a big wheel, small kiddies roller coaster, mini train, waltzer, helter skelter, roundabouts and the cyclone ride.

In the camps early days the buildings were lit up at night by neon light strips which formed the shape and contour of the entertainment venues. There were floodlights, illuminations and signs which glowed in the dark and provided colourful reflections on their surroundings. The interiors were also elaborately decorated with colourful furnishings including fancy chandeliers and long draped curtains. These features were some of the images which remain in peoples memories today and made Butlins a great place to visit.

The dining halls at Filey were huge and they catered for large numbers of guests. During meal times the whole experience was like that of a precision military operation. Throughout the years Filey was host to many top entertainers and stage acts. The big band sounds and relaxing music of the themed bars gave the camp an atmosphere like nowhere else. Only Butlins seemed to create this escape into another world of excitement, relaxation and freedom. The indoor pool at Filey also featured an Oasis Bar with its famous glazed windows beneath the water level.

The area surrounding the camp was scenic and the beach here was a very popular destination for campers. The beach gate located at the rear of the camp was accessed by either walking the long distance from the main part of the camp (it was quite a trek), by taking the Puffing Billy road train or the chairlift to the East station. Once at the beach gate then you had a long walk down a steep hill. The pathway was a purpose built one i.e. concrete. Walking down was easy but the journey back up was a chore. The landscape was covered by overgrown grass and to the left hand side on the way down there was a large pond. The pond may have been natural and was probably caused by water seeping out of the cliffs. The beach was a nice area with soft sand but there were no amenities at the beach itself.

Despite its popularity with many visitors the general decline in attendance and emergence of the overseas package holiday was to hit the Butlins business empire and cause irreversible damage during the 1980's. As a result, Filey and Clacton were the first UK camps earmarked for closure and this was a bitter blow for staff and holidaymakers alike. The Rank Group decided to concentrate resources on fewer centres in the hope that overall occupancy and profitability could be maintained. Filey was subsequently closed to guests and then sold as a going concern.

The centre later reopened as Amtree Park but the project then failed and it closed again. The site was then sold on to Birmingham Estates who intended to redevelop the centre. Amidst confusion and a failed planning application the centre closed its doors forever. The camp was deserted and left untouched as if waiting for some entrepreneur to come along and start it all up again, but this was not going to happen in reality. Without maintenance and investment the camp fell into a state of disrepair. Later the site was demolished but the wrecked structures and rubble were left abandoned. The remains were left for years as a graveyard to the camps history and only recently has there been an attempt to clear away the ruins from the site and restore it to greenfield status.

Many visitors to this website were outraged at the fate of the Filey camp and the disgraceful manner in which it was decommissioned. Images of the overgrown site, empty buildings and the remains left behind can be viewed in other parts of the Filey section including 'Filey after Closure'. Many thanks to those individuals who took the time and trouble of visiting Filey and recording the camps last moments whilst there was still an opportunity to do so.

Regardless of the sad facts surrounding the camps demise it does still hold fine memories for those who enjoyed happy family holidays here throughout the years. The number of guests who visited Filey over the years was phenomenal. Although the camp did not survive the ultimate test of time and commercial pressure the memories are captured in minds, hearts and the photographic images created throughout those memorable years. There are images of Filey alive, thriving and full of the people who shared in this amazing success story. We can all be grateful that we were around to enjoy those unrepeatable times which are now part of British history.

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