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Clacton History Back

Thank you to Norman Jacobs, for sharing this history of Butlins Clacton, as included in his book Clacton Past.

In many ways the story of Butlin's holiday camp, built at the western end of the town in the late 1930s, mirrors the story of Clacton itself. Both town and camp were born in years when important holiday legislation was being introduced in parliament.

When first proposed, Butlin's attracted fierce opposition from one section of the resident population, while at the same time presenting opportunities to those members of the business community prepared to take them. It brought thousands of visitors to Clacton and it attracted star names to its theatres and dance halls.

Butlin's prospered in the pre war and early post war years, declined through the 60s and 70s and finally, perhaps not quite an absolute mirror image of Clacton itself, totally collapsed and closed its doors in the 1980s bringing to an end the tradition of weekly and fortnightly holidays in Clacton.

The first indication that Billy Butlin was interested in building a holiday camp in Clacton came when it was discovered that he was a member of a business consortium which had bought the West Clacton Estate in 1936. This Estate, originally developed by Frederick Wagstaff, Henry Foyster, George Gardiner and Robert Coan, had for a number of years been operating at the western end of Clacton's Marine Parade as a leisure area providing two boating lakes, four miniature golf courses, a small pier with amusements (the Jetty), and other activities "where the visitor can find healthy recreation".

Billy Butlin already owned a string of pleasure parks around the English coastline from Mablethorpe in the north to Portsmouth in the south, as well as one on the Isle of Man. In 1936 he opened his first 'luxury holiday camp' at Skegness. It was an immediate success and Butlin, never slow to follow up a money making idea, looked around for a suitable site for a second camp. He found such a site when the West Clacton Estate came on to the market in the middle of 1936.

He very soon bought out his consortium partners and in the autumn of that year he presented Clacton council with the plans for his second holiday camp under the terms of the Town and Country Planning (General Interim Development) Order, 1933.

The sale of the West Clacton Estate had already been the cause of much controversy in the town, as one group of councillors, backed by the Clacton Times, had urged that the council itself purchase the land in order to provide a park and open space for residents and visitors alike to enjoy in perpetuity. The council, however, declined to take up this invitation and at their full council meeting held on 3 December 1936 they were called upon to consider Butlin's application.

The application caused much controversy in the town as reflected in the columns of the Clacton Graphic. The president of the Hotel & Boarding House Association, Mr. W. Adams, wrote a long letter savagely attacking the plans. He prefaced his letter by denying that his opposition was in any way due to "fear or jealousy...we have always welcomed all fair and reasonable competition." He then went on to outline what, according to him, were his association's real objections: "We have asked many residents whether they would be prepared to build good class property in the district in view of the proposal and in every case the answer has been 'No'...If the proposed structure were to be a good class hotel it would have our full support, as in spite of any alleged competition, it would, we feel tend to raise the tone of Clacton instead of lowering it..."

His objections were countered, however, by a letter from Mr. H. C. Dove of the Warwick Castle Hotel, who said that he had visited Skegness and had discovered that both shopkeepers and residents welcomed the Butlin's camp. "Their business...had increased considerably. The boarding and private houses also find that the younger folk use the camp and their older friends patronise them...Mr. Butlin's publicity will draw not only his own clients, but also many visitors to the town."

The debate raged on throughout the town and through the columns of both the Clacton Graphic and the Clacton Times. A Mr. W. Dearsley added a new dimension when he wrote, "I have a wife and family to support and I have been on the dole...I hope I shall be one of the 260 employees during the season."

When the Council finally met on 3rd December the battle lines were drawn and the town was split in two over the application. Indeed the very first contribution to the debate by Councillor Fenton Jones summed up the split very clearly as although he was chairman of the plans committee which was recommending acceptance of the application he personally was opposed to the plans. Councillor Elliott summed up the opposition's main argument when he asked his fellow councillors if they could imagine people "building decent houses at the back (of the camp)? Mr. Butlin's proposal would do away with the rights of people who had been paying high rates..."

Supporters of the application felt that, in spite of their protestations, the real reason behind the opponents' arguments was the effect it would have on the small boarding houses. Councillor Laurie King dismissed this argument by saying "How could the camp affect the boarding houses? In the summer the town has a population of 100,000. The camp would cater for 1,500. That was 1½% of the total." A number of different reasons were put forward in support of the camp – "It means employment for hundreds of people", "Clacton would benefit from Butlin's advertising", "Butlin was planning to spend £7,000."

But it was left to leading Labour Party councillor, Jack Shingfield, to put the whole debate into the context of its times with a powerful appeal for Clacton not to be left behind. "The modern development is that people are going for their holidays in groups. It is the factory psychology. People live in towns and work in factories and are used to noise. They take the same sort of system in their holidays as they have in their ordinary everyday lives and that is the reason why these camps and group holidays are proving so successful." He followed this up by referring to the "Holidays with Pay" movement then gathering momentum throughout the country and ended his plea by saying that, "if a town is going to be successful it has to fit itself in with the demands made by the people of the country."

When the vote was taken, the supporters of the holiday camp won by 13 votes to 6. This effectively silenced the opposition, although one final last ditch attempt to scupper the proposals was made at an inquiry into the proposals of the regional town planning committee as they affected Clacton which was held at the Town Hall on 7 July 1937. This inquiry was called to deal mainly with Jaywick, but opponents of Butlin's were hoping to use it to set aside the Council's decision. However the inspector told those in attendance that he was not concerned with the West Clacton Estate or Butlin's and that the matter could not be raised at the Inquiry.

As soon as the council reached its decision, Billy Butlin went into action. He began to clear the site and started work on a new pleasure park. The building of the holiday camp itself was delayed but Butlin decided to go ahead and open the park to visitors for the 1937 season. Conscious of the controversy his proposals had aroused, Butlin did his best to integrate with the town and involve the local people in his new enterprise. Consequently he asked the chairman of Clacton Urban District Council, Councillor O. B. Thompson, to perform the opening ceremony and donated all profits from the first four days to local charities including Clacton Hospital, Clacton Unemployment Centre and the Clacton branch of the National Lifeboat Institution.

The pleasure park was an enormous success. Not only did it provide many thrilling rides such as swing boats which turned right over; a gravity glide; dodgems; the loop o plane and the big "Eli" wheel, the largest in the country, but it also put on many freak shows and speciality acts. The 'freaks' included the World's Largest Girl, a Living Skeleton, the Ice Maiden, the Rubber Man and the Black Man who could turn himself white. The freak show was advertised as 'NOTHING DISGUSTING! NOTHING DEGRADING!'. The speciality acts included the Russian Cossacks; Dare Devil Peggy, a 56 year old one legged diver who dived from a height of 65 feet enveloped in flames into a blazing cauldron five feet deep, and the Stratosphere Girl. The Stratosphere Girl, whose real name was Camilla Mayer, was one of the most remarkable and popular acts ever to appear in Clacton. Her act consisted of performing extraordinary stunts perched on a two inch wide platform on top of a steel pole 135 feet high. On this platform she would stand on her head, on her hands, or on one toe. She brought her act to its climax by sliding along a rope from the pole to the centre of the park holding on by her teeth. She was just 19 years of age when she first performed at Butlin's.

Meanwhile Billy Butlin was still conscious of the need to integrate fully into the town and to win over the many doubters that still existed and throughout the 1937 season he continued to put on free stage shows in the park and to donate further large sums to local charities. He took a very active part in the Clacton Carnival and also organised a football team to take part in the local league. (The club was so successful it won the Walton & District Charity Cup in its first season).

By the time the holiday camp itself opened on 11 June 1938, Butlin's was already a familiar name in Clacton and what little opposition there still was had been effectively silenced by the overwhelming support now apparent for Billy Butlin throughout the town. He was providing the right facilities and atmosphere to help turn Clacton into a booming holiday resort and his public relations machine had been working overtime to ensure that he carried the people of Clacton with him. Furthermore he had ensured that local businesses were to benefit from the increased trade by signing contracts with local shops and firms to provide the goods and services necessary for the running of the camp. For example, T.H. Price of Rosemary Road supplied the greengrocery; Model Farm Dairies and Stetchworth Dairies the milk and dairy produce; the Princes Café bread, cakes and pastries and Messrs Wright and Son, the High Street butchers provided the meat, while Empire Films of Wellesley Road became the camp's official photographer.

The Holiday with Pay Act, invoked by Cllr Jack Shingfield as one of his arguments for supporting the building of the Camp, passed through Parliament and became law in 1938 just in time for the Camp's opening. This act legally guaranteed one week's paid holiday per year for all industrial workers and gave an enormous boost to bookings. Butlin was able to advertise in the national press with the slogan: "Holidays with pay; Holidays with play. A week's holiday for a week's wage." He set the cost of a week's holiday at the camp at £3 10s, which was equal to the average week's wage at that time. Butlin laid on a grand ceremonial opening to which he invited every one of the MPs who had voted in favour of the Holidays with Pay Act and laid on a special train to bring 200 V.I.Ps down from London. The camp was officially opened by Lord Strabolgi, though it was left to another speaker, Lord Castlerosse to verbalise the thoughts of all present when he solemnly announced that "Billy Butlin has done more for England than St.George".

When first opened the camp provided accommodation for 1,000 holidaymakers. Although only four hundred arrived for the first week the camp was fully booked for most of the season and further building was already underway to provide a further 500 places.

From the start, the entertainments manager, Mr. Frank Cusworth, (who had been one of Butlin's very first red coats at Skegness) laid on an outstanding programme of entertainments and booked many of the country's leading stage and sports stars for appearances at the Camp. The programme for the first week went like this:

* The Clacton Times and East Essex Gazette of 18 June 1938 reported that "this, of course, caused great fun."

The highlight of the first season came during the week of 3 - 9 July, when a 'Festival of Holiday Health & Happiness' was held. This was open to non residents as well as residents at a daily cost of 1/ . Special events included exhibition boxing by the then British light heavyweight champion, Len Harvey, exhibition tennis by Dan Maskell, a snooker tournament for the grand prize of 100 guineas between Joe Davis and Horace Lindrum and a demonstration of ballroom dancing by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Sylvester. The whole week culminated in a concert broadcast live on the BBC starring Elsie and Doris Waters, Vic Oliver, George Robey, Will Fyffe, Hildegaarde, Lew Stone and Mantovani with his Tipica Orchestra.

Other well known stars to appear at Butlin's that season included Gracie Fields, Albert Whelan, the Stratosphere Girl, Marion Crowley ('Clacton's Shirley Temple') and Dennis Gilbert (at 13 years of age, billed as 'The world's youngest dancing zylophonist').

As well as the tournaments, exhibitions, concerts and dancing, Butlin's also laid on daily keep fit classes as well as expert tuition in such sports as boxing, swimming and tennis.

Religion was not forgotten. A large Sunday Service was held every week presided over by the Rev. H.G. Redgrave, the vicar of St.James', in whose parish the camp lay. He acted as camp chaplain.

So integrated had the camp become into the life of the town that during that first season, the Clacton Times and East Essex Gazette carried a weekly page reporting on happenings in the camp. It noted all the stars who were appearing and printed interesting snippets of life on the camp. For example, the following appeared on 3 September, "Campers will be interested to know that Miss K. Hartley of Maida Vale, W9, who has been on holiday at the camp is increasing her weight. Some time ago she wrote to a national newspaper stating that despite the fact that she eats 5 rashers of bacon, 2 eggs and 4 thick slices of toast for breakfast, her figure remains as slim as ever. The camp management thereupon wrote to her challenging her to sample the cooking of Joe Velich, the 22 stone chef, who would see if he could fatten her. He has evidently succeeded despite the fact that she has been doing a lot of exercise."

The Gazette also carried the results of all the competitions held on the camp including the bathing beauty, whist drive, putting, fancy dress (from which we learn that third prize in the humorous section for the week ending 23 July went to Messrs Irving and Slapp for their portrayal of "Rinso"), swimming, tennis, table tennis and field sports (including the egg and spoon and three legged races). For these sporting events the campers were divided in to two houses - South and North - and points were scored for their houses by the winners of the competitions. During that first season, North won the cup every week until 10 September.

At the end of the season the Gazette was able to report that the camp had been a "greater success than ever imagined" both in terms of the camp itself and its acceptance into the town. There was, however, one small gripe - all Butlin's vegetables were imported from Lincolnshire from the farm which supplied the Skegness Camp. "Is there any special reason why the lorry should travel from Lincolnshire (300 miles there and back) with the campers' dinners?" the East Essex Gazette demanded to know.

Following the closure of the camp to holidaymakers for the season, Billy Butlin decided to open its doors to Clacton residents on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. This was a service to the townspeople which continued until well after the Second World War and one which is still fondly remembered by many Clacton inhabitants as the high spot of their social week.

Enlarged to take 2,000 campers, Butlin's opened for the 1939 season at Whitsun of that year having already attracted 30,000 day visitors on to the camp over the Easter weekend.

New improvements for the 1939 season included 1,000 rose trees, a bowling green, six new shops, open air roller skating, a miniature railway and an £8,000 electric organ installed in the new dance hall.

Not only was the camp now going from strength to strength but so was its football team which came top of the first division of the Essex and Suffolk Border league. Their aim eventually was to turn professional. Life at the camp carried on much as the 1938 season; Len Harvey and Mantovani were again regular visitors. Other stars such as Syd Walker, Stainless Stephen and Claire Luce appeared.

On 2 June 1939 Butlin's been again able to demonstrate its commitment to Clacton when it sent along its own fire tender to help at the Lewellen's fire.

As Britain slipped closer and closer to war with Germany minor disruptions upset the smooth running of the camp. The Tannoy system was continually interrupting its entertainment broadcasts to give the names of men who had to report back to their home town for call up. Practice black outs were held on the camp and, worst of all, from Butlin's point of view, reservists, school teachers and air raid wardens were told to cancel their holidays altogether.

Billy Butlin himself refused to believe that there was going to be a war and he had the camp newspaper, Butlin Times, run the headline 'Bye bye blues at Butlin's? Campers forget the crisis. Are we downhearted? No!!' and he ran an interview with one of his holidaymakers who said 'There is time enough to worry if and when war comes, and I'm certainly not going to let Hitler mess up my holiday.'

On the morning the war was declared, 3 September, Butlin was actually in the Clacton camp calming the campers and reassuring them that there wasn't going to be a war! As soon as war was declared the camp was emptied and it was first of all handed over to the Air Force and then to the Army for use as an internment camp. Some chalets were demolished to allow for a barbed wire perimeter fence to be erected with floodlights every few yards. However, as there weren't many internees the camp was soon given to the Royal Auxiliary Corps, later the Pioneer Corps. The army continued at the camp in one form or another until the war ended, when it was handed back to Butlin's.

The camp was ready in time to open for the 1946 season and opened on 6 April with 800 guests. Even on that very first week end after 6 years occupation by the military, a number of top stars were lined up to entertain the campers. There was the mind reader Maurice Fogel, Wally Goodman the comedian and Terry Thomas, billed as an impressionist.

The East Essex Gazette of 12 April took its readers on a tour of the camp: "[there are] rows of brightly coloured chalets with gardens between each row. There are shops, a post office and "Radio Butlin's". A gay nursery with toys and rocking horses is provided for the children who are all labelled to ensure they do not get lost. For casualties there is a sick ward. What was formerly the sergeant's mess is now a bar - the Jolly Roger...The ballroom, one of the finest in England, has protruding fairy tale castles as the walls and Tudor pillars supporting a centre balcony…The dining room has plastic table cloths of many colours; food is brought in on electrically heated trolleys. There is a splendid gym with a boxing ring. Indoor entertainments include a theatre, billiards room and sun lounge and out of doors there are tennis courts, a bowling green, swimming pool and fountain...In the mornings 'Cappie' Bond and an army instructor take voluntary P.T. classes, while a sympathetic trainer takes the children."

Following advertisements in the local press for staff including typists, clerks, waiters, waitresses, cooks, kitchen hands, chalet maids, cleaners and handymen, the camp was inundated with 17,000 applications for jobs, of which 550 were successful.

For most of the rest of the first post war season, Butlin's was full and the camp took up more or less exactly from where it had left off in 1939 except that the Gazette no longer devoted a whole page to happenings on the camp. There was no question now that it was part of Clacton, though there was still the odd minor hiccup as when the amusement park manager was fined £1 for "using a musical instrument worked by mechanical means (i.e. a hurdy gurdy) to be played to the annoyance of residents between June 1st and 3rd"

The period between 1946 and the late 1950s, possibly the early 60s, were certainly the halcyon days of the holiday camp and Butlin's at Clacton was no exception. After six years of war, people were looking for the opportunity to let their hair down and enjoy themselves; holiday camps gave that opportunity. They were not too expensive and everything was provided for one all in cost. Food, entertainments, amusements, competitions, even a chalet maid to make your bed was all paid for at the outset. In theory you could go to Butlin's with no money at all in your pocket and still have a good time. (Though, perhaps the local shopkeepers would not have approved too much.)

Special clubs to cater for children were formed - the Beaver Club and the 913 Club. These provided their own activities to allow their hard pressed parents time off to enjoy themselves on their holiday in their own way. This was the era of the knobbly knees, the glamorous grandmother, the Tarzan look alike and the spaghetti eating competitions. The pre war favourites such as the fancy dress competitions and the field sports also continued. The house competitions now became competitions between Kent House and Gloucester House, and later, as the camp grew York House and Windsor House as well. There was fierce pride and loyalty to one's house. In the Summer 1992 issue of the Clacton Chronicle (the journal of the Clacton & District Local History Society), Roy Hudd, a redcoat at Clacton in 1958, recounts the story of one event he was involved in: 'I remember a very old lady being pushed, by me, in an inter house pram race. Suddenly we hit a bump in the road and the old darling catapulted out of the pram - landing on her head! We brought her round and her first words were "Did we win?!"'

Although the competitions seemed to characterise the success of Butlin's, it was ironically this form of activity which drew the most criticism of a Butlin’s holiday after the war. Such criticism went along the lines of the complaints about 'strict regimentation' and having to join in the fun and games whether you wanted to or not. As evidence the critics referred to the "Wakey, Wakey" song played over the Radio Butlin Tannoy at 7.30 every morning:

"Roll out of bed in the morning
With a big, big smile and a good, good morning.
You'll find life is worth while
If you roll out of bed with a smile."

The strict meal times with different sittings for Gloucester House, Kent House, etc., the continual announcements on Radio Butlin about what activity was now taking place, the rôle of the redcoats in organising the campers to take part and so on right up to the "Goodnight Campers" song at 11.45 p.m.:

"Goodnight campers, see you in the morning,
Goodnight campers I can see you yawning…
Goodnight campers, goodnight."

Defenders of Butlin's pointed out that of course all the games and activities were laid on, but campers could take part, watch or ignore them as they wished. No one was 'forced' to do anything. Billy Butlin himself made the point that after the war no one would have stood for any more regimentation; it was exactly what everyone was trying to get away from. For most women it meant a week's freedom that they had never experienced before. As people became more affluent through the 1950s more and more families were going on holiday and enjoying the luxury of being waited on hand and foot. Meals were laid on, chalets were cleaned, beds made, and nurseries were provided, chalet patrols listened out for crying babies at night. It was not regimentation that Butlin's brought. It was freedom on a scale undreamed of by most people in the 1930s, when the nearest many got to a holiday was to go hop picking in Kent or on other types of working holiday - if they went at all.

In his book, "The Englishman's Holiday", J. A. R. Pimlott reports on a visit made to Butlin's at Clacton on 29th August 1946. This is what he had to say about the question of regimentation: "I saw little evidence of regimentation or organised 'jollying' and heard little of 'Radio Butlin'. The proportion of campers engaged on anything active was small...There were no 'hi de hi's and 'ho de ho's...The company looked unremarkable - a good solid mixture of respectable people of all ages with none of the ostentatious jollity of which I had read."

Incidentally, one interesting sidelight on a holiday just after the war is provided by Pimlott's observation that of the announcements Radio Butlin did make most were concerned with "campers whose names began with certain letters should take their ration books along between such and such hours" to the office.

On the day that Pimlott was at Clacton, he saw several star names at the camp. The resident band, the Squadronnaires were there, as well as Harry Davidson and his orchestra who played dance music in the ballroom at 9.00 p.m. and again at 10.45 p.m. Reggie Meen, the former British heavyweight boxing champion gave an exhibition bout in the gym at 8.00 p.m.

Many who were later to be stars and household names had some of their early entertaining experience at Butlin's Clacton either as red coats or resident singers and comedians. Names such as the Beverley Sisters, Michael Holliday, Jack Douglas, Ted Rogers, Dave Allen, Roy Hudd and Cliff Richard, who had his first ever professional engagement at Butlin's, Clacton all appeared on the camp in their younger days. While big stars of the time such as Arthur English, Tommy Trinder, Charlie Chester and Ted Ray also continued to appear. And for many years in the 40s and 50s, the resident band was under the direction of Eric Winstone, already a well established name in show business. Sports stars of the magnitude of Maurice Tate (cricket), John Pullman (snooker and billiards) and Jimmy Hill (football) continued the Butlin tradition of coaching.

By the late 1950s, Butlin's had become a national institution and to some extent Clacton was able to bask in its reflected glory. The combination of Butlin's and Clacton had become firmly established and for both their futures as family holiday venues seemed unshakeable.

But the glory days of Butlin's were not to last for ever and during the 1960s the process of change which would eventually lead to Butlin's closure and Clacton's decline as a leading seaside resort gathered pace. The very affluence which had led many families to sample the delights of a week's holiday for the first time in their lives by choosing Butlin's, Clacton was now to lead them to eschew the very idea of going to Clacton or to a holiday camp.

Most of Butlin's trade had come from the East End of London, a mere 75 miles away, and most of the rest from the Midlands (Birmingham and Leicester in particular). Two weeks holiday came to be increasingly the norm, and with the extra time people wanted to go further afield. It was within the budget of many families now to go abroad to Ostend, Paris, Spain. British resorts were hard put to retain their clientele. Many campers who had returned year after year with an unswerving loyalty to Butlin's at Clacton were now beginning to desert the camp as the British way of life began to change. Somehow Butlin's seemed out of tune with the modern affluent style of the times and no match for the 'exotic' continent.

In the 1960s the same food was being served as had always been served. Four heavy meals a day was now being thought of as decidedly unhealthy. The accommodation was basically the same as when the camp opened in 1938, only now the chalets were beginning to look dilapidated and old. The jolly Redcoats leading the fun and games on the centre green or in the Viennese Ballroom was not in keeping with the individualism of the Swinging Sixties. Irrespective of whether the enforced mateyness criticism was true or not, the whole idea of organised fun and games was out of step with the current thinking of 'doing your own thing'.

By 1968, when Billy Butlin retired, family groups at the camp had fallen to an all time low. Their place had been taken by large groups of single teenagers who, as a generation for the first time, had plenty of money in their pockets and were able to spend it largely as they pleased. Ironically this new generation discovered all over again the idea that Butlin's gave them the freedom they desired and allowed them to escape from the disciplines of home, school and work. In a manner of speaking the wheel had come full circle, but this time, the new chairman of Butlin's, Billy's son Bobby, was concerned that the new style freedom had gone too far.

The camp's reputation had reached an all time low as teenagers, perhaps for the first time in their lives, discovered a place where they could indulge in the excesses of drink and sex with very little control over their activities. There were stories of all night parties, drinking, vandalism, gang fights and chalet swapping. Those families still wishing to come were now reluctant to get caught up in this experience and in 1965, for the first time since it opened its first camp in Skegness in 1936, Butlin's as a whole lost business.

Bobby Butlin moved swiftly to restore the reputation and fortunes of the company and immediately stopped block bookings from single teenagers. But he realised he needed more than just a negative approach if he was to entice families back to Clacton. He therefore launched a programme of modernisation by building chalets with private bathrooms and converted large numbers of existing chalets, equipping them with cookers and fridges so that he could begin providing self catering holidays. Even for those campers who still wished to eat their meals in the dining hall, Butlin's now only provided breakfast and an evening meal. Fast food outlets were opened on the camp and campers were thereby given the option of eating the meals provided in the dining hall, buying their meals at one of the retail outlets or of cooking their own. The wearing of badges, an outward sign of the outdated regimentation, was also stopped. These changes had their effect, bookings picked up and in 1971 Butlin's enjoyed a record year.

However more changes to the familiar style of the holiday camp were just over the horizon. In 1972, Butlin's was taken over by the Rank Organisation and in 1977 they scrapped the "Wakey Wakey" song over the Tannoy, which had called generations of Clacton campers to their breakfast. The redcoats were also given a new rôle as times changed. The old house system was abolished and the camp merely divided into red camp and blue camp to differentiate between the self catering guest and the half board guest. The redcoat rôle as partisan house supporter urging the campers on to superhuman efforts to gain house points therefore had to change and they became the up front public relations representatives of the Butlin's organisation dispensing information and goodwill. They were no longer forced to crack jokes every second of the day!

This is not to say, of course, that games and other activities were no longer organised but knobbly knees and glamorous grandmothers apart, all the old Butlin's style had gone to be replaced by 'normal' - and generally more healthy - pursuits. A typical week's programme from the late 1970s and 80s looked something like this:

(Taken from the 1982 season programme)

By 1980 Butlin's had again reached new heights with yet another record year for visitors. Owing to a continual programme of building, the original 1,500 capacity of Clacton Camp had grown to 6,000 and everything looked set for a bright future, and as the camp closed its doors on the 1983 season, there was no hint of the disaster to come. Seasonal staff were offered contracts for the following season and in the current edition of "Butlin News", Peter Wilson, the Bookings Manager for Clacton said he was looking forward to 1985, "the year in which he expects to get a computer to sort out his allocation section."

But in the offices of the Rank Organisation, other changes were being dreamt up to streamline and modernise Butlin's. Holiday camps were a thing of the past. The word camp gave the wrong image of the modern holiday, so whole new "holiday centres" and "holiday villages" were to be created. All chalets were now to be the height of luxury with wall to wall carpeting, colour televisions, teasmaids and private bathrooms. To pay for these improvements Rank decided that something had to go, and that something was the camps at Filey and Clacton.

In a press statement Bobby Butlin summed up the decision by saying that a review had been carried out "with a view to planning for the future development of Butlin's. As a result it was decided that these two centres are no longer viable and regrettably they must close. We deeply regret having to take this painful decision and the effect that the closure will have on the staff of both centres and on the community."

It was the end of an era for Clacton, brought about by a corporate investment decision based on hard economic facts with little time for nostalgia or the local impact of that decision.

In all the closure meant the loss of 100 permanent jobs and 841 seasonal jobs. A devastating blow to a town which already had one of the highest rates of unemployment in South East England.

In 1936 and 1937 there had been much controversy in the town about whether to allow Butlin to build his camp on the West Clacton Estate. Now there were no voices raised to say it was a good thing that Butlin's was pulling out. The town was shocked and angry at the decision. It was again left to the leading Labour Party councillor, Roy Smith, to put that anger into words. In a bitter attack on the Rank Organisation he said that Butlin's had made no attempt to make improvements at the camp, "They have creamed off the income from the town and left us stranded. It is deplorable. I am very concerned about the attitude of Butlin's in recent years. This closure has been brought about by Butlin's themselves by not putting enough back into the town."

Butlin's denied these allegations pointing out that as recently as 1977 they had invested £2 million at Clacton: "We are certainly not creaming anything off the town. The reverse was true. The town was creaming off us because of the number of holidaymakers and day visitors we brought into the town."

The carefully nurtured co operation between camp and town had finally disintegrated into this acrimonious exchange as Butlin’s virtually destroyed the last vestiges of Clacton's reputation as a one time leading British holiday resort.

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