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John Turner's memories of his two spells working at Minehead in 1963 Back

"I went to work at Butlins, Minehead, in the Spring of 1963, at a time when everything was still almost brand new. My job was in the Catering Stores, which was managed by (as I recall) a Mr Donaldson. I can't remember his deputy's name, but I gathered that he also part-owned a shop in one of the villages near Minehead.

My job entailed stores work: receiving goods from the delivery lorries, stacking them in the warehouse, picking orders from the main kitchen and the various catering outlets on the camp, and delivering them, either by sacktruck or handcart, or in the Catering Van, a Commer Walkthru, of which I was one of the two nominated drivers.

Memories of the van include problems with filling it with fuel: not for Butlins the sort of petrol pump you normally expect. We had to fill up from big (40 gallon?) drums, which were just stood about in the Transport Department. Lifting one of those and pouring its contents into the vehicle's fuel filler was not a one-man job!

The camp roads were mostly thronged with people, which made getting around a slow and careful business; even more so, when delivering open containers or trays of cooked food (custard and chicken legs were typical contents), unless you wanted to let yourself in for hours of swabbing out afterwards!

On one occasion the throttle stuck open, which provided a particularly interesting challenge: I got the van back to the Transport Department for repair by turning the ignition on and off.

We staff were accommodated like the campers in chalets – except that our chalets were significantly smaller. There were three of us in a space about the same as that of a cell in one of Her Majesty's prisons. My companions were a Welsh ex-miner and an English former RAF aircraftman. The latter, whose name I have forgotten, also worked in the Catering Store, whereas Jim the Welshman worked in the main kitchen as a Kitchen Porter.

A lot of us did part-time jobs for extra money in addition to our main job: there was usually a personnel officer signing people up for these in the staff dining hall at lunchtime every day. Jim worked quite often as a plainclothes security man, in which job his considerable size and strength was an undoubted asset. At different times I worked as a bar waiter and as a stagehand. I particularly enjoyed the latter, working on stage in the Gaiety Theatre, where all the variety shows were staged. We were told that we were working on what was at the time the largest revolving stage in Europe. This made much of the work quite easy: we could put up the set for one act, while the previous one was performing. It could then be simply rotated into place. One of the perks of the job was, of course, the opportunity to see the acts at close quarters. This could be particularly enjoyable when the dancers were performing.

One of the main advantages of working at Butlins was the social life when you were not working. We had free use of all the same facilities as the campers, from whom we could be indistinguishable when out of uniform. (As a storeman my uniform was just a brown dustcoat worn on top of civilian clothes anyway.) For a young single man there were plenty of opportunities to socialise and meet girls, both staff and campers, in the bars and ballrooms. And then there were your workmates, if you just wanted to go for a quiet – or not-so-quiet - drink.

There was, of course, a good choice of bars: the Pig And Whistle was supposed to have the longest bar in Europe and was usually busy and noisy; the bar in the Regency building was the place to go, if you wanted to relax with a drink, while watching the people through the underwater windows of the indoor swimming pool; and the Beachcomber was the place, if you wanted something a bit different. (It was, however, also the favourite haunt of off-duty Redcoats, whom we ordinary workers generally avoided!) As an alternative to drinking, there were the two theatres. I have already mentioned the Gaiety variety theatre, but there was also the Playhouse, where real plays were staged and films were shown. I don't think the plays survived very long.

The main kitchen, which I visited several times a day, delivering boxes and boxes of frozen chicken legs and wings, chips, peas, fish, etc., vast quantities of tinned foods in catering-size cans, and cartons of soup, gravy and custard powder, was necessarily enormous. At the time everybody was on full board and the kitchen produced three cooked meals a day. The kitchen was in the centre of the catering block and around it were five restaurants, four of which were for the campers, each seating several thousand, and one for the staff. The menu in the campers' restaurants repeated weekly – the same food was served at the same meal on the same day each week – whereas the staff menu repeated fortnightly, which gave us a little more variety.

One of the places on my regular delivery round was the Nursery which, as well as all the small children deposited there by their parents, was full of Nursery Nurses. After I had been there a few weeks one of them became my steady girlfriend, though our chances to meet up were necessarily restricted by the odd shifts she had to work and the fact that our days off only coincided occasionally.

One of the jobs of the Nursery Nurse was Chalet Patrol. If parents of young children wanted to go out in the evening without their children, they could give their chalet number to reception and the duty nursery nurse would be responsible for checking on them. This the nurses did by riding round the camp on a special Butlins bicycle and listening outside the relevant chalets. If a baby was heard to be crying, a message was then passed round all the entertainment venues: in the theatres it was displayed on a screen beside the stage reading 'Baby crying in chalet no…..' A similar message was flashed up on-screen during filmshows.

Christmas 1963

That year I went back to Minehead to work the short Christmas season, though in a different job. This time I was in the Transport Department as a Minibus Driver, sharing a chalet with two Bus Drivers, both of whom normally worked as nurses in mental hospitals.

It was quite a cold winter – though not as bad as the previous one – and the wall-mounted two-bar electric fire, which was our only heating, stayed on all the time we were there, by necessity. The temperature posed an interesting problem on our first day, which was before the campers arrived. We had to wash our vehicles, but the hoses were frozen solid. We took the vehicles down to the central area and attempted to use water drawn in buckets from the swimming pool, but no sooner did water touch metal than that froze too.

The three of us seemed to have drawn the short straw, in that we were all on the late shift and were accordingly denied access to a lot of the entertainment. Still, at least we didn't have to get up early in the morning. My two companions spent their shifts driving fixed routes around the camp, providing a continuous shuttle service for campers going to or from their chalets. My job was more varied, not least because my minibus was one of the very few vehicles actually taxed and insured to go outside the camp. I had a few fixed runs that had to be done, like picking up the Camp Controller from his home after he had had his evening meal, running a full load of cleaners home to Taunton, and taking a couple of cashiers around the bars, etc., to collect the takings. (The money was locked away in a big steel box bolted to the floor of the minibus.) The rest of the time I was on call, mostly spending my time drinking coffee with the duty nurse in the first aid room in the Reception building.

Typical calls included picking up the camp electrician, who lived outside the camp and apparently didn't have his own transport, and taking him to a chalet where the heating had failed, then loading all the campers and their baggage into the minibus and taking them to another chalet, when he proved unable to fix it. Another was taking the nurse to someone who had had a fall in one of the bars and was now at best semiconscious. (We transported this lady back to the first aid room and attempted to revive her, but the combination of drink and prescription medicines she had taken – judging by the contents of her handbag – rendered this impossible, so we then took her to the local hospital.)

An advantage of being out and about was that I could fill one of the major gaps created by our working hours. By the time we came off duty the bars were closed – and we obviously couldn't drink before going on duty. On my way back from Taunton (usually) I would stop off in Williton and stock up on drink, mostly local cider in plastic containers.

The last job I had to do as driver of the minibus was helping out when the campers were leaving. They were not allowed to take their own cars on to the site so, when they arrived and when they left, they were normally expected to use the little trains, which circulated in the daytime and had special luggage trailers attached on changeover days, or the buses. There were, however, always a few for whom this was not practicable, mostly because of physical disability, but occasionally because they had not actually packed their stuff in cases or bags, but had simply put it loose in the boot or on the back seat. My last journey was taking a senior manager and his family to their car, for which I recall receiving a tip, but not how much it was!

This was the last time I worked for Butlins at Minehead, but not my last time with them. The following summer (1964) I came back from abroad when the season was already in full swing, only to find that were no jobs I fancied at Minehead. So I went to Bognor instead (click here to read John's memories of working at Bognor Regis in 1964)."

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