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Butlins Churches Back

Extract from the unpublished book "Follow the rainbow to Butlin's" by Paul Wray and Rocky Mason
Used with permission

The Church had always played an important part in Billy Butlin's life and, familywise, Bill had the choice of the ministry or the fairground. He chose, thankfully for millions of people, show business but the Church did not loose out. After the war a meeting was arranged with Dr. Cyril Garbett, the Archbishop of York. He was asked for help and advice with the setting up of a vast network of religious organizations in every Butlin establishment. The Archbishop's help was invaluable and every year up until the time of his death, he went along to Filey camp to conduct mass outdoor services. In 1937 The Reverend Colin Davies, who was then Vicar of Ingoldmells, was appointed Senior Chaplin to the Butlin organisation but after only one season he left to work abroad and was replaced by Tom Pugh.

Canon Pugh is appointed

Canon Tom Pugh, a delightful and loveable old rascal with an outrageous personality, was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to oversee the running of the Church for Butlin's, with each camp having it's own resident chaplin answerable to Canon Pugh. He was the famous army chaplin, who in the 1940's braved the guns of the prison guards at Changi prisoner of war camp where he was a captive, and marched out of the gates to check out rumours of cruelty in one of the other camps.

Each camp had a small, but fully ordained Church of England chapel. The chapel at Filey Camp was particularly nice and the foyer housed a number of old oil paintings. The resident Padre was the Rev. Clifford Malkinson. Cliff became a very close friend of Rocky Mason and the two of them would often rendezvous in the chapel foyer. Whilst Rocky was waiting for the reverend would spend the time admiring the paintings. It was during one of these times that he remarked to Cliff that a coat of varnish might help to disguise the hairline cracks that had appeared on one old canvas. Cliff thought it was a good idea and it was arranged for Jim Batten from camp maintenance to do the job. With the paintings slightly restored they hung in the foyer for about 20 years until someone visiting recognised the painting as a valuable old master and it was valued at a remarkable 250,000.

Tom Pugh retired in 1960 and his assistant , The Reverend Clifford Malkenson or as he preferred to be known Father Cliff, replaced him.

Father Cliff

As the new influx of campers arrived on a Saturday morning Father Cliff would be at reception waiting for them. As they signed in he would greet each one individually and he would then wander around the swimming pool signing autographs with the words "God bless you". On a Saturday evening in the Gaiety Theatre the Entertainments manager would introduce the various members of Butlin's staff and inform them of the rules and regulations of the camp.

When Father Cliff was introduced the band played "he's got the whole world in his hands" at which point Father Cliff would take to the stage giving greetings from the Church to the campers, he would then inform them the times of the services and should they have any problems then they could talk to him in the strictest confidence in his chalet between eleven until one o'clock every lunch time.

There were two masses held every day and on Sundays at 10.30am there was a non-denominational service in the Gaiety Theatre. The service was originally called the "People's service" but with the start of sponsorship many campers believed that the service was sponsored by "The People" newspaper and so to avoid confusion the name was changed to "The Holiday Service". The services were always well attended with campers turning out in their hundreds and all casually dressed in their holiday clothes not their "Sunday best", making the service very informal and comfortable.

Father Cliff's other duties also included judging competitions which included, the glamorous grandmother, mother and child, the holiday princess, fancy dress and with the help of nurse and the head of sick bay he judged the bonnie baby competition.

If there was a death on the camp Butlin's would make the necessary arrangements with the undertakers and also provide facilities for the bereaved holiday maker to telephone relatives or return home. The Camps had two Churches on the site, the Catholic Church and the Church of England Church.

Religious crusade

The last week of the season was given over to a religious crusade conference with only essential staff being kept on. All the bars and betting shops were closed and there was no professional entertainment. The bars were used for book displays, video displays and meeting halls. At Filey Camp the Beachcomber became the christian music place and the Kent dining hall was used as an exhibition centre. The first crusade took place on 17th September 1955. Although the Churches were fully ordained no weddings ever take place in them, these usually took place at the nearest Church outside the camp although the marriage could be blessed in the camp church. Most marriages were usually between Redcoats and if they were prepared to pay a little extra they could have a wedding reception in the Golden Grill.

Free holidays

Billy Butlin always appreciated the work that the church was doing for his camps and as a sign of his appreciation he gave away hundreds of holidays to clergy and church workers who, without the generosity of Bill would have had no holiday at all. The chaplains department was always regarded as an important part of the Butlin's organisation. The chaplin would always attend the weekly meetings of the heads of departments, and his word carried weight. One of the padres duties was to keep a watch on the type of entertainment in the theatres and bars and, if he saw anything that he considered to be doubtful or immoral he would bring it to the attention of the entertainments manager. Times have changed and todays padre is no longer a "heavyweight" which is just as well, for on the midnight shows when acts such as Bernard Manning are appearing the poor old padre would have died on the spot!

The highlight of the season for the church was the annual Harvest Festival, held on Sunday morning in the main theatre. Special hymn sheets would be printed and the stage crew would spend all night dressing the stage. All heads of departments with their families would attend the service and contributions would be made by all sections. The Catering Department being the main contributor baking giant loaves in the shape of wheat sheaves. The festival was always a success and the stage would be crammed full of gifts which were later distributed to orphanages and old peoples homes in the vicinity.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church on the camp at Filey was too small for the congregation and so the services would take place in the Empire theatre. The alter would be set up on the stage and the back drop would be whatever play was on at the time. Father Arthur Dutton who was at the camp during the 1960's recalls that during one week "Dracula" was being performed in the theatre and that directly behind Arthur was Dracula's coffin, very apt for a religious service! He did warn the congregation not to fall asleep in case they woke up with a "stake" through their heart!.

The collections which were made at the end of the service and which were quite substantial were used to pay for the education of all priests.

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