Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Seaside Swingers! The British Holiday Camp in 1960s British Film*

The beauty contest in Every Day's A Holiday (1964)

As British society became increasingly affluent at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, the holidaymaker was confronted with more choice about where to spend their annual vacation. With the increase in people choosing to go abroad for one or two weeks, holiday camps had to target new types of consumers, apart from families that had flocked to the camps in the previous decade (as represented in the film Holiday Camp 1947). Butlin’s for example, encouraged honeymoon couples and teenagers to visit his camps, with promotional films targeted at both consumer groups in 1959 – 1960[1].

The lengthy honeymoon sequence filmed at Butlin’s, Bognor Regis in The Leather Boys (1963), gives us a good idea of what the camps were like at this time. As had become increasingly common in British social realist films of the 1960s, the scenes are shot on location, rather than studio mock-ups, although the black and white photography tempers the gaudy colour schemes of the camp’s interiors. 

Butlin's Bognor Regis - The Leather Boys (1963)

In the film Bognor Butlin’s is still populated by people of all ages, and there is old-time dancing in the ballroom, although this gives way to the Twist as the evening wears on and the dancers lose their inhibitions.

Dot (Rita Tushingham) does the Twist

The camp’s chalet gives Reggie (Colin Campbell) and his new wife, Dot (Rita Tushingham), the opportunity to be completely alone together for the first time, and on their third day, Dot complains that she hasn’t seen anything of the camp since they arrived. 

Reggie (Colin Campbell) and Dot in their chalet

As we might expect from this genre of film, there is a grim undercurrent to the jollity of the camp. As Dot becomes accustomed to its attractions, she becomes increasingly loud and brassy, represented by the bleaching of her hair into a back combed, candyfloss peroxide. 

Dot in a Butlin's hair salon

She is determined to enjoy herself and gets drunk in a typical Butlin’s Beachcomber bar – replete with tribal masks and palm tree decorations. Reggie sulks in their chalet, and when Dot returns, all giggly and tipsy, he chastises her for telling ‘dirty jokes’ to strangers. 

Dot asks Reggie to tell a joke

She considers this all part of the holiday fun, but he reminds her that they are on their honeymoon, rather than their holiday. This highlights the difference in attitudes that a holiday and a honeymoon appear to invite, with Reggie not wishing Dot to share their fun with anyone else. The disagreements that they have during the honeymoon are the beginning of the problems which eventually drive their marriage apart.

By the fountains at Butlin's, Clacton, Every Day's A Holiday

In contrast to the relatively miserable experience described above, the appeal of holiday camps for teenagers is best exemplified in the rock ‘n’ roll musical Every Day’s A Holiday (1964), which goes some way to cashing in on the success of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday (1963), but without the exotic locations. This film was shot at Butlin’s, Clacton, in widescreen and Technicolor, and unlike The Leather Boys, the holiday camp setting is celebrated as a place where communities are constructed rather than undermined. The film also appears to be an invitation to teenagers to either visit the camps for work, or for their holidays, and therefore captures some of Butlin’s intentions of the time. As Read points out:

The ‘Swinging Sixties’ brought a new breed of holidaymaker, single teenagers. They had money and the freedom to go on holiday without their parents. They leapt onto their Lambrettas and into their Ford Cortinas and they headed for Butlin’s, where there was free entertainment during the evening and free activities during the day (Read, 1986: 170).

In order to attract the teenage market, Butlin’s incorporated rock ‘n’ roll ballrooms, juke boxes, coffee bars, and special teenage chalets which could sleep four in double bunks. ‘During the summer months it wasn’t unusual to find 3,000 single young people at one camp in any one week’ (Read, 1986: 170). 

Mike Sarne, John Leyton and Grazina Frame

This was the era in which Every Day’s A Holiday was released. The film follows the exploits of a group of youths who take summer jobs at Butlin’s, their romantic encounters, and their involvement in a talent contest which is televised from the camp. The film’s cast includes pop stars such as Mike Sarne (who had previously had a hit with the single ‘Come Outside’), John Leyton (of ‘Johnny Remember Me’ fame), Freddie and the Dreamers (as the camp’s chefs), and The Mojos as themselves.

Freddie and the Dreamers sing 'What's Cookin'?'

The Mojos performing in the South Seas Bar -
note the window into the swimming pool behind them

The film makes full use of the Clacton camp’s location, with scenes around the pool, the infant’s playroom, the South Seas Bar, and the Crazy Horse Saloon. Timely references are made in the film to the burgeoning ‘free love’ of the 1960s, and its consequences. In the opening scene the camp’s secretary, Miss Slightly (Liz Fraser) is seen reading a book entitled Sex and the Unmarried Girl. 

Liz Fraser

Later on the identical twins Susan and Jennifer (Susan and Jennifer Baker) are working in the camp’s nursery where they tend to the children’s bath time, and sing ‘Romeo Jones’. The scene offers an ideological representation of a woman’s place in the home as the twins tend to the toddlers and sing lyrics that highlight the importance of looking for an ordinary man ‘to hold forever’.

The Baker twins sing 'Romeo Jones'

Butlin’s introduced an Every Day’s A Holiday competition to tie-in with the film, with prizes to the value of £1,500 including 95 holidays and £100 cash [2], (ABC Film Review, January 1965: 24 – 25). Entrants had to list ten advantages of taking a Butlin’s holiday in the correct order, in what appears to be a thinly disguised exercise in market research: did entrants prefer the ‘variety concerts and repertory shows’ above ‘separate ballrooms for Modern, Rock ‘n’ roll and Old Time dancing’ for example? (ABC Film Review, January 1965: 24 – 25).

Kinematograph Weekly commented that ‘practically every known ingredient of success has been mixed into this jolly film, and it should extend its appeal well beyond the wide fringe of “pop” stardom. Good musical attraction for all but stuffed shirts’ (Kinematograph Weekly, November 5, 1964: 8). Whilst The Daily Cinema’s review highlighted the appeal of the youthful cast but also referred to the holiday setting as if this was a now well-established formula in film:

The film follows the time-honoured routine of getting together a bunch of attractive youngsters, dumping them down in a holiday setting and providing just enough complications to delay the inevitable happy ending for ninety odd minutes …It’s all good family fun with loads of teenage appeal and most filmgoers should find it a sure cure for the January blues (M.H. The Daily Cinema, October 30, 1964: 6).

Monthly Film Bulletin was less favourable, but appreciated the director’s quiet ‘laughs at the real-life camp…notably during an amateur beauty contest’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1964: 176).

Mass catering in Every Day's A Holiday

This youthful representation of the British holiday camp was relatively short-lived: Billy Butlin’s son, Bobby, took over the responsibility for the camps in 1968, and decided to no longer take bookings from teenagers. By this time Butlin’s had a reputation for being ‘a glorified knocking shop’ (Read, 1986: 171). Bobby wanted to bring families back to the camps, and by 1971, figures were up again, with the company taking record bookings (Read, 1986: 172). Butlin’s peak year was 1972, when six million holidaymakers visited the camps (Barker: 2005).

*Seaside Swingers was the American title given to Every Day’s A Holiday. The film's release date is sometimes given as 1965. It was released at the end of 1964 / beginning of 1965.

Bibliography & Further Reading:

ABC Film Review, January 1965: 24 – 25

Barker, Jonathan (Producer and Director), 2005, Coast, BBC/Open University

Butlin, Billy, 1982, The Billy Butlin Story, A Showman to the End, London: Robson Books

Kinematograph Weekly, November 5, 1964: 8

M.H. The Daily Cinema, October 30, 1964: 6

Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1964: 176

North, Rex, 1962, The Butlin Story, London: Jarrolds

Read, Sue, 1986, Hello Campers! Celebrating 50 Years of Butlin’s, London: Bantam Press

[1] BFI database: Butlin’s By The Sea Campaign: Honeymooners 1 (1959), and Honeymooners 2 (1960), and Butlin’s By The Sea Campaign: Teens 1 – 5 (1960). Winter breaks were also promoted in similar films.

[2] Butlin’s kindly offered to refund deposits to any winners who had already booked a Butlin holiday and also give them £5 spending money.

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