Last night's viewing - The Butlin's Story, ITV1; The Hairy Bikers' Christmas Party, BBC2
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Wednesday 21 December 2011
Had Billy Butlin, already established by 1936 as a successful entrepreneur with a tidy line in amusement parks, not decided to open up the first Butlin's on the unglamorous shores of Skegness, the world might have missed out on "Rockin' All Over the World". Imagine! In true Sliding Doors fashion, it was while performing at the Minehead outpost of Butlin's franchise that Rick Parfitt met Francis Rossi. And lo, a five-decade love affair with double denim and dodgy hair was born.
There's something pleasing about this marriage of music and holiday camp, of Quo meets Butlin's. They both hold that curious place in the national consciousness: part national treasure, part guilty pleasure. They are both (whisper it) a little bit naff. But, in fact, Butlin's was the pre-fame stomping ground of many a household name. Ringo Starr was performing there when he got the call from Paul McCartney asking him to join The Beatles. McCartney made his live debut at Butlin's Filey. Jimmy Tarbuck, Des O'Connor and Roy Hudd worked as red coats, the camps' chirpy, red-jacket-wearing staff. Catherin Zeta Jones performed there, Kelly Holmes ran there and Brian Turner cooked there. For better or worse, Butlin's has been a breeding ground for prominence.
It's also been a fair barometer of Britain's shifting culture, as we saw last night on The Butlin's Story. When it opened, it was offering what was, as one early visitor put it, the first package holiday. During the Second World War, it was turned into a series of military bases for soldiers. With the recovery of the Forties and Fifties, it became the go-to destination for holidaying families. It offered security, fun, and an array of exotic prospects: themed cocktail bars, ballrooms, doughnuts. And, for a while, it perfectly satisfied what Middle England wanted from a break. Until, of course, they wanted more.
Since the 1970s, the tale of Butlin's has not been a jolly one. Try as it might, The Butlin's Story couldn't quite avoid the poignancy of that. Several sites have closed, the remaining ones given glossy new-looks. These days, they are populated by families looking for a bit of nostalgia, a reminder of the parents' childhoods. It's a shame, really, but what can you do? A tropical island bar isn't quite a tropical island. At least we've still got the Quo.
When, exactly, was it decided that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without stuffing us silly with cookery shows? Rather like salted caramels, mulled cider and putting mayonnaise in the Christmas sandwich (!), it's a ritual that has crept up on me to the extent that the other day I found myself actually devoting several minutes to mourning the absence of Nigella from our festive screens ("But it's not the same without some salacious winking and a recipe for sultry peanut butter crack bars!").
Usually, though, these programmes don't feature the font Comic Sans in the production title. I didn't see that in Jamie's Christmas with Bells On, nor in River Cottage Christmas. But it was definitely there in The Hairy Bikers' Christmas Party. Comic Sans! The font of four-year-olds and people whose email address still ends in @yahoo.co.uk, It kept flashing up on the screen, festively styled in red with yellow outline. "Say hello to our spicy macadamia nuts" the title would say, and there they were: spicy macadama nuts, ridiculously fronted, oddly insistent upon the lower case.
But then, the Bikers are showing us how to make turkey vindaloo canapés so perhaps it's to be expected. Not that I'd say no to a turkey vindaloo canapé having seen the finished product. It looked delicious. As does the all-day breakfast canapé, the ploughman's lunch canapé. Chic their food isn't, but at least the Hairy Bikers' festive offering was a little different. Might pass on the Christmas pudding vodka, though.
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