Fred Pontin, holiday pioneer, dies at 93

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The Independent Online

Sir Fred Pontin, the founder of the holiday camp chain and the reputed inspiration for the Joe Maplin character in the Hi-de-Hi comedy series, has died after suffering a stroke.

Sir Fred Pontin, the founder of the holiday camp chain and the reputed inspiration for the Joe Maplin character in the Hi-de-Hi comedy series, has died after suffering a stroke.

Sir Fred, 93, who offered affordable holidays for ordinary people, died in a Blackpool hospital on Saturday. He was thought to be recovering from a mild stroke but had a relapse.

Mike Austin, a friend and former director of the company, which at its height had 22 centres across Britain, said yesterday that the mogul had been a pioneer who built up his empire from scratch. "He gave joy and pleasure to millions of people," Mr Austin said. "Sir Fred was essentially a one-off. He was a hard man but scrupulously fair in his dealings. He was devoted to his business but made sure he had plenty of fun himself and was great to go out with. It is very sad but he had a good innings."

Sir Fred, who leaves a wife, Lady Joyce, and a daughter, grew up in Walthamstow, east London, leaving school at 15 with no qualifications.

During the Second World War he ran workers' hostels in Scotland and later Bristol, where he seized on the idea that would make his fortune. He opened his first camp in 1946, taking over a former American tank regiment base at Brean Sands, Somerset. Others followed. While his formula operated on a smaller scale than that of his rival, Billy Butlin, by the 1970s Pontin's camps, with their Bluecoats, were hosting holidays for up to 1 million people every year.

Sir Fred said his favourite story was about when Butlin tried secretly to check out Brean Sands but was spotted by the camp photographer, who took a picture of him at the bar. Sir Fred printed it in a brochure under the heading "All the best people come to Pontin's".

He pioneered the Mediterranean holiday in 1963, with another 10 "Pontinental" centres offering a fortnight abroad for £50. But with competition from cheaper package deals the camps' popularity declined and the mogul retired in 1978 after a takeover by Coral, the bookmakers.

His funeral will be in south Devon on Monday. A memorial service will be held in London at a later date. "He was in good spirits to the end," Mr Austin said. "He simply ran out of breath."

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