Butlins, whose holiday camps were gently lampooned in the 1980s television sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, have made a comeback as cash-strapped Britons decide to forego the usual holiday abroad. About 150,000 "campers" are heading for the seaside for a week or two – a 15 per cent increase on last year – to be kept amused by the legendary Butlins Redcoats.
It is welcome comeback for an old family business which once dominated the holiday trade, but took a downturn with the advent of cheap flights and package holidays in the sun. Now, with the euro worth almost 80p, plus the queues at airports and increased air fares, the traditional British seaside holiday is back in fashion.
Richard Bates, managing director of Butlins, said: "We are experiencing an increase in bookings as people are choosing to boycott the continent for many reasons, such as the strong euro and the fuel surcharges that are significantly affecting air and sea travel.
"Why would a family subject themselves to what is typically an awful experience at our airports with long queues, delays and excess luggage charges? They can simply fill up the car with everything they need for a family break and arrive feeling relaxed and ready for a fun holiday. Holidaying in the UK can offer an irresistible combination of convenience, value for money and flexibility." The first of the Butlin holiday camps was opened in 1936 by Billy Butlin, an expatriate Canadian. It had the capacity for 1,000 holiday- makers. A second, at Clacton, followed in 1938, and others at Minehead, Filey and Bognor Regis after the war. But in the early 1980s, the Clacton and Filey camps were closed, and Billy Butlin's son and successor, Robert, retired. Later, the company, now part of the Bourne Leisure group, made up for the diminishing holiday trade by organising conferences and events. In 2006, it became the first company to hold weddings in holiday camps.
And nowadays, there are shops on site, and troupes of entertainers brought in to supplement the famous Butlins Redcoats. Three years ago, for instance, Butlins campers were treated to a kung fu display by visiting monks.
Some of the former Butlins Redcoats went on to be well-known figures in show business, including the Irish stand-up comic, Dave Allen, the Scottish singer Isla St Clair, the astrologer Russell Grant, the Liverpool comic Jimmy Tarbuck, the quiz show presenter Ted Rogers and Rod Hull, creator of the puppet, Emu.
More recently, Darren Day was a Redcoat off and on for five years before making his breakthrough in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Welsh singer Ian Watkins was also a Redcoat, before his reincarnation as "H" in the pop group Steps.
Another former Redcoat was David Perry, half of the Perry and Croft writing team who created Dad's Army and It Ain't Half Hot Mum in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, they launched Hi-de-Hi!, set in the fictional town of Crimpton-on-Sea, in a camp called Maplins, where the entertainers were known as Yellowcoats. The main character, played by Simon Cadell, was a former professor of archaeology from Cambridge University who had taken up the post of entertainments manager after tiring of academic life. The series ran for eight years.
A peak season week at Butlins for a family of four costs from £600, but off-peak three-night breaks are available from £94 for a family of four. Last week, Pontins said its bookings were up 10 per cent and the Camping and Caravanning Club had a similar sales rise.
Number of people expected to go to Butlins camps this summer, up 15 per cent on last year's peak season figures