It's not quite Las Vegas, but Bognor Regis has redeeming qualities

Las Vegas must be rattled by the latest campaign of George V's favourite seaside resort. "Adopt a Bognor Regis Seafront Light Bulb" is the municipal invitation from the town that this week celebrates its 75th anniversary of royal endorsement.

Las Vegas must be rattled by the latest campaign of George V's favourite seaside resort. "Adopt a Bognor Regis Seafront Light Bulb" is the municipal invitation from the town that this week celebrates its 75th anniversary of royal endorsement.

Bognor Regis has more in common with Nevada's largest city than merely an affinity for artificial light. "Where the sun always shines" is the message that greets new arrivals at the end of the line, Bognor Regis railway station. The West Sussex resort claims to be the sunniest place in Britain, putting its East Sussex rival, Eastbourne, in the shade - just as Las Vegas asserts itself to have more sunshine than anywhere else in America, ahead of Phoenix in Arizona. But the bank holiday weather in Bognor was bleak; CJ's Nail and Beauty Salon, which offers artificial tans, seemed to be thriving.

Bognor was cultivated as a holiday resort at the end of the 18th century, at around the same time as Weymouth and Brighton. But for more than a century it lacked the royal patronage that its South Coast rivals enjoyed. However, as the sunniest place in the UK it was the natural choice for George V when he needed to convalesce after a serious illness early in 1929. The king stayed at Craigweil House, two miles west of the town, and felt sufficiently enamoured of Bognor to award it with the suffix Regis that very same summer. The benefit of this bestowal was tempered seven years later as the monarch lay on his deathbed. When told he would soon be well enough to return to the resort, the story goes, His Majesty's final words were: "Bugger Bognor".

His heir, Edward VIII, showed little interest in the Sussex coast, preferring Paris and tropical islands. But one young Bognorian I spoke to insisted: "The Queen would love it here." His appears to be a minority view; the consensus was that George V's dying gasp was, if anything, too kind. "It's a dump," was one of the milder descriptions given to me by the few locals who were out and about on Monday evening.

The malaise of decline and despondency is a familiar one for towns all the way along the Sussex coast, from Hastings to West Wittering. The people who used to come to the county for their holidays are now flying over it on their way south from the local airport, Gatwick. Indeed, the brightest images in the town this week were the advertisements for easyJet flights from the airport to 21 destinations, many of them sunnier than Bognor.

The annus horribilis for the regal resort was 1964, when much of the pier was swept away in a storm. The theatre in which artistes such as Charlie Chaplin and Gracie Fields had performed survived for a few more months before collapsing into the sea.

Even after the collapse, Butlin's Holiday Camp ensured a steady supply of tourists. It has matured into Butlins South Coast World, but the high fences and ranks of identical chalets still creates the impression of a prison camp.

The Regis tag was important in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the Royal Family were held in high esteem, but as with Royal Tunbridge Wells, Lyme Regis and Royal Leamington Spa, these days a regal recommendation is of little value.

The town could more profitably capitalise on its historical and artistic credentials. The Picturedrome, diagonally opposite the station, is a wonderful auditorium currently showing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Beside the London Road, an igloo-like structure turns out to be a 200-year-old ice house. And if Greater Bognor (or should that be "Bigger Bognor?") is extended to include the fine city of Chichester and the town of Arundel, the architecture and history encompass two millennia and include some of England's finest buildings.

More recently, Bognor Regis has sound literary credentials. James Joyce wrote part of Finnegan's Wake in a Victorian house close to the seafront at 6 Clarence Road, while a blue plaque on a drooping thatched cottage in the adjacent village of Felpham proclaims that William Blake, "Artist, poet and mystic lived here 1800-1803". He sharpened his arrows of desire, and his wits, in his own private Jerusalem, five minutes from the promenade.

In the battle between Bognor Regis and Las Vegas, only the Sussex resort can claim a shoreline (albeit a shingle beach). And other omens are pointing Bognor's way. Last week the first scheduled flights arrived at a "new" airport just along the coast: Brighton City, formerly known as Shoreham Aerodrome. At present, the only route is from the Channel Island of Alderney, but new routes are promised from France that could tempt tourists to Bognor Regis.

In terms of entertainment, though, the Nevada city has the edge. On Monday night I heard some excruciating karaoke at the Unicorn pub - Las Vegas can respond with the Beach Boys, who were topping last night's bill at the Mandalay Bay.


This was the week Britain gummed up. With the nation's air traffic control system in need of yet more Sellotape and string, and the cost of petrol spiralling even faster than house prices, many of us relied on the railways for excursions to the seaside and elsewhere this half-term week.

You had to choose carefully, of course. The West Coast main line between London, the West Midlands and the north west has been blocked since last weekend. So I opted for the South Coast. On Sunday, I bought a day trip ticket to Dorset from Waterloo; this entitled me to sit on a train at platform 11 for half an hour until it was cancelled, then go home.

On Monday, even buying a ticket at Victoria station for a jaunt to Bognor Regis proved baffling. The American lady in front of me in the queue politely asked for a return to Carlisle. "Sorry, you have to go to Waterloo for international tickets," said the vendor.

She tried again; same response. I intervened on her behalf, trying to explain that even stations over the Scottish border from Carlisle were not yet classed as foreign destination. Amid the station hubbub, he had mis-heard her request as "Calais".

Calais would have been much easier to reach than Bognor. The train was comically late. After an hour, while pausing for a rest outside Gatwick airport station, it suffered the ignominy of being overtaken by a later, but not-so-late-running, train that was also heading for Bognor Regis. Then the driver announced that the train had become an all-stations special, and would make guest stops at every hamlet in rural West Sussex, such as the thriving metropolis of Littlehaven Halt.

My trip was enlivened by listening to Julian Worricker's phone-in on Radio 5 Live, and in particular a caller complaining about the appalling state of transport in rural England. He explained he was driving in a four-wheel drive from Ashford to Canterbury. He had passed 23 bus-stops on his journey, with people waiting at each of them, but no sign of a bus. It had sadly not occurred to him to solve the Bank Holiday transportation problems of some of them by stopping and offering them a lift.

By Wednesday, the West of England seemed a better bet. But the last sensible train to the capital from Bristol Temple Meads encounted an avalanche of adversity from signal failures to a phantom locomotive fault. When the hundreds of passengers arrived at midnight at Paddington, just as the Tube was closing down, the precise number of First Great Western customer service staff on duty was zero.