Extract from the unpublished book "Follow the rainbow to Butlin's" by Paul Wray and Rocky Mason
Used with permission
If you used to work as a Redcoat then why not check out our "Where Are You Now?" page to see if anyone is looking to find you or to send us details of anyone who you're looking to find.
The main responsibility for entertaining the campers and keeping them happy fell to a body of men and women whose origins go back to one of the very first weeks in 1936 at Skegness holiday camp.
In the first few days of the opening of his first camp Billy Butlin sensed that something was missing, the campers were not using the camp in the way that he had envisaged. Many of them sat about aimlessly, keeping to their own family groups and even more worrying for Billy Butlin was that some of them looked bored. Although Butlin's had all the facilities that the campers needed it became obvious that they needed to be encouraged to use them.
It was either later that same day or possibly the following day that Bill was sat talking to Norman Bradford, who was a senior engineer at the building of Skegness camp. Bill asked Norman if he could liven the campers up a bit. Norman had a natural, outgoing, fun loving personality and with a laugh and a joke he would always play to a crowd, he was totally incapable of resisting an audience.
The ice was broken. After dinner that night Norman went up on stage and laughed and joked with the campers. He then proceeded to tell them about the various facilities and activities that were going on in and around the camp. Next he told everyone to turn to the person on their right, introduce themselves and shake hands. At first there was a bit of embarrassment but people soon followed Norman's request."Now" continued Norman "turn to the person on your left and do the same". This time people did it with more gusto and friendliness, the ice had been broken. Throughout the dining room people began talking to each other and at last the place buzzed with the friendly, happy atmosphere, Bill had hoped for.
It was later that very same evening that Bill Butlin decided that the togetherness Norman had managed to achieve between the campers was what was needed for the holiday camps to be successful. More like Norman were needed, an "army" who could be easily recognised by their uniforms. The next day Norman was asked to go out and purchase a very distinctive blazer which was to be the camp uniform. He later returned with a jacket in the theme colours of the camp, blue, primrose yellow and white. Somehow the blazer didn't give quite the message Bill had wanted, It seemed to say authority and regimentation, the last thing that a nation of holiday makers needed. Bill's mind eventually turned to a red blazer and white flannels which were bright, cheerful and definitely noticeable. The first and probably many more were made by Billie Ditchfield who along with Kay Berry became the first two female Redcoats. A week or so later Norman Bradford bounced onto the stage one breakfast-time and shouted a hearty "good morning" to which he received a resounding "good morning" back.
The hub bub of excitement increased as Norman outlined the days activities. It became noticeable that the holiday makers who were mostly amongst strangers, felt comfortable and more at ease with someone they felt was a friend who would give them information and advice. They liked the entertainment, sports activities and competitions which were laid on for them because they had the choice to either take part or not. The Redcoats were born.
A Butlin's Redcoat is a host or hostess, who is part of the entertainment staff. It is their responsibility to see that the campers needs are taken care of. They always ate with the campers and even slept in the campers' chalet lines. Butlin's holiday camps supplied the launch pad for many of our talented entertainers more than any other showcase in Britain. The following is just a short list of stars who started their careers as a Butlin's Redcoat, many never having appeared on a stage before:
Dave Allen; Charlie Drake; Des O'Connor; Clinton Ford; Ted Rogers; Michael Barrymore; Cliff Richard; Roy Hudd; Terry Scott; Freddy Davis; Jimmy Tarbuck; Johnny Ball; Russ Hamilton; Lou Grant; Ken Woods; Tony Peers; Mike Newman; Lester and Smart; Safari and Kim; Mike Burton; Colin Crompton; Bill Simpson; Moira Anderson; Dave Butler; Jimmy Cricket; William G. Stewart;
As mentioned above, a number of Butlins Redcoats have gone on to make the big time, click on the links below to read some of their stories.
The following "Standing Instructions" were issued at the Skegness camp in 1980.
Thanks to Martin Kelleher for supplying the scans
Click on each page for a larger view
If you can keep your wits when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on to you.
If you face the bustle of Reception without a break from half past eight until two.
If you can grin and not get tired whilst humping baggage down the chalet way,
and listen to guests' life stories from breakfast and right through the day.
If then you face some Old Time Dancers and satisfy their curious appetite,
by doing on your own the Lancers and waltzing with the grannies half the night.
If you can flog a thousand raffle tickets and call Bingo, morning, night and noon,
while happy laughing guests take the micky, it's plain you'll last till June.
If you can hold a crowded Pig & Whistle, refusing ale and drinks galore,
by singing songs of shamrock, rose and thistle until the guests shout and ask for more.
If you can tame two hundred Bonnie Babes and dry a thousand Beavers tears,
or cope with sundry lonely ladies acquiring knowledge beyond your years.
If you can suffer rigours of the season at Bognor, Clacton or the Metropole,
and satisfy all beyond rhyme or reason that you do not deserve the dole.
If you can soothe a mob of jiving Beatnicks
and persevere till the job is done, you may be sure you've mastered all the neat tricks...
Why? - You'll Be A Redcoat Son!!!
Written by the late, Frank Mansell
When the Redcoats really were,
`The Famous Butlin Redcoats'
Submitted by Ron Stanway April 2002.
Everything is further away than it used to be.
It is even twice as far to the corner and they have added a hill.
I have given up running for the bus: it leaves much earlier than it used to.
It seems to me they are making the stairs steeper than in the old days.
And have you noticed the smaller print they use in the newspapers?
Can't call the Bingo anymore as the balls with the numbers on
are smaller than they used to be.
There is no sense in asking anyone to read aloud anymore, as everyone
speaks in such a low voice I can hardly hear them.
The material in clothes is so skimpy now, especially around the hips and waist,
so much so, that it's almost impossible to reach one's shoelaces.
Even people are changing. They are so much younger than they used to be
when I was their age.
On the other hand, people my own age are so much older than I am.
I ran into an old Redcoat the other day and they had aged so much
that they didn't recognise me!
I got to thinking about the poor soul while I was combing my hair this morning
and in doing so I glanced at my own reflection.
Really now, they don't even make good mirrors like they used to.
Although the Redcoat uniform has always been based around a red blazer, it has seen several facelifts over the years. The following photos show some of the different outfits over the years, as well as some proposed Redcoat uniforms from the 1970's. Click on each image for a larger view.