Post-war Britain was a grey, drab place where work was hard and poorly paid, slums, smogs, smoke-blackened buildings and bomb-sites still scarred the landscape and food and clothing were often as dull as the weather. For many Britons their only respite from hard graft and hard times was the annual summer holiday. Only the wealthy could afford overseas holidays, but many ordinary families found colour, glamour and excitement at Butlin’s holiday camps. As one camper said: ‘I felt as if I’d suddenly walked into Utopia; it was so colourful, so warm, so friendly. There were lights across the roads, there were banners fluttering in the breeze… There seemed to be laughter coming from every building.’ For one blissful week, fathers forgot the factory, wives and mothers escaped the drudgery of cooking and housework, and kids could run wild in complete safety. There was every conceivable entertainment for adults and children alike and best of all, once you’d paid for your accommodation, it was all free!
Wish You Were Here!, co-written with Lynn Russell, is the true life, “Hi De Hi” story of seven Butlin’s girls, who worked as redcoats in the holiday camps’ Golden Age. We’ve told the story of their lives in and out of the camps, their laughter and love affairs, hardships and heartbreaks, and above all the friendships they formed with each other and with those who also worked or spent their holidays there. It’s been inspiring and humbling that the seven - Mavis, Hilary, Valerie, Valda, Sue, Anji and Terri - were willing to share the stories of their lives with us - and there really must have been something about Butlin’s because each one had an extraordinary tale to tell.
Wish You Were Here! is a nostalgic look back at a now vanished era, but above all it’s a tribute to those women, for whom Butlin’s wasn’t just a place of work, but a way of life and even a home. All loved their time as redcoats and have treasured memories and lifelong friendships as a result. And although the Golden Age is over, the Butlin’s name still evokes a smile of recognition in almost everyone. Wish You Were Here? Many still do.