12th June 1980

Holiday pioneer Billy Butlin dies in Jersey

Billy Butlin’s name will forever be tied to a certain type of British holiday. The South African-born entrepreneur’s first foray into entertainment came when he set up a gaming stall at the end of the First World War. This proved so successful that he was able to invest his takings in more and more stalls and, eventually, a travelling fairground.

A growing network of camps

He set down roots in 1936, opening his first holiday camp in Skegness and, in 1938, Clacton. Eventually he had nine holiday camps to his name, plus three separate hotels and two further camps overseas: one in Ireland and one on Grand Bahama. One of the original chalets at the Skegness camp is now a listed building.

The concept was simple but successful: the camps would be keenly priced (starting at 35 shillings a week) and provide enough entertainment to keep guests on site throughout their stay. He is said to have been inspired by a holiday he’d taken at a B&B between the wars. The accommodation had been locked during the day and guests were forced to find their own entertainment until they could return for dinner.

Televisual inspiration

The formula was later used as the basis the BBC comedy series Hi-De-Hi, which also gave a nod to the Grand Bahama Butlins in an episode when one of the Yellow Coats was set to transfer to Maplins’ glamorous overseas camp until it was destroyed by a hurricane.

Like many other successful entrepreneurs, Butlin was stung by the high rates of income tax levied in Britain in the 1970s. As a result, he became a tax exile, moving to Blair Adam House in St John, Jersey. He died here on 12 June 1980, aged 80, and is buried in the same parish.


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