Back in the day of the baby boomers Butlin’s at Bognor Regis was one of the places to go for a holiday by the seaside from London.
Families of a certain generation will remember packing everything in the back of their tiny Morris Minor or Ford Anglia and rolling off to the seaside.
They were simpler times. It was a packed lunch of boiled eggs and ham sandwiches on the way down rather than a stop at Costa.
READ MORE: Drab 1960s house almost unrecognisable after stunning transformation
This wasn’t your package tour to Greece, this was simple amusement arcades, fish and chips in sit-down restaurants, freezing your butt off on the beach kind of stuff.
In its original heyday in the 1960s, Butlin’s had simple family chalets, basic food and usually ridiculously tacky entertainment.
There was Bingo aplenty, good old fashioned fairground rides, freezing outdoor swimming pools and the friendly Butlin’s redcoats all on hand to make your stay go with a bang.
Bognor itself wasn’t at all the worst of places to be either.
It had clean pebbly beaches, good views over the English channel, crazy golf and a promenade train.
It had once been just a seaside fishing village. But when King George V became ill in the late 1920s it was decided he would have to spend large parts of his time by the seaside to help his lung condition.
The King was told he should therefore give the place the title of ‘Regis’ – meaning ‘of the King’, but he famously turned round to his private secretary and said “Oh Bugger Bognor”.
Anyway, he rocked up at Craigwell House, right by the beach, to take in the sea air nonetheless.
In the 1930, entrepreneur Billy Butlin brought an amusement park called the Recreation Shelter to Bognor. It had dodgems and various rides.
Later he opened a zoo which had everything from polar bears, hyenas and leopards, to pelicans, kangaroos, monkeys and snakes.
And in 1960 the legendary Butlin’s holiday camp opened.
For a while it was cherished, but as package tours overseas took off more and more in the 1970s and 1980s, Butlin’s went downhill.
It got a reputation for being tacky, shabby and outdated – and the territory of drunk stags and hens on dirty weekends rather than family fun.
Basically it became a place best known for getting completely smashed, meeting some dubious member of the opposite sex and staggering back to a chalet.
When you woke up with a horrific headache you’d head for breakfast at the cafe.
There was also reputation for sticky sheets and warm beer.
The real tragedy was that many older people still saw it for what it was back in the day – and continued to go there on coach trips, seemingly unaware of the debauchery going on around them.
But since then the place has made a remarkable comeback.
Do you want to stay up to date with the latest news, views, features and opinion from across the city?
MyLondon’s brilliant newsletter The 12 is absolutely jam packed with all the latest to keep you keep you entertained, informed and uplifted.
You’ll get 12 stories straight to your inbox at around 12pm. It’s the perfect lunchtime read.
And what’s more – it’s FREE!
The MyLondon team tells London stories for Londoners. Our journalists cover all the news you need – from City Hall to your local streets, so you’ll never miss a moment.
Don’t skip a beat and sign up to The 12 newsletter here.
Now known as Butlin’s Bognor Regis Resort, in the early 2000s it erected a large indoor leisure park and three new hotels.
This has taken the emphasis away from the old-fashioned chalet accommodation.
There are now top-class gyms and leisure facilities and kid’s entertainment that is plugged into the latest shows on children’s TV – with all the characters kids love from Justin Fletcher to PJ Masks.
There are amazing swimming pools and water rides, fairgrounds and soft play.
Theme weekends are held for adult parties with 80s or 90s bands bringing even the nostalgia a bit more up-to-date.
People largely seem to agree it’s pretty decent, and on Tripadvisor it now has a four out of five-star rating.
Some 2011 out of 5,000 reviews are ‘excellent’ and only 500 are ‘terrible’.
One reviewer wrote after a recent 80s-themed weekend: “Had a fantastic weekend as always at the 80s weekender.
“A lot of laughs and the staff were fantastic, always full of smiles and very helpful, couldn’t fault anything about the weekend. The room was clean, the entertainment was good, sad to go home”
A grandmother who took her granddaughter to Butlins in October 2021 wrote: “Granddaughter loved every second of our trip to Bognor.
“She fell in love with the Kkyline gang and loved all the character photo shoots. So much for her to do and with all the fairground rides being free and indoor soft play there was always something to do between shows and food.”
But the air of shabbiness and faded glamour still persists in some of the reviews.
One slightly grumbling customer wrote: “We enjoyed our four-night break. Entertainment was good. Booking system was OK.
“Meal time was busy and it was clear staff levels were short as is everywhere at the moment and the team worked hard.
“Felt like the accommodation needed some TLC and could hear everything getting said next door.”
And some reviewers are clear that they weren’t overly impressed.
One outraged customer wrote: “First time we went to Bogner! Absolutely horrible place to come. Gold apartment isn’t gold at all!
“Dirty towels under bed! Shower was so bad I wouldn’t even put my feet there!
“People very rude! BF went to lay in bed after 5 mins rash everywhere! We been moved to Ocean Hotel but still so many bad experience!”
Well, why not make up your own mind and be one of a new generation of Londoners bringing their summer holidays back to Bognor!
Butlin’s was contacted for comment but did not respond before publication.
Want more from MyLondon? Sign up to our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from across London here.
Do you have a story you think we should be covering? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org