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Kids on train - Courtesy of Butlins Archive Department

  Rocky Mason Entertainment Manager
Telephone interview between
Sarah Daniels (SD) & Rocky Mason

SD Can you tell me a bit about when you started at Butlin’s Filey, what year it was and what your job entailed?

RM Well I started in 1957. I had been a boxer and I got a job as a Redcoat boxing instructor although I very quickly got into the entertaining side of it and didn’t do a great deal of boxing. I just enjoyed being a compère, commentating and doing shows. The day I arrived I can remember vividly. I’m 75 now, yet I can still clearly remember the day I walked on to Butlin’s Camp at Filey. I had never been to a Butlin’s Camp and I walked through the main gates to go to the entertainment office and there were lights across the roads, there were banners fluttering in the breeze, there seemed to be music coming from every direction. The swimming pool was the most beautiful, beautiful thing I had ever seen, there were flags all around the pool, and it was a stunning colour of blue. I saw rows and rows of chalets all with different coloured doors and windows, red, yellows, blues, greens, orange, it was just a gorgeous place to be and there seemed to be laughter coming from every building. I could hear singing coming from a bar, laughter coming from another building and it really was a tremendous experience and it is a tremendous memory.

SD From where did you travel?

RM From Bradford. Bradford was a very dreary city covered in mill smoke, there were lots of mills and factories then in Bradford. It was very dull and the sky was always grey. When I got to the camp I felt as if I’d suddenly walked into Utopia - you know it was so colourful, so warm, so friendly, it was a beautiful experience.

SD How did you get the job?

RM A friend of mine wrote. I had met a boxer, Harry Griver his name was. He was a very well known boxer, I mean Imperial Services Champion, ABA Champion, a Golden Gloves Champion and we became friends. Harry wrote to me. He was a lightweight and he knew a big fellow called Ken Gardner who was a heavyweight, I was in between their two weights and they wanted me to join them as a boxing team.

SD So you were a bit hard?

RM I wouldn’t say that.

SD Did you grow up in Bradford?

RM Yes I did. Apart from being evacuated during the war and then doing National Service, I had pretty much been tied to Bradford.

SD It must have been very different when you got to the coast?

RM Oh it was wonderful, you know, people didn’t have motor cars in those days, so you didn’t travel much and suddenly I walked through the gates at Butlin’s, Filey, all the colour, all the atmosphere, all the laughter. When I booked in at the entertainment office I was told to draw my uniform, which was a red jacket, white trousers, white shirts, white shoes and bow ties and then take the rest of the day off. After I’d drawn the uniform I had enough time to walk around the camp and it was fascinating. I walked into the French bar which was the biggest bar in the world and there was an organ in there behind glass, the largest organ in the world. Then I walked through a door into the amusement park, which was one of the largest in the world and when I’d seen the amusement park, I walked to the swimming pool. It was an Olympic size swimming pool. It was enormous. Then there were maybe 15 tennis courts and miles and miles of sports fields. Everything was breathtaking.

SD Did you think then that you never wanted
to leave?

RM Well, I very soon felt I didn’t want to leave; in fact I went intending to do one season and stayed about 28.

SD That was a long time. So was it right until the end you stayed or did you leave before?

RM Well, Butlin’s share of the market wasn’t what it had been by 1980ish and so I had to leave in 1983 when they closed Filey. In the 50’s when I joined, there were no package deals, people were not going abroad. That gradually crept up on us in the 60’s. Until then, our share of the market was phenomenal. We had 8 camps, all-catering for in the region of 12,000 people with 1,000 people on the staff. In our heyday when we had no competition from package holidays abroad, we were at the top of the league.

SD How did someone from boxing then get into entertainment?

RM Well, I watched all the other entertainers. Dave Allen was a Red Coat but his name was Dave Tinan O’Mahoney and his brother Johnny was with me for about 10 years. Johnny O’Mahoney was a very talented young man and I became friendly with him and he said ‘look you have the courage to go out and do it, just pick up a microphone, do anything and take it easy’. So I did children’s competitions and quiz shows that nobody else wanted and called bingo and things like that until I developed a microphone technique. Johnny used to give me tips and advice and funny lines, you know, like when you were doing the ‘Knobbly Knees’ competition there were funny remarks you could make - ‘Goodness he’s got so many veins in his leg, he looks like a road map’ or ‘I’ve seen more fat on a jockey’s whip’, little things like that and you developed a routine to do a certain competition. Then the more you did it the better you got. My name’s Rocky and I had a show on Thursday nights called ‘Rendezvous with Rocky’ and Johnny O’Mahoney had a show on Tuesday night called ‘O’Mahoney’s Madness’. Of course we went round all the Redcoats, picked the best acts we could, put them in the show and did these two very late night shows.

SD What other things spring to mind when you think back over the earlier years and compare the difference to the later years?

RM Well, in the early years, we called the customers ‘campers’. It gradually developed until they were called ‘guests’. Above all the toilets it said ‘Lads and Lasses’. Later on it said ‘ladies and gentlemen’ and the whole tone changed. We stopped being camps about the mid 60’s and became ‘Holiday Centres’. Once people had been abroad once or twice they still returned to Butlin’s but they were more sophisticated, they had seen a different type of holiday and they were more demanding. Also television had come in and people were seeing great shows on TV, so I think Butlin’s started to lose its market by about the late 60’s, that’s my honest opinion. We used to do the ‘Au Revoir’ on Friday night when people were leaving and I have seen tears in people’s eyes because they were going home the next day. All the Redcoats would march in and we’d link up arms in front of the campers and do a slow kicking dance singing ‘Goodnight campers, don’t sleep in your braces. Goodnight campers, soak your teeth in Jeyes’. We stopped the routine because you couldn’t sing things like that to a modern audience, although it was popular in its day. Three thousand people standing in front of you, lots of them weeping, all wanting to shake your hand and promising to see you next year. I was a House Captain for years, we had a champagne spinner, it was an enormous… like a clock with all the numbers and rows on the face. You spun the arm on the clock and it would stop at a table number, then a row number and then maybe twenty Redcoats would line up. Everybody would clap and you’d march to the table that had won the bottle of champagne. You would have a lot of fun and if anyone had a birthday you would do the same thing, but suddenly it all became very old fashioned.

SD So you don’t think the decline was all down to the bad British weather as such but more to do with people wanting to experience different things?

RM We couldn’t compete with foreign holidays, that’s about the beginning and end of it. People could go to Spain cheaper than they could come to us. When holidays are first launched they attract holidaymakers by being dirt cheap. Once they establish themselves, they then put their prices up. It was really hard to compete at the time.

SD How long did you actually stay at
Butlin's Filey?

RM I left Filey as Chief Redcoat in 1962 after starting in 57. Butlin’s then made me Deputy Manager at Minehead, which was a new camp just opening. I then went off to Pwllheli, then Bognor Regis, then they moved me to Skegness and then off to Pwllheli again as Entertainment Manager. I went back to Filey about the mid 70’s as the Leisure and Amenities Controller. I ran the shops, the bars, the coffee bars, the gaming and the entertainment. I ran every leisure amenity on the entire camp so that was a wonderful feeling you know, to drive back to Filey where I had left as a Redcoat and to take over the entire camp. It was lovely.

SD Did your wife and family stay with you at
the camps?

RM Yes, my wife became a Butlin Redcoat when I was a compère, in fact I became the Senior Butlin’s Compère and for about 7 or 8 years I did all the television work. We used to televise the ‘Holiday Princess of Great Britain’, ‘The Glamorous Grandmother of Great Britain’ and the ‘Miss She Fashion Competition’ for Southern Television. I was the compère and my wife was on the beauty circuit. She was Miss Bristol, Miss English Rose, Miss Pink Lady of Great Britain and lots of other holiday princesses of various holiday camps. This was how we met, I was the compère at a competition my wife entered, and we became an item and then got married. My wife became a Redcoat, eventually becoming Chief Hostess. My daughter was born in the winter (we often ran the holiday camps as a winter social club for local residents) just over the fence at Bognor and she also became a Redcoat.

SD What did you do in the winter?

RM Well in the first couple of years we used to close the camps in the winter. At Filey I had to go on to maintenance to keep my job. After I gained a couple of years of experience they sent me to the Butlin Hotels, which were open right throughout the winter. Only the top Redcoats got a job in the Butlin hotels, like Jimmy Tarbuck, Dave Allen, Johnny O’Mahoney. All the good Redcoats got work in the winter in the hotels. Eventually when you became a Manager you would move from your summer camp and take over the hotels.

SD What was the best thing about Filey and after it closed, what was the worst thing for you?

RM The most dreadful thing was losing all your friends, I mean we didn’t know Filey was closing. We closed at the end of season, all of us thinking we were going to go back the following season and then suddenly we were all informed that that’s it, Filey has closed and you are redundant, end of story. It was dreadfully, dreadfully sad, it was a sad situation. My policy was to make friends with everyone who worked for me, if they weren’t a friend, I didn’t invite them back and therefore I got the best compères, the best bar entertainers, the best hostesses and we are still friends now. I still get 160 Christmas cards and I have been gone for 23 years. Sometimes we have a reunion and we’ll have maybe 50, 60, 80 people attend. There are so many dramatic moments in your lifetime. When I was a child I use to go to the cinema and I use to watch a cowboy called ‘Hop Along Cassidy’. When I was Chief Redcoat, the Manager said ‘I’ve got a special job for you’. He said we’ve got ‘Hop Along Cassidy’ coming next week, he’s coming for a couple of days and I want you to meet him, take care of him, escort him around and introduce him to the campers, so that was a wonderful thing you know. All of us met all the big stars, I was a friend of Bob Monkhouse for 30 years, Ted Rodgers for 30 years, and we went out for meals together. If you picked up Dave Allen’s biography I’m on almost every page. We just had wonderful times together, absolutely tremendous.

SD You saw so many changes over the years. Were some good and some bad?

RM Well, for me because I was ‘Butlinised’, it was very sad. You know we used to have these wonderful campers coming along. Every year Butlin’s gave them a badge and the campers would love to come with a piece of tape that was maybe 12 inches long with 15 badges on. They’d been to every camp, every year and they were wonderful people and it was sad to see it go.



Disclaimer - This site is dedicated to preserving the memories and heritage of the Filey Butlins camp. It has no connection whatsoever with Butlins, Bourne Leisure or any associated companies, nor has it been endorsed by them.

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copyright images - Sarah Daniels