Give 'em what they want

Before the war, people from London’s East End didn’t have holidays as we know them today.

Two weeks off doing nothing.

They couldn’t afford it, if they didn’t work, they didn’t get paid.

So the nearest they got to a holiday was to go hop-picking.

They jumped in a lorry which took them to the hop fields.

Then they spent two weeks in Kent getting paid for picking hops.

They loved it because they were in the country, in the sun and the open air.

They got away from the East End and the grime and the routine.

To them it was like a holiday.

But after the war, things changed for the working class.

Your employer had to give you two week’s PAID holiday a year.

Ordinary people had two weeks off, doing nothing.

This was a new concept for the working class, they’d never had time off doing nothing.

They weren’t like the middle class who knew how to enjoy leisure time: reading books, going to concerts, visiting museums, art galleries, historical or cultural sites.

The working class didn’t know what to do.

Which is where a man called Billy Butlin came in.

Billy Butlin had been a fairground owner before the war, so he knew how the working class spent their leisure time.

He recognised several things were happening at once that could be brought together:

1. The working class had two weeks off, and they didn’t know where to go or what to do.

2. They had the money to pay for somewhere to stay.

3. With the war being over, the Army was being disbanded and Army camps were becoming empty all over Britain.

And Billy Butlin put these three things together.

He bought up empty Army camps for less than half what they were worth.

He turned them into holiday camps.

He put entertainment into each of these camps: swimming pools, dancing, bingo, fairground rides, silly competitions.

And then he launched a new lifestyle concept using simple logic that anyone could understand:


Everyone could understand that, everyone could see how it made sense.

It sounded like a fair deal, a straight swap.

You swap a week’s wages for a week’s holiday.

Who wouldn’t want that?

And Billy Butlin’s understanding of what the working class wanted worked.

To make sure they didn’t have a chance to get bored, he even hired people whose job it was to keep them entertained at all times, he called them redcoats.

Which itself became a training for professional entertainers.

People like: Benny Hill, Des O’Connor, Cliff Richard, Jimmy Tarbuck.

They trained to entertain the working class, so they knew what the working class wanted.

And they all became very successful, as did Butlin's.

At its height, a million ordinary people a year visited Butlin's.

There’s a lot of money in knowing what ordinary people want. 

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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