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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Bright future for Redcoats
Butlins in Bognor Regis is one of the UK's best known holiday resorts
One of the UK's best known holiday camps is Butlins
BBC News Online's Peter Gould

It is one of the oldest clichés in show business - the holiday camp entertainer hoping for the big break that will lead to stardom.

But the tradition of the Redcoats lives on today, as I discovered on a visit to the Butlins resort in Bognor Regis.

It is now more than 60 years since the first holiday camp opened in Skegness, offering an affordable seaside holiday in less affluent times.

The company no longer uses the phrase "holiday camp".

The Redcoats are the strongest part of our branding - [entertainment] is our unique selling point.

Mike Godolphin, Butlins
It is a throwback to a different age, as played for laughs in the television series Hi-De-Hi, and definitely not the image the company wants to project today.

Its present-day "resorts" have to meet the demands of a new generation of holidaymakers who have grown up with the reference point of American-style theme parks.

But it seems that British campers - sorry, customers - are still wedded to their Redcoats.

Kitted out in their smart, two-piece red suits, they dispense cheerful smiles and non-stop entertainment.

"The Redcoats are the strongest part of our branding," said Butlins executive Mike Godolphin.
Butlins' chief redcoat Matt Rake has been at the resort for six years
Butlins' chief redcoat Matt Rake

"People who come here expect entertainment. It is our unique selling point. Eighty per cent of our entertainment is produced by ourselves, and our standards are very high."

At Bognor Regis, a team of around 30 Redcoats supervise activities for children during the day, and entertainment for their parents in the evenings.

In addition, the resort employs about two dozen "cast members" who sing and dance in the nightly shows.

Next generation

The ambition of many Redcoats is to graduate to this full-time stage work, and use it as the launching pad for a career in television or on the stage.

Chief Redcoat Matt Rake has been at Bognor for six years, and now helps to recruit the next generation of "Reds", as they are called in the business.

"It's a fun job, a great laugh," he told me.
Famous former Redcoats
Michael Barrymore
Johnny Ball
'H' from Steps
Darren Day
Jimmy Tarbuck
Des O'Connor
Sir Cliff Richard

"There is no better place to start a career in singing and dancing, or television presenting. The experience you get here is second to none."

Many star-struck teenagers have come to the same conclusion.

Every year Butlins receives between three and four thousand applications for jobs to become Redcoats.

And as in most other branches of show business, the majority are disappointed.

In all, there are just one hundred of those famous red suits to be filled each year at the three present-day resorts at Skegness, Minehead and Bognor Regis.

"We are looking for people who can communicate, and are not nervous," said Matt.

"We want people who are happy and outgoing, and who can be themselves."

Someone who clearly fitted the bill was 20-year-old Natalie Miller, from Harrogate, in Yorkshire.


Just a few weeks ago she graduated with a BA honours degree from the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama.

Now she has landed her job, as part of the latest intake of Redcoats at Bognor.

"It is fantastic and I am loving every minute of it," she told me as she strolled around the swimming pool, chatting to holidaymakers.

"To do a job where you are pleasing people gives you a buzz. The only sad thing is seeing the kids crying when they have to go home."

Natalie thinks she will spend a year or two as a Redcoat. As someone with an eye on an acting career, she knows it will be long enough to earn her an Equity card, allowing her to look for stage and television work.

Pressed about her ambitions, she admitted that what she really wanted was a part in her favourite TV soap. So look out for that name in a year or two in the credits for Coronation Street.

Butlins knows that many of its young recruits are not likely to stay at the seaside for long. The lure of the bright lights of the West End and the TV studios are hard to resist.

But the company takes a pride in its reputation as a proving ground for new talent, either its own staff or visiting acts.
Natalie Miller is a new recruit to the Redcoats
One new Redcoat is Natalie Miller

"We have become a credible place for up and coming bands to play," said Mike Godolphin.

"They benefit from the promotion and the experience of playing in front of audiences of two or three thousand people.

"We have come a long way, and we get a positive response now from record companies.

"This is a great training ground, and we don't want to lose the idea that this is a place where stars can grow up."

The BBC's Peter Gould
"Dreaming of a career in showbusiness"

At the seaside

See also:

14 Aug 01 | UK
25 Feb 01 | Business
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