Multi-millionaire Sir William Butlin, who started making his fortune tune in Skegness and put the resort firmly on the on map in the process, paid a return visit to switch on the 1977 illuminations. Massive crowds, jammed solid along the seafront, were there to greet him on the Monday evening.
And what a welcome they gave the 77-year-old founder of Butlin’s holiday camps when he arrived in an open landau at the swimming pool for the ceremony. He had joined the torchlight procession at the County Hotel, where he was staying, and the 90 ATC torch bearers, six Redcoats and the Janice Sutton dancers escorted him to the rostrum overlooking the pool.
While they were waiting the audience had seen an “It’s a Knockout” series of water games by teams comprising members of the Skegness, Scunthorpe, Mablethorpe and Louth “It’s a Knockout” teams. The commentary was given by Mr Tony Fisher.
The arrangements were made by the pool supervisor, Mr Fred Beeby, and his staff, who, at the end, challenged the winning team to a rowing boat tug-of-war.
Sir William was introduced by Dr William Browne, chairman of East Lindsey District Council, who welcomed him back to Skegness in its centenary year.
Sir William, who is patron of the centenary, thanked everyone for their warm welcome, saying: “This visit is almost like a homecoming.”
The town had changed a great deal since he first came 51 years ago. He appreciated how difficult things were in these times but he was confident that Skegness would go on from strength to strength.
“I shall never forget the great part Skegness played in my life,” he said. He wished the resort not only a successful season but many more in the years to come.
As he pressed the switch and the lights sprang to life along the whole mile of seafront, rockets exploded in the sky behind him.
Thanking him, the Mayor, Coun Harry Hall, spoke of Sir William’s close relationship with the town and the way he had devoted himself to the leisure industry, which was one of the biggest industries in the country today. His achievements had made him a household name.
Coun Hall also paid tribute to the hard work of everyone who had played any part in organising the torchlight procession and switch-on and making it such a memorable evening.
Contrary to popular belief many people gave up their time without pay for this kind of thing and it was very good for the town.
As Sir William already had a jolly fisherman statuette, the Mayor presented him with a framed Skegness Centenary design in lace, featuring the same famous character. This had been made by Stiebels of Nottingham at their Skegness factory.
The mayor called it a token of the town’s appreciation and Sir William replied that it was something he would admire for years.
Then the procession reformed to take him back to the County Hotel, which stands on the site of his first large-scale amusement site in the thirties.
Sir William came back later to a reception in the Compass Restaurant. Among those present was Mr Harry Oakes, Butlinland’s general manager since 1957, who came there from the Admiralty when it was HMS Royal Arthur during the war and joined the Butlin organisation as engineer in charge when the camp reopened in 1946.
At the reception was Mr Peter Dacre of the Sunday Express, who is helping Sir William to write his autobiography, which should be on sale next summer.
He told the “Standard” that Billy Butlin, as he then was, rented 300 yards of sand dunes when he came to Skegness in 1926 for 150 a year. He got it levelled for nothing by advertising the sand to builders, offering it free if they would move it. He was “over the moon” about his return visit.
Sir William, who retired in 1968, met Coun Bob Stowe of Ingoldmells, again at the reception. Coun Stowe’s father drove the sewage pipes through the dunes for the first Butlin’s holiday camp when it was built at Ingoldmells in the mid 1930’s.
The Centenary Action Committee held a “Switched On” dance from 11 pm to 2 am at the Festival Pavilion. About 250 people danced to ,the Wedgwood Blue, a four-man dance group of the Royal Staffordshire Regiment.
This was the committee’s second dance at the Pavilion. Only 100 attended the first one, at which the Brass Roots, from Grantham, provided the music and because of that poor response a third one planned for next Monday has been cancelled.