Sir William Heygate Edmund Colborne "Billy" Butlin (29 September 1899 – 12 June 1980) was an early pioneer of the British holiday camp scene and is credited with turning it into a multi-million pound industry, the holiday camps synonymous with his name becoming a huge part of British culture and still remaining popular today.
Billy achieved all of this from humble beginnings, born to British parents living in South Africa before relocating with his mother to England, and then on to Canada by the age of 14. After the First World War, he returned to England with only £5 in his pocket, the majority of which he invested in a stall so that he could join his uncle’s travelling fair. An astute business sense and a natural flair with customers contributed to his success and he was soon able to branch out and go it alone, eventually opening a static fairground in Skegness in 1927.
It was whilst building his fairground empire over the years that followed, that Billy began to develop an idea inspired by the summer camps he had visited during his time in Canada. He thought to combine the fun of the seaside and the fair with affordable accommodation and entertainment for all the family, sold on the promise of “A week’s holiday for a week’s wages”. The first Butlin’s camp opened in Skegness in 1936 and rapidly became a hit, with another following in Clacton in 1938. Further camps at Mosney, Bognor Regis, Minehead and Barry Island, and hotels in Blackpool, Saltdean, and Cliftonville were constructed and proved successful during the post-war boom.
By the time of Billy Butlin’s retirement in 1968, holidaymakers in the hundreds of thousands had visited his holiday camps, and would continue to in the decades that followed and into the twenty-first century.
He was honoured posthumously in the British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame in 1996.