Review of ‘Wish You Were Here’ by Lynn Russell and Neil Hanson

These true life stories of several women who worked as redcoats at Butlin’s holiday camps were a good read, even if the content did overlap. I expect that the book is targeted at older generations who worked or holidayed at Butlin’s in the 60s and 70s, but it’s also an interesting account of how different society was back then, so it will appeal if you like easy-to-read social history.

Book cover of Wish You Were Here, showing a woman in an old-fashioned bikini on a diving board.

The book is divided into the stories of Hilary, Mavis, Valerie, Valda, Sue, Terri and Anji. It’s narrated in third person, with many quotes which sound like they are the outcome of interviews that the authors had with the women. I liked how their experiences of Butlin’s are linked to what else happened in their lives. Some of them are still friends many years later and attend reunions. Working as a redcoat, spending all day and much of the night entertaining the campers, sounds absolutely exhausting, but they all seemed to enjoy it despite some of the negative aspects. They all say, of course, that Butlin’s today is not what it was, due to a variety of factors. It’s not my kind of holiday, but I can appreciate how special an experience it was back in the golden era of British holiday camps, when whole streets, families or groups of workers would descend on the miles of chalets and entertainment venues to have a great time. I wish there had been some photographs included in this book.

Published by Harper Element, 2014.

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