Magazine article The Spectator

Something Unique

Magazine article The Spectator

Something Unique

Article excerpt

This is the story of teo visionaries. Billy Butlin needs no introduction but John Hinde is more obscure. Camera buffs will know him as one of the pioneers of colour photography in the late 1930s. Colour, however, was simply not part of the high culture of mid-century photography, and in 1956 Hinde set up a postcard business that became the biggest and most successful in Britain. By 1965 we have convergence, when John Hinde Ltd was hired to produce a series of some 50 postcards of Butlin's camps the length and breadth of Britain.

Blown up to a 50 inches by 40 inches format, Hinde's Butlin's images have a disturbing back-to-the-future quality. Their dream-like distinctness was not accidental. Hinde was a perfectionist and his hard-- pressed photographers would spend a whole day carefully positioning as many as 32 flashbulbs and then marshalling sizable crowds for a single all-or-nothing shot. Admirers of post-war black-and-white documentary photography may argue that there is little to be learnt from these obviously posed tableaux. But despite the artifice, they stand as some of the most remarkable documents of post-war Britain at play.

Billy Butlin touchingly believed that his relentless timetable of early morning wake-- up calls, exercise classes and endless joky competitions for Knobbly Knees and Glamorous Grannies would help his holidaymakers develop charm and individuality. To that end, he imposed a regime of pleasure based on structures more usually found in sanatoria, army barracks and prisons. Nonetheless, Butlin recognised something unique about Britain (or perhaps just England). A high percentage of the population felt rootless and ill at ease. Butlin responded with a reassuring framework and with poetry. `Our true intent is all for your delight' was his slogan. It glowed in sansserif lights on the clock tower by the Skegness open-air swimming-pool. …

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