Define a Butlins Legend: Remembering Big Joe

    Define a Butlins Legend? There are so many different answers to that question.

    There are plenty out there who fit the bill, for so many different reasons; going back to the very beginning when Norman Bradford pulled on the first Redcoat Blazer in 1936.

    Every camp and Hotel had them and they all played their part in the Butlins Story, but for me, being a Butlin Legend was not just about being a showbusiness success story.

    It was about special individuals who lived and breathed the Butlins experience, that brought so much joy to thousands of holiday makers, respected by staff from all departments and was always the first name mentioned by guests on arrival at Reception.

    As a holidaymaker, I had been in the presence of many Butlins Legends, working alongside a number of them at the camp at Ayr and meeting many more from other camps attending the various reunions, of whom I am privileged to call them friends. They are all special people.

    487584 4662329966368 163483180 nSadly, this week, and with a heavy heart, we said farewell to one of our own and one of Butlins Ayr’s biggest characters, Joe Byrne, who in the words of my good lady, was more than a Butlins Legend, he was a Legend in the eyes of everyone who knew him. He had it all, a fabulous singing voice, a superb comic talent, and often a headache for those in authority. But that was Joe, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. When he used to walk around the camp dressed as a mischievous schoolboy, he could get away with anything. And the campers, old and young loved him for it.

    Who ever was on holiday, they would come away with special memories and it would be fair to say that Joe would feature in there somewhere, like on the Sports Field on “Donkey Derby”, “It’s a Knockout” or even going around the venues, selling Beaver Badges. In the Stuart Ballroom, Joe would rule the roost, winding up the punters during whatever the event, whatever the time of day, during competitions, demonstrations or even things like “Filmed Horse Racing.” Only Joe would almost generate a “Stewards Enquiry”, tapping “No 5” on the rear end when it was about to jump the fence with the Jockey falling off. No surprises who got the blame for that.

    In the Redcoat show, there was the classic Ballet Routines where the video evidence remains for all to see along with his wind ups at the side of the stage.

    Tea Time with Wendy and Big Joe

     

    But it was on the stage, Joe really shone where not only he displayed his comic talents through the various sketches and routines, but when he walked on wearing his Reds or his evening Civvies to sing, that was when his true passion came to the fore. The audience could not get enough of it.  There was no doubt he was the most popular and talented member of the Redcoat Team and an absolute joy to not only work with, but just being in his company. He was also the most generous.

    He cared about the campers as well as the people he worked with, always ready to stick up for the “little guy”, whatever the show he was in. I speak from experience. I remember during the early stages of the 83 Redcoat Show, he would have no hesitation in sticking his hand up questioning the Producers about my lack of involvement. The following year, when I was trying to do I my stand-up act, Joe was one of many ready to knock on the Boss’s door.

    At the end of the 1984 season, I thought that as memorable as it was, we would all go our separate ways. But when I returned to Ayr in 1996, to get back in Reds for a newspaper assignment, it was a joy to walk into the Ents Office to see Joe standing with a wide grin at the end of the corridor.

    During that weekend, I found myself, wearing my 90’s Red and White Uniform, walking into what was the Conti Bar with Joe taking centre stage, where the moment he clocked me, his mischievous side came alive again, where he was determined to make me work for my money, taking part in a Gladiator Style Duelling Contest, ending with me going on stage, doing a turn, with Joe providing backing vocals. It was a shame that they didn’t have smart phones in those days. How I would have loved to have a recording of that.

    Years later, Butlins was the farthest thing from my mind as I was sitting on a bench in Falkirk waiting for Wendy to emerge from one of her shopping scavenger hunts when I felt this heavy dunt throwing me off on the seat on to the ground. I looked up and see a grinning Joe looking down on me still mischievous as ever. He was taking a break before his grandkids took him for a Birthday Meal at McDonalds. Sitting in there with his family around him, Joe was in his element.  Then thanks to the discovery of Social Media years later, our Butlins Connection was re-established in 2011 and the start of more special memories, too numerous to mention.

    Despite his health issues he still retained that senses of adventure and mischief that made him so special with campers. When we travelled to our first reunion at Scarborough, people from other camps got to see how special he was. It was no surprise when he set up his own special place at the Hotel. Whenever people go to the Grand Hotel now, there will always be a place forever known as “Scotch Corner.”

    From a personal point of view, I am especially grateful for the support he gave me when I returned to performing and also when I was involved in any projects relating to my writing. And especially for his “nagging” relating to my own cancer issues that resulted in me being treated. Whenever I did any interviews for TV or Radio, I was always asked to recommend another Redcoat to feature. Joe was always my first choice and I was, and always will be so appreciative for what he did.

    Whenever he returned to the Ayr Camp, now Craig Tara, it was a far cry from what it used to be back in the day, but it always remained a special place for Joe and would still be recognised whenever he went down there for regular visits. I was told the story of a reality TV star performing there, who one time was outside at one of the tables, when one guest cried out “There’s Big Joe!” Back came the reply “See Chico, That’s real fame for you.”

    Our thoughts goes out to all of his family on this sad time. It is going to be tough saying goodbye to him. But let’s remember the joy he brought to so many people, a man of immense talent, fun, unpredictability, who lived and breathed Butlins.

    To people away from the camp, he was known as Junior, to us, he was Big Joe – a true Butlins Legendcover2

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