Anyone privileged to wear the Butlins Redcoat Uniform and who made an impression on holidaymakers during their stay, so much so, that they are talked about decades later, had to have something special. Gerry Griffin possessed all of those qualities – and a lot more.
His sense of mischief, fun, his ability to connect with people and most important, his undoubted talent, which included the creation of his alter ego and one of the most popular characters ever to walk the roads of the Butlins Ayr Camp – Gerry the Tramp.
When this piece was originally published, it was to mourn the passing of this Butlins Legend, who in recent years showed tremendous courage in the way he dealt with his health issues but never lost the desire to entertain and enjoy life. I first met Gerry during the first Redcoat meeting of the 1982 season, I was a rookie, when the then Entertainments Manager, introduced him to the new team as Butlins Ayr’s new Compere. After just a few minutes, he had, what were mostly a group of strangers laughing their heads off with his stories, and when it came to giving out advice to the new Reds, us new recruits were more than willing listeners.
We didn’t have a Chief Redcoat back then. For me, Gerry was our Team Captain, the man who directed the operations on our field of play, whether it was the Stuart Ballroom or out on the Sports Field. He had the personality and charisma to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and was hilarious to watch in action. As someone who came through the Redcoat Ranks, Gerry knew the importance of Team work and whatever event he hosted, would make a point of involving as many Reds in the action as possible.
Those memories of working the “Cheerful Charming & Chubby Contest” will remain with me always. If he was not doing those competitions, Gerry would often take to the stage alongside resident band, the Jimmy Livingstone Sound belting out the iconic Butlins Ayr Anthem, “My Dad’s a Fridge,” it would result in a packed Stuart Ballroom Floor and for me a highlight. Gerry as the Compere of course was a hit, but they could not keep “Gerry The Tramp” away from those campers for too long. It would come during the Redcoat Show (but of course), when Gerry walked on to the stage, as “The Tramp.”
He recited the saddest poem I have ever heard, not the thing you would expect to hear in a Redcoat Show, but it was a triumph. Even though he did not Compere the show, there would have been a Steward’s Enquiry if he had not closed the proceedings. From that moment not only did we have “Gerry the Compere,” “Gerry the Tramp” was back.
Dressed in now instantly recognisable attire, he would often get in amongst the punters, appearing in photoshoots. Then midway through the season, when the Camp dished out a £1000 Jackpot for the Donkey Derby it was only fitting that “Gerry the Tramp,” should get in front of the cameras. Gerry Griffin, was regarded by many Redcoats as their Mentor.
I learned so much watching him in action and working with him during that 1982 season. And when he became part of the Dunoon Redcoats, it felt like we had turned back the clock to the time when I first saw him pull on his Tramp’s outfit. One of the most memorable pictures we have was when the Dunoon Redcoats performed at the opening of the revamped Dunoon Pier where there was also an annual hill race. The winner would have the honour of officially opening the Pier. And when the first runner entered the home straight, Gerry the Tramp made sure that there was a race to the finish line.
As a young Redcoat, Gerry Griffin was an inspiration to me. And as a member of the Dunoon Redcoats, I will forever be grateful for the encouragement that he gave me as I tried to get to grips with performing again. Gerry loved being around people and people loved him.
Our sincerest condolences go out to his family and friends, especially to Jimmy Livingstone at this sad time. We mourn Gerry’s passing. He is now at peace, but he leaves us with great memories. I think back to a sketch in the 1982 Redcoat show where one line he used to shout forever sticks in my mind.
“IT’S IN THE STARS!!! IT’S WRITTEN IN THE STARS!!!’ Gerry the Tramp’s legacy is written in the stars.
And those stars will forever shine bright.
Originally Published May 4th 2019