‘Holiday Camp’ (1947) gave us our first glance of the nation’s favourite post war family – The Huggetts. They are just a few of the camp residents whose week long stay is followed in the film. In the neighbouring chalets to Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison (Mr and Mrs Huggett) we see Dennis Price, Esma Cannon and Flora Robson, all trying to make a fresh start for various reasons.
The film was made at a real holiday camp in Filey, Yorkshire. Both in the film and in reality, the camp had been commandeered for the army during World War Two. There are several pointers in this film which show just how difficult this war was to shake off. I got a real feeling of regimentation – in fact it has been suggested that the camp has a distinctly Orwellian tone. There is certainly a “You will enjoy yourselves or else” aura to the continual stream of tannoy announcements. You had to eat when you were told to; join in contests when you were told to; even bedtime was strongly suggested. The chalets that you had to return to at the end of the day were basic – two beds and a washstand – and you may well find yourself sharing with a stranger. The film demonstrates that if you were holidaying alone, or part of an oddly – numbered family, then you ended up sleeping next to a hitherto unknown person (of the same sex, naturally). Solitude was not allowed. This is quite unimaginable today – I’m sure I’m not alone in being quite perturbed by the very idea. Yet they took it in their stride, being veterans of a war where conscription shoved you into rooms with strangers right, left and centre.
Today, we are a nation of determined individuals. ‘Holiday Camp’ shows that not so long ago we were happy to accept ourselves as a mass group of people. Scenes of holidaymakers disembarking from a train and taking part in a march re-inforce this. But we were just beginning to break out in 1947. The film’s vignettes deliberately encourage the viewer to see the individual within the mass – and the tannoy announcer (Esmond Knight) even refers to doing just this in his exchange with Flora Robson. Meanwhile, Dennis Price and Esma Cannon’s eventual outcome shows the dangers of strangers mixing too closely. The British undoubtedly found the wartime way of life difficult to shake off, but we were determined to make that break and move away from the Orwellian threat. We managed it well. A little too well, perhaps?