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Memories of the glory days

Pocket money wages

Over the decades Butlin’s Ocean Hotel provided employment, I would not say gainful, for many Saltdean residents, especially teenagers. You could earn pocket money wages, washing up and clearing tables and other odd jobs. In the summer of 1959 I left school and worked at there for a while. I remember it was hard work; the kitchens were unbearably hot, with very little fresh air. However, it was great fun and you did get the chance to use the hotel facilities including the swimming pool. This gave young chaps like me the opportunity to chat up the girls who were holidaying with their parents.    

Long hot summer of 1959

1959 will be remembered by many for its brilliant summer, noted for its longevity rather than its intensity. True there was one short spell, at the beginning of July, when the temperature climbed above 30c over a wide area. But for much of the time the heat was not extreme, and humidity levels were comfortable. The downside of this spectacular summer was the drought. However, the rains returned in early October, so water shortages were averted.

Butlin’s Saltdean in its heyday

Ocean Hotel just before the developers moved in

The entertaining Redcoats

The Ocean Hotel always had a great buzz about it, with hundreds of guests, known as campers by the staff, coming and going each week. The Redcoats were always a good laugh, brilliantly entertaining the happy campers, with lots of audience participation. Des O`Connor, Jimmy Tarbuck and other well known stars all worked at the Ocean as Redcoats in that era. I remember a Liverpudlian Redcoat called Russ Hamilton who was also a singer. In the late 1950s Russ  recorded a teen ballad called  ‘We will make love’, climbing to number two in the charts in the summer of  1957. Sadly, he never consolidated on his early success and was destined to become a one hit wonder, perhaps better known as a song writer and a Butlin Redcoat than a major pop star. Russ Hamilton passed away in 2008 aged 76 years.

Long time resident organist

Jimmy Noon is another name worthy of a mention. Jim was the resident organist at the Ocean Hotel for the best part of forty years. He was a true gentleman and a very talented musician with an extensive repertoire.  Sadly Jim passed away in 2004 he is buried in Rottingdean Church yard, a place he loved. A simple inscription on his gravestone reads  ‘Jimmy Noon Musician  1915 – 2004  Remembered with Love’.

Butlin’s Ocean Hotel with a view of the gardens

The redeveloped Grand Ocean

Only one Grand Hotel

In 1999 The Rank Organization who had owned The Ocean Hotel since 1972, sold the business to The Grand Hotel Group Ltd. The building was renamed The Grand Ocean Hotel until closure in 2005. Story has it that more than a few confused guests arriving at Brighton Station, would hail a taxi telling the cabbie that they were staying at The Grand Hotel. However, they would very soon be in for a shock when a rather snooty concierge informed them, there was only one ‘Grand Hotel’ in Brighton, and their accommodation was some five miles out of town at what used to be a Butlin’s holiday hotel.

The Ocean Hotel’s sad demise

The Ocean Hotel belonged to another age and as such, could never have survived in the 21st century; inevitably the whole complex was converted into flats and apartments. As part of the planning consent, vast sums of money were spent on restoring the original hotel building and gardens. However, the rest of the site was allowed to be grossly over developed.  This has distracted from the fine restoration job carried out by the developer on this listed art deco building. I wonder, if RH Jones, the Ocean Hotel’s original architect in 1938 would have approved? Nowadays the original building looks resplendent, albeit strangely silent even a little ghostly. Sadly it is no longer the beating heart of Saltdean. Billy Butlin and his famous Redcoats, are long gone, along with all the happy campers, who for over fifty years were so much part of the Saltdean scene.                                                                         

Comments about this page

  • Credit to the developers on this. Although not strictly “preserving” the building (and why should they, it was never going to be another Butlins) they saved it from demolition. Some over-development is a small price to pay. I’d be delighted to live in one of the apartments watching past episodes of Hi-De-Hi to really get into the spirit of the building.

    By David Scott (28/02/2012)
  • Married in 1960. Had our honeymoon at the Ocean Hotel in Brighton paid for by my parents. My husband was in the R.A.F doing his national service so money was short. The wonderful marriage that followed is still going strong after 56 years. Happy memories.

    By Carol Bigault (26/04/2016)
  • For anyone interested in the building, I did an A4 fold-out sheet for an architectural piece for the developers, which fits Grand Ocean into seafront Brighton’s interwar buildings spectrum. I have several copies if anyone wants one. []

    By Geoffrey Mead (27/04/2016)
  • I remember the Ocean Hotel just after the war (1947) as a young boy living down the road. It was a Fire Service Training College for senior Fire Officers at that date who allowed me to learn to swim in the lovely pool they had.

    By Jim Macknes (05/06/2016)
  • I went to Butlins at the Grand Hotel in the summer of 1970. I cannot remember the exact date but I won the talent competition and received my silver cup which I still have to this day. I sang “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” from “My Fair Lady”. I could have gone through to the next round but my parents thought that as I was starting grammar school in the September it was better that I did not take part! I have vivid memories of the competition and in particular the long narrow stage and where the pianist was on the stage which I have just seen again in a photo posted on the Grand Hotel website. Happy memories!

    By S. Levey (08/08/2016)
  • I worked on the redecoration of the Ocean Hotel during the early 70s.  It was a good place to be, we worked hard and played hard, had a few beers in the pub down the road as well.

    By Ken Bessant (15/08/2016)
  • I holidayed here many times during the late 70s and early 80s, in a big family group, with aunts uncles cousins etc.  Lots of happy memories of many evenings sat in the bars (with the inevitable paper straw going soggy in a bottle of coke!) listening to the various redcoats leading the sing-a-longs, with Jimmy Noon at the organ.  Somewhere I even have a copy of the single (ep?) he released.  Always ending with ‘Sons of the Sea’, also known as ’bobbing up and down like this’.  Simpler days, but very happy.  

    I remember Mike Onions as one of the entertainment managers, and very tall redcoat called Peter who had a fantastic voice and did vocal impressions long before Joe Longthorne came along (Peter Lee-James or Jones possibly). 

    We went regularly for a few years as a family, then a few years later I went back as an adult for a weekend break, unfortunately on  the weekend following the great hurricane in 1987. The poor old place was well beaten up with roofs and windows blown in. 

    But even then it had changed a lot from what I remembered; that lovely pool had been enclosed and seemed to be smaller too – I think it had lost the deco fountain/junior pool as well.  I’d love to see that part of the building now – does the pool still exist for residents to use? or has it all just been built over?

    Ah well, memories of a very happy time.

    By B (16/08/2016)
  • I first went to the ocean hotelin 1957,when I was 7 years old, also went about 15 times between 57-64, do you remember Al Dean ,Johnny Mans , Jimmy Noon and his  wife Linda? they had a grand daughter  called Angie about the same age as me and Susan. great memories.

    By Gary Hayward (26/10/2017)
  • Great memories of the Ocean Hotel. I was there in the winter season of 59/60 as a Redcoat entertainer, my first professional job singing and playing guitar. I also was the roller skating instructor and felt a little out of place as a  19 year old as most of the Redcoats were much older than me but one took me under his wing so to speak – that was Ronnie a piano player singer. He helped me get over my early nerves, great memories 

    By Ray Brett (12/02/2018)
  • Aged 9, I stayed with my parents and sister at the Ocean Hotel in June 1968. I’ve never forgotten that fine old building, but what I remember most was hearing the news that Robert Kennedy had been murdered. I can picture the scene; met in the hotel corridor by a Redcoat who said to my parents “have you heard?” and my mum being really upset.

    By Chris White (06/05/2018)
  • I was the kitchen manager at the Ocean for two winters in the seventies. I would spend the summer months at Butlins Filey and then transfer to Saltdean for the winter months. I remember Christmas and the staff tradition of jumping into a freezing swimming pool on Christmas morning.I also remember being there for the first dinner dance organised for Brighton chamber of trade and set up by the manager who was a huge bloke named Rod something.Also remember that the staff used The Spanish Lady pub down the road as their local. Simpler easier times that we will never get back.

    By gareth gaskin-jones (11/08/2018)
  • Great to see that the Ocean Hotel is still alive, albeit converted to flats. I worked there as a temporary kitchen assistant, when I was a student, in  the cold winter of 1970 and summer of 1971 when it was still owned by Butlins. The chef was called Cliff. Not a brilliant chef I’m afraid. The meals I remember being very sub-standard, lots of Cadbury’s Smash for dinner! Lunch was always prepared after breakfast and the individual meals placed in steam ovens we called Jacksons. Still I enjoyed working there and we all had a great time.

    By Dave Crockatt (11/08/2018)
  • Further to my previous entry I also recall the cold winters and the winter of discontent when we had regular power cuts. It wasn’t easy preparing meals by candlelight especially when the candles fell off the deep fat fryers and into the cooking oil!! Made for tasty chips. Also remember a trampoline set up in the ballroom which could be dangerous as the ceilings were so low. And who could forget the final of the glamorous gran competition when grans from all the regional competitions gathered at the Ocean. I think it was even televised one year.

    By Gareth Gaskin-jones (12/08/2018)
  • I stayed at the Ocean Hotel in Margate in May 1989 and met a really nice person who I lost touch with, but oh what happy memories.

    By peter (30/08/2018)
  • I stayed at this hotel, which i knew then as the honeymoon hotel, I was thirteen at the time, in 1960. I went there with my older sister and her husband, it was a fantastic place to be. While there I made some great friends, two whom I remember, a boy whose name was John he came from Keighley, in Yorkshire and another young girl by the name of Elizabeth Dainty, who was there with her older sister Carol, mother and father. I remember Elizabeth won the junior Miss She Contest. As a bunch of kids we had two weeks of great fun, the hotel had so much to do, there was no need to travel outside. Great fun, great food, great entertainment, all in all, a great place to be.

    By Keith RENNIE (13/10/2018)
  • We had our honeymoon at the hotel in 1960, and thought this year might go back for our Diamond anniversary this summer, we are now living in New Zealand, and wondering what accommodation in Salt dean that we could stay at this summer to
    replicate and re-live my husband and I the memories of our stay in 1960.

    By Greta Gooding (07/03/2020)
  • My mum Vera Bristow worked here in 1954, I remember her bringing home left over baked potato so we could eat. Hard times before we moved to Australia in June 1954 on the SS Strathmore.

    By Steve Bristow (22/05/2020)
  • I worked as a waiter at the Ocean Hotel from October 1978 to April 1979 and have fond memories of that time. The general manager was Hazel, a lovely lady and great character. I was friends with the redcoats, in particular “Tinkerbelle’ and Martin. On a few occasions they would let me call out the bingo numbers which was great fun.

    I came across a few pictures which prompted me to check out what had happened to the Ocean Hotel. Good to see that the building is still there, albeit for residential flats. The story of the renaming to the “Grand Ocean Hotel” and people taking a taxi from the station to the “Grand Hotel” and the response they were met with, is hilarious. 😂😂

    By Trevor Clarke (08/06/2020)
  • Our family holidayed at the Ocean from about 1965 to 1974 ,I was 9 at the start and never wanted to go home. What great memories.After the show we always went into the Old Tyme Music singalong, every evening finished with everyone singing Tat Ta ,Tat Ta.
    I remember being woken up in the mornings by the Singing Piano over the tannoy.
    Knobbly knees competition,fancy dress,Glamorous Grandmother.March of the mods, Gay Gordon’s.
    My best holiday memories.

    By Bev Banham (26/06/2020)
  • My parents honeymoon 1957,I remember dad saying something about pulling the wires out of the intercom in the room and laughing .
    I also have a 1957 leaflet about the hotel looks really fresh and clean.

    By Sue (24/07/2020)
  • Was a ‘Red’ at the Ocean in 1985 working with Boothby Graffoe, James Pertwee and Peter Powers amongst others… fabulous time and memories. Still known as ‘Eddy’ even now by James “Wurzel” Pertwee. Very fond memories.

    By Duane Leatherbarrow (01/08/2020)
  • We had a lovely honeymoon at this hotel in March 1957 and there was a picture of us all in the Daily Express paper as there was 250 weddings that
    day all being given a year’s tax rebate.

    By Wendy. 23.3.21 (23/03/2021)
  • I was a Redcoat at the Ocean for 2 years, (74-76), exhausting but brilliant job, lots of great memories and made friends that I am still in touch with today, infact we have yet another Butlins reunion planned for July 2021 in Torquay. I went on to become photographer at the Ocean, then the Metropole, Blackpool, then the Grand hotel, Scarborough for 5 years before returning to the ocean as Stores manager for 5 years. My original one season at Butlins turned into 15 years, the best times.

    By Keith Standen (22/04/2021)
  • I holidayed at Butlins with my parents in the late 50s and we always had a great time. I have just been looking through old mementoes and found photo viewers of my parents at the dining table. Can’t remember the exact years now but we were there at the end of May. I thought I saw the hotel in an episode of Poirot, as it is such an iconic Art Deco building. Am I correct?

    By Jim Gorringe (15/05/2021)
  • Hello Jim
    Why don’t you send me your Butlin’s pix – I can publish them – they might remind others of their memories.
    Jennifer –

    By Jennifer Drury (18/05/2021)
  • I went to ocean hotel about 1969. I had a great time I was only 14. I met Alan from Bristol. Good times.

    By Margaret Ryan (19/09/2021)
  • I have so many wonderful happy memories of the Ocean Hotel. My Nan and Grandad took me when I was a little girl each Easter for many years in the 1960’s. Nan always made sure we had rooms in ‘Windsor’ which were upstairs in the main building. I fondly remember Jimmy and Linda Noon.

    By Sara Green (26/09/2021)
  • I worked behind the bar for a short time. We had to serve the spillage!! One of the bar maids was caught, and had to put on a very indignant voice denying it!! Anyone remember the organists name after Jimmy Noon? I think he lived in Peacehaven.

    By John (07/03/2022)
  • I lived in Woodingdean and worked two summers at Butlins hotel Saltdean 1965/66.

    My job was waiting tables and in the bars in the evening. It was hard work but great fun.
    I remember all the families from up north were great people and very generous to us young men and girls working there. I was 18 at the time and have fond memories of the old place.
    I live in Canada now but really miss it.

    By Harold Barham (26/04/2022)
  • I remember the ‘Ocean Hotel’ in 1947 as a fireman’s training facility. I enjoyed going down the very steep hill in the single deck bus! We lived in Westfield avenue behind which was a cornfield. Mum used to clap her hands to retrieve us from the hills. Dad went to Roedean (it was a naval training college!). Great place to grow up.

    By Peter Tyrwhitt-Bettridge (10/05/2022)

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