When Billy Butlin was locked out of a Barry Island B&B for the afternoon by its landlady, the disgruntled holidaymaker decided enough was enough: time to create a place where no one needed to worry about entertainment or was forced from their accommodation.

A short while later, in 1936, the South African-born entrepreneur laid the bricks at his first purposebuilt Butlin’s holiday camp in Skegness.

By the time he retired in 1969 he had established ten camps and a number of hotels. Yet even without its figurehead the company continued to grow.

Spanish hotels were snapped up; London’s Post Office Tower had a revolving restaurant run by the brand.

Now, in its 75th year, only three holiday camps remain. Cheap air travel, it seems, was a competitor too far. But the company continues to surprise.

To commemorate reaching a landmark year, Butlin’s Bognor (most recently in the news after the outbreak of a norovirus bug), invited a documentary photographer to produce a series of shots to give an insight into the brand and the British at leisure in 2011.

“It was very brave of them to let a documentary photographer in,” says Anna Fox, professor of photography at University For The Creative Arts in Farnham, who was commissioned by Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery to record the contemporary Butlin’s experience.

“Obviously, they are very concerned about their brand image. For this first showthey have had a bit of a say because it is the first showing of their work and it is their anniversary year. They’ve said no we don’t want this and no we don’t want that.”

It’s put the photographer in a pickle. The pictures from the themed weekends for adults (including back to the 1960s, back to the 1980s, summer party), which have become one half of Butlin’s current business, are on hold.

Resort, running until October 5, concentrates instead on Butlin’s other money-spinner: families on holiday.

“The narrative in this series is firstly the contemporary face of Butlin’s but it is primarily looking at it as how it has been constructed as a set,” says Fox.

“It is like a theatrical circus, a series of stages thrown together in one particular space, a sort of old-fashioned fairground done in a modern way.”

The first time Fox visited (she never holidayed at the camps as a child), she was wowed by the drama and kitsch colour.

“There is a desire to fabricate these little sets, such as the American Pool Hall and the Ocean Hotel Restaurant, with its pinks and greens, the bright yellow ball-shaped chairs, which made it a good place to shoot.”

Fox has been working on the project since 2009. She has collected about 80 images in total and Resort features 24 prints, some as big as 6ft by 8ft.

“I wanted to make them monumental in scale to make people look like fantastic statues,” she says.

One highlight is a shot of a young girl being made up as a fairy, the dressing-up choice for girls at the camps. The girl, her hairdresser and two models are reflected in a mirror to give the shot layers.

“It’s an image about modern aspiration,” she adds.

“It’s interesting, I don’t want to get mixed up in the whole sexualisation of childhood discussion, which is a different thing, but it is interesting nowadays people start concentrating on makeup and dress younger and younger.”

The girl looks grumpy but Fox insists it is the serious face of someone who is anxious, wants to look right, is hoping to emulate what she sees in the mirror.

“I liked the intenseness of her gaze. It draws you into the image. It makes a point about how seriously she’s taking it.”

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