5 Bognor Regis
The South East has prosperity. Some of its coastal towns offer sanctified consumerism. But the south coast also has communities resistant to civilisation.
Bognor Regis avoids these extremes. The town is the sunniest place in Britain. I worked there as a waiter in Butlins for two summers. I cannot remember rainy days. I do recall the Alex pub where I once sang with the support of professional female vocalists. My vocal ability is limited but the two girls had a generous nature.
Butlins provides jobs. Although unemployment is restricted to urban pockets in Bognor, they feature in the top twenty per cent of ‘employment deprived’ areas in Britain. Butlins is needed by the people in the favelas of Bognor.
Butlins acquaints the locals with working class outsiders. The movie, The Punch And Judy Man, is set in Bognor Regis and is a satire on social climbing snobbery. In real Bognor, goodwill prevails. The town has eight charity shops, and the Bognor Rox is a music and arts festival that is free. Every year, to decide the International Bognor Birdman, contestants leap from the pier and test human powered flying machines.
The town centre is not swamped with the fake heritage inflicted on so much of Britain. The shows at the Regis Centre would have appealed to a British audience fifty years ago. The people of Bognor are politically and social conservative. Bognor voters are targeted by UKIP who thinks it smells disenchanted Tories and the frustrations of the unemployed.
The original Anglo Saxon name, Bucgan ora, appears in a document dated 680 AD. Prior to the 18th Century the residents fished and smuggled. Sir Richard Hotham responded to the sunshine and palm trees and built Georgian terraces to attract wealthy residents.
King George V was also familiar with Bognor sunshine. His utterance, ‘Bugger Bognor’, was either an ignored response to the request to add Regis to Bognor or deathbed despair when someone suggested that he retreat to the coast for his health.
The town has a pier, promenade and beach. Out of season a walk on the Esplanade provides a sense of unmediated freedom. The Royal Norfolk Hotel is distinguished by confident plain Georgian lines and restraint.
Loyalty to tradition has provoked the belief that opportunities are being missed. But Bognor Regis appeals because modern day horror is missing.
Butlins now has a restaurant owned by a celebrity chef. I ate nothing but the day old food of Butlins those two summers. The appearance of a celebrity chef is an irony that time will not mitigate. Hoteliers resist attempts to rebrand Bognor Regis as West Sussex or Sussex By The Sea. Identity remains a problem, which is perhaps why the Neighbourhood Plan utilises a failed yellow Muppet in sunglasses.
Life continues pleasantly although there is rowdiness around one bench. Neo-conservatism and UKIP will unnerve folk who worry about social disorder spreading across a whole bench. The suggestion from a local entrepreneur for ‘an antiques market but nicely done’ is revealing. It will not inspire venture capitalists.
Next week, still down South – Bristol
Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015
If you want to read more about his travels click here.