I feel at some point I am going to have to admit where I grew up, so here it is, I spent the most formative years of my life in Bognor Regis….Well I suppose that may not mean much to most people, but Bognor is renown in English history because of it’s association with King George V. I can remember playing on the King George V playing fields, near The George Public House. The appellation Regis comes with the association with the King. Bognor grew in popularity in Victorian England, as the sunniest place in the country, so the Victorians built a spur line that terminated there. The Victorians built bath houses, and of course, Bognor Pier. I think the most succinct explanation for the history of Bognor and King George V can be found in wikipedia, so here is an excerpt:
Tourism gradually took off in Bognor during the 19th century, with the area being chosen as an ideal location for King George V to convalesce during 1929. As a result, the King was asked to bestow the suffix “Regis” (“of the King”) on “Bognor”.The petition was presented to Lord Stanfordham, the King’s Private Secretary, who in turn delivered it to the King. King George supposedly replied, “Oh, bugger Bognor.” Lord Stamfordham then went back to the petitioners and told them, “the King has been graciously pleased to grant your request.”
A slightly different version of the “Bugger Bognor” incident is that the King, upon being told, shortly before his death, that he would soon be well enough to revisit the town, uttered the words “Bugger Bognor!” Although there is little evidence that these words were actually spoken in this context, and although the sea air helped the King to regain his health, it is certain that the King had little regard for the town. end quote
When I was growing up there, I thought Bognor was a pretty awful place, the large holiday resort there Butlins, was in dire need of a face-lift, we went in for a visit to the pool one summer, and I got a nasty foot infection from it. They still had the red-coats, and associatios for me with the sit-com which has left me forever ford of the Welsh accent. Our big joke growing up was that Bognor was known as “The Last Resort”, as in the last resort for somewhere to go if could not afford to go anywhere else. Nevertheless, thousands of people came form London every summer to have a holiday there. On the seafront they had a little electric train which would take kids and their parents from the esplanade at the town center back to Butlins, about half-a-mile away, in an effort to encourage people to visit the town and not just stay in Butlins. The esplanade was basically a sea-defense wall which was extra wide to allow people to walk down it, really quite pleasant. It ran from one side of Bognor pretty much all the way down to near my house, so it was the quickest way to get home too.
Then of course there was Hotham Park, which had been many things, at one point a small zoo, it had a kids area with rides and a narrow gauge railway, which I think was decorated with “Noddy” characters. It was the sort of mini-train you sat on with your parents, and since it went around the park, it was actually kind of nice. One of my friends messing around managed to fall off one of the carriages and was run over by a carriage wheel, and for some time he was very proud of the track marks across his forehead.
Then here was the Bognor Pier, which when I was a teen had the Pharoah NIghtclub on it, a huge arcade and one of the best fish-and-chip shops around. The best thing about Bognor Pier was when a huge winter storm took out a section near the end, and the town council decided they would have the now freestanding end bit removed, and hired some demolition experts who wirs it up then failed to demolish it with a huge explosion. Of course it made the nightly news, the Pier that could not be destroyed. Actually that was not the best thing about the pier, the absolute best thing about Bognor Pier was the Bognor Birdman, which was a challenge to see who could fly off a ramp on the pier and fly the furthest. Of course very few people took it seriously, and dressed up in silly costumed and basically jumped off the pier, but some really tried to get far, but it had to be an apparatus you built yourself, and there was very little drop to build up and sort of airflow.
What went really well with the Bognor Birdman, was the few years Bognor held the International Clown Festival, which also happened to be the years I was working part-time for the Regis Center as a spotlight jockey with a good friend. The Regis Center was the town theater that suffered from a huge inferiority complex being so close to the Chichester Minerva theater which did a lot of Shakespeare, while all Bognor got was clowns. So I got to see all of the shows from backstage, and I can guarantee, most of the clowns were awful. Some notable exceptions was the German Clown Band, who had the most ridiculously small instruments, and seemed to pride themselves with being horribly drunk all the time. Then there were the professional circus performers who were also there one year, they set up the big top right in the Regis Center parking lot.
One thing which still goes on every year, is the Pagham Pram Race which is on Boxing Day every year no matter the weather.
I think this really embodies the English attitude to competition, enthusiastic amateurism, just out there to have fun and raise some money for charity. Over here the Yanks would be seriously dedicated and build some outlandish and thoroughly professional pram based racing vehicles, which the English would never do, oh wait…..
So now I look back on it, I guess Bognor was actually a pretty neat place to grow up. Of course as other observers have put it, once you have moved away from your childhood town, you can never really go back. I remember trying too for a short while, and being completely bemused to find out that the town council had completely re-wired the one-way system, and all of my handy short cuts were gone and I was constantly trying to go the wrong way up side streets.
Well I said that say this, all the time I was growing up, I really didn’t like to have to admit to strangers where I was from, they invariably had heard of Bognor, and knew “The Last Resort” bit. However here I am now, and no-one knows the bit about Bognor being ‘The Last Resort”, which is actually kind of disappointing.