Ocean Hotel

Memories of the glory days

By Christopher Wrapson

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.


Photo:Butlin's Saltdean in its heyday

Butlin's Saltdean in its heyday

From the private collection of Jennifer Drury

Photo:Ocean Hotel just before the developers moved in

Ocean Hotel just before the developers moved in

Photo by Tony Mould


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’.


Photo:Butlin's Ocean Hotel with a view of the gardens

Butlin's Ocean Hotel with a view of the gardens

From the private collection of Jennifer Drury

Photo:The redeveloped Grand Ocean

The redeveloped Grand Ocean

Photo by Jennifer Drury



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.                                                                         

This page was added on 28/02/2012.
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 (29/02/2012)

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. [g.mead@sussex.ac.uk]

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 (09/08/2016)

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 (17/08/2016)

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