Tim Buckle became a holiday camp entertainer after answering an ad for a clown. Harvey McGavin reports.
A grinning, dripping-wet figure bounced through the door. "Sorry I'm late, but I've just been thrown in the pool." Regular soakings are all in a day's work for Tim Buckle, "children's uncle".
Now, brightly-coloured tracksuits have replaced the Bluecoats' blazers, and it's a holiday club. This is not a Hi-de-Hi style camp, but the cheap and cheerful environment of Pontin's seaside chalet bungalows and the all-in entertainment still pulls in the punters. Tim's job is to keep 6 to 12-year-olds amused at Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth.
"Smiley faces, that's what it's all about," says Tim. "You are the face of Pontin's - if you're happy, then they're happy. It helps if you are gregarious, because you have to socialise all day."
"It's not a run of the mill job at all. The most difficult part of it is dealing with people's gripes and being at their beck and call all the time. But I don't find it hard to be cheerful. I like entertaining, and I like people being happy. I can sit and talk nonsense with a group of kids all day. It's the adults I can't relate to."
After Tim left school, he took a BTEC in sports science and was thinking of training to be a PE teacher until he "got the travelling bug" and went to work on a kibbutz before setting off on a tour of Europe in a van.
When he returned, he saw a "Clown wanted" advertisement in his local paper in Stockport and began performing at children's parties - a bit of magic, a few jokes and lots of tomfoolery.
He gained the Pontin's job after an audition in Manchester and set off for Norfolk with his girlfriend (who was taken on as a lifeguard at Hemsby), not knowing what to expect. "I remember going past the holiday camp in Pwllheli in North Wales when I was about 10, seeing lots of kids behind the fences and bungalows, and thinking 'That's a strange-looking place'. I really didn't have any idea what it would be like.
"There's a real mixture of people who work here. Some have been singing and dancing from an early age and others just wanted to get away from home. It is a bit like Hi-de-Hi - a big club where everybody takes part and doesn't just sit back and watch."
A Pontin's holiday doesn't organise itself. So Tim and his mute sidekick, Captain Croc, host a packed timetable of wacky events. "It might start at 10 o'clock with something typically Pontin's like junior bingo or welly-whanging. "
Rounders and crazy golf, football, and fancy hat competitions take up the rest of the day. In the evenings, Banjo the clown puts on a show for the youngsters. Oddly, Tim is nowhere to be seen when Banjo gets on stage. The more curious kids are beginning to wonder.
Pontin's does not hide its reputation as a training ground for comedians - Peter Sellers started out as an entertainments manager and TV presenters Shane Ritchie (Lucky Numbers) and Stu Francis (Crackerjack) are both former Bluecoats.
Tim already has connections in show business - his father is a comic on the Northern club circuit and used to be Alvin Stardust's drummer. "I always thought what a cushy life he had. But I couldn't see myself doing stand-up and cracking gags - it's very difficult."
Working the summer season has been Tim's first proper experience of performing on stage, and he has really taken to it. "I don't suffer from stage fright at all. When I come on and the kids are screaming and shouting, that gives me a buzz," he says.
He is waiting to hear about a part in a Christmas pantomime and would like to appear on children's television one day. Meanwhile, the show must go on.
Someone has stolen Captain Croc's sweets, kids! The culprit must be caught and dealt some Pontin's justice! Guess what, it's time for another Bluecoat to be thrown in the pool . . .