The ‘LOST’ Photograph

Pontin’s Holiday Camp

In 1960, when I was 11 years old, I was in the top class of Holy Trinity Junior School in Taunton. We had a new head teacher, Mr Whatmore. He was young and dynamic and decided to take a group of children away for a week. There were twenty of us, seventeen girls and three boys, accompanied by Mr Whatmore on his own (imagine that happening now!). We went by train to Paignton in Devon to stay at Pontin’s Holiday camp. We were housed in a large chalet with double rooms, each with two bunks and we ate in a huge communal dining hall. Every day we swam in the pool and played games. In the evenings we went to the ‘entertainment hall’ and heard singers and comedians, and watched dancers and magicians. Just how you imagine a 1960s holiday camp to be. I loved it!

Towards the end of the week, the theme for the evening was ‘Topsy-Turvy’ night – all the female guests were to dress as men and all the male guests were to dress as women. Who’d have thought! The girls decided I should be ‘dressed’ as a girl. I remember not being in the least bit embarrassed (I was only 11 and embarrassment came later). In fact, I very much enjoyed the experience. I was fitted with a dress, a white cardigan, little white ankle socks and red ballet pumps with a matching red clutch bag. The final touches were a pair of clip-on earrings and red lipstick (provided by a ‘blue coat’ who was assigned to chaperone us). I can almost taste that lipstick 60 years later.

When I was finished to their satisfaction, the camp photographer took my picture (in black and white of course) and I proudly brought it home, along with a few other photos and put them in the family album.

At some point in my life, I can’t remember exactly when, during one of several ‘purges’ to ‘cure’ myself of this ‘dreadful affliction’, I destroyed the only copy of that photograph. Obviously, the purges did not work.

A few weeks ago, during lockdown, we were going through old family albums and we discovered the remaining photos of that Pontin’s holiday. For the first time, I told Venetia about being dressed for Topsy-Turvy night, how wonderful it felt, and how I had destroyed the photograph. She suggested I try to re-create it as best I could by drawing it. But then I had a brainwave – I would use modern technology to superimpose a 60s style dress on my body in one of the other photos. (I have taken the liberty of hand colouring it and there are no cardigan or clutch bag.)

My re-created image
The lost photo

I showed Venetia and we were reasonably happy with the result. I decided to mount it in the original Pontin’s cardboard frame so removed one of the other photos only to discover the ‘lost’ photo underneath. I had not, after all, destroyed it, but hidden it out of sight. It was an emotional moment.

The whole episode is as vivid in my mind today as it was 60 years ago. I remember going on stage to be judged, holding my number and sashaying up and down (just like we do at St George’s Hall!). I didn’t win the competition but it felt as if I had won the lottery.

The moral of the story is: never throw anything away whatever state of mind you are in.

Serena James


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