EVERY summer Nick Ahad’s Keighley family went on holiday to Butlin’s by the sea at Skegness.

“I’m the eldest of four children, which is why I went for so long, as I would been three when my parents first took me,” says the West Yorkshire playwrights, arts journalist and BBC radio presenter.

“I must have been 12 or 13, that old, before I realised there were other Butlin’s! I even remember getting my GCSE results while we were on holiday, having to ring from there!”

Nick has turned his memories and 80 years of Butlin’s history into Redcoats, one of two new plays that Mikron Theatre Company will be touring by narrowboat through the summer months.

Before Jonny Kelly’s cast of Christopher Arkeston, Elizabeth Robin, Joshua Cosidine and Rachel Benson take to the canals, rivers and roads for Mikron’s 48th year of travels, the Marsden company will be on terra familiar for their annual visit to the Scarcroft Allotments, in Scarcroft Road, York, on May 28.

Aptly for Nick, the Yorkshire Post’s theatre critic, Butlin’s founder Billy Butlin spun a Shakespeare line to sell a seaside dream to the great British public. “Our true intent is all for your delight,” he said, borrowing his mantra from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Nick and his family had all the delights they wanted on that stretch of Lincolnshire coastline. “I didn’t realise just how working-class we were,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of money as my mum and dad were very working class, but they could take four kids to Skegness, as everything was free once you’d paid for the holiday upfront, though we always went self-catering, so we still had the bother of mum having to make all the meals for us.

“But Billy Butlin wanted to create places that were classless, saying that once you’re here, you’re no different to your neighbour. For us, it was the most amazing place on earth. It was joyful and colourful, and I could see all the acts, The Krankies, Cannon & Ball, the latest Redcoats shows, so I went to the theatre pretty much every night, taking off there with a key to let myself back into the chalet. To be able to go to theatre so often was fantastic for a working-class lad.”

Travelling from Keighley to Skegness was a 130-mile trek. “It felt like the most epic journey in the world; it felt like it took forever, going there in these knackered old cars that would often break down.

“Me and my brother would load up the car with sweets for the journey, and going through the Butlin’s gates on arrival always had a real sense of celebration. We’d get the keys to the chalet and then there was the excitement of finding where that chalet would be.”

Memories, memories, for Nick, that he could pour into writing Redcoats, along with all his research on Billy Butlin and the Butlin’s holiday camps. The resulting play delves into holiday huts, bonny babies and knobbly knees with guest appearances from Marlene Dietrich, Gracie Fields and Laurel and Hardy, as “Mikron’s radiant Redcoats guide you through 80 years of Butlin’s splendour with their trademark mix of fun, pathos and songs”.

“It took me a good few drafts to land on how we should tell this story: how to tell 80 years of history in a two-hour play is a real challenge, but we came up with the idea of fitting the story into framing device where there’s a Redcoats show being rehearsed that will tell the Butlin’s story,” says Nick. “It’s a bit like [Michael Frayn’s comedy] Noises, where it’s all about celebrating theatre and performance.”

Nick did “masses” of research, not least reading a “really invaluable” book by historian Kathryn Ferry, The Nation’s Host: Butlin’s and the Story of the British Seaside, and meeting the author too. “Everything in the play is historically accurate, such as Laurel and Hardy judging a talent contest; Gracie Fields popping up at Butlin’s; Ringo Starr playing there before he was in The Beatles,” he says. “But I won’t tell you about the Butlin’s link with Marlene Dietrich: you’ll have to see the play!”

Original music will play its part in a Mikron play as usual. “I’ve written lyrics for the first time, and I’ll now be taking that into my next two plays as it’s really inspired me,” says Nick.

Mikron Theatre Company in Redcoats, Scarcroft Allotments, York, May 28, 6pm. No tickets required; a cash collection will be taken after the show. Bring chairs, blankets and a picnic to this outdoor performance.

Charles Hutchinson