Thursday, 31 October 2013


THE CAMP (1989)

‘The Camp’ poses the question ‘what would happen if the British government used a domestic resort complex to conduct secret mind control drug tests on unsuspecting holiday makers?’ The answer, as you might expect, is that it all gets a bit messy.  

In a series of experiments, randomly selected people are slipped hallucinogens in order to be programmed into thinking a new Ice Age has come, for instance, or that they are kidnappers, or prostitutes. Most of the time they are simply kept in a state of permanent befuddlement, all the while being observed and recorded, their every mind controlled move monitored by unpleasant scientists. 

Far fetched? Well, yeah, until you remember that the British invented both the holiday camp and the concentration camp. Then there's Porton Down where, in the fifties, National Service Men were fed LSD and sprayed with nerve gas so that someone in a white coat could note down the results. At least one man died, with more suffering health and emotional problems for the rest of their lives. Jot that down, Professor Twattenstein.

In Smith's fictional camp, the experiment goes wrong, and the antidote doesn't work, so a brutal government assassin is sent to silence any witnesses and suspicious third parties. This fellow likes his job, so zealously goes around arranging car crashes and garrotting people and feeding them to the pigs in the Petting Zoo. 

There is a sequence in which a dozen people are killed after he sabotages a cable car, giving us several pages of terror, screaming, falling, squelching and a massive amount of trademark vomiting. It's a tour de force. In the end, the hitman starts a riot which burns the camp to the ground and kills almost everybody, including himself.

At the end, two survivors speculate that there will be a cover up and the riot will simply go down in history as 'another Heysel Stadium'. The thing that worries them most of all is:

'It's not so much what happened at The Camp. 
We know all about that. It is what is happening elsewhere, 
all around us even now, that we don't know about

Christ, that's got us worried now.  

It’s a hell of a ride and, in many respects, is unlike any other book you'll ever read (that isn't by Guy N. Smith). J.G Ballard could have easily written a book about a foreign holiday resort where the thin veneer of civilisation is torn away, but only Smith could set it in the Home Counties and make the resort a hellish cross between Auschwitz and Butlins, a kind of psycho 'Hi De Hi' with more laughs and much stronger drugs. 

And that's Smith all over - no matter how fantastic or supernatural the story, he never loses the feel of the everyday, the mundane that underpins life on this small, silly island – so, yes, in 'The Camp', The Powers That Be are overseeing a massive conspiracy and feeding people psychotropic mind benders, but they are British, so how are they administering it? It’s in the mince!    


The pictures accompanying this post are of Summerland, a massive leisure complex that was once a flagship tourist destination in the Isle Of Man

Built in 1971, the idea was that up to 10,000 holidaymakers could swim, dance, play, drink, eat and generally make merry at a constant temperature of eighty degrees, all under a bronze coloured plastic roof specially designed to turn even the weakest sunbeam into a golden ray. There was even a solarium so, like Club Tropicana, you could sun tan. 

In August 1973, some kids set alight a kiosk which then collapsed against a not particularly fire resistant external wall, setting the complex ablaze. The fire spread to the highly flammable roof, which immediately melted and fell into the building. Fifty people were killed, and eighty were injured.   


  1. Sounds ace. Ballard just wrote the same book over and over anyway, so bollocks to him and the Will Self crowd.

  2. Sorry, but the concentration camp is an spanish invention, from our war of Cuba. You stole it! we claim priority!