‘A gentleman and a genius’ – James Hoseason opened up the Norfolk Broads for tourism
- Credit: Archant Library
In his memoirs, journalist and publicist Paul Thomas writes of Norfolk business growth both in the UK and worldwide over the past half century or more
As a little boy, the Norfolk Broads introduced me to a future life of boats, be they on our waterways here – or for decades to come boats worldwide, whether I was aboard them or publicising them, large and small, working, holidays or sporting use. I met my whole future, local Norfolk and worldwide, including a wife, family, business success thanks to the Broads.
My parents and I, as a toddler, had holidayed twice in seaside Sheringham. When I passed my 11-plus exams gaining me new free schooling in London where we lived, they asked me what would I like as a prize – and I said: “A holiday on the Norfolk Broads.”
It was in 1952 – they allowed me to drive the motor cruiser – I became the Admiral. We had the Lady Pamela out from Reedham’s Sanderson Marine Craft, a classic boatyard then.
And I was introduced to a British holiday industry that was just taking off. I knew little but in years to come, pioneer boat hire company Blakes, then smaller but fast-growing Hoseasons Holidays, were to become stars in my life – and 20 years later vital in the growth of a publicity business I started, which boomed as it helped the Broads tourism industry grow faster.
In the 1800s and early 1900s beautiful pleasure wherries hosted holiday visitors but in 1939 a range of motor cruisers and yachts featured in the brochure of Blakes Holidays and founder Harry Blake proudly claimed 100,000 copies had been printed as the boat hire industry grew. But the threat of war in Europe was looming and on September 3, 1939 the announcement was made that war had indeed been declared. Blake nonetheless went ahead and had the 1940 edition printed but in June holidaying on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads ceased. The military took over, declaring it a no-go area.
The threat of a possible German invasion led to the whole of Britain being turned into a fortress and the Broads were felt to be a major weak point needing defending. Private and hire boats were requisitioned to form blockades on rivers and broads to prevent enemy sea planes landing, or were sunk to prevent access. Many of the old trading wherries sadly met their fate in this way. The boatyards now found themselves helping the war effort, many by building military vessels.
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By 1944 invasion faded, restrictions were lifted and people were once again allowed to visit the Broads. The hire fleets needed much refurbishment. Some boats had even sunk.
Times would change. The war had seen wherries and boats moored on the Broads to keep the enemy flying boats at bay. Now we were enjoying the start of a major new holiday industry… and now Blakes was not alone.
In 1944 a new name entered Broadland history when William Ballantyne (or Wally) Hoseason began hiring out boats at Oulton Broad. Wally, former harbour master at Oulton in the early 1930s began to arrange boat hire on behalf of owners by letting out moored cruisers as houseboats to families who had been evacuated from London. Petrol was rationed which meant motor craft could not be moved, sunken vessels still covered the system and cruising would have been too hazardous.
Hoseason produced his first holiday brochure in 1946 - just four pages but the company he formed would go on to become a household name for boating holidays and a major rival to Blakes agency.
Fast forward quarter of a century and with Blakes as one of the first clients of the Public Relations firm Publicity Plus Ltd I had started, that change into the hands of various boatyards was to impact on my business life. Early in the 1970s, life got tough – Blakes was heading into bad times and our retention as publicist ended. Hoseasons was giving them a tough time as prime competitor and they bid to take over Blakes. The deal was refused. A week later I got a call from Jimmy Hoseason who was driving his father’s firm into new growth. He wanted me to publicise Hoseasons Holidays – and that was 1973 with a client we would help grow massively.
Jim Hoseason was one of the three wisest men in my life. I am proud to have known him well. A gentleman, a genius, a friend, someone who always listened to you – was strong, usually right yet always keen to hear others’ views. And he often acted on mine! And vice-versa. He never got angry, rarely went soft – but enjoyed life, often champing on a pipe. I learned much from Jim – little things like using people’s names; the classic that people who talk about themselves are bores; those who talk about “others” are gossips – but it’s right to talk about “you” – always he was interested in other people.
One key to Hoseasons’ success was his assertion that 70% of holiday-taking decisions were made by women and you played to that – and he staffed his call centre mostly with women. It worked.
Perhaps his greatest wisdom was the opportunity to convert a complaint/complainer into a positive successful future by saying sorry and putting whatever was wrong, right. Also his ability to foresee business trends – like the impact soaring car ownership would have on holiday-taking at home. He was head of an organisation that developed holidays, afloat and ashore, particularly in East Anglia and the Broads, eventually nationally, abroad too, for a million people a year. Jimmy and I enjoyed planning many boating events – with numerous journalists and quite a number of celebrities over the years. The venues ranged from London’s Little Venice to Loch Ness searching for that monster. Boating holidays, no only on the Broads, soared. Riverside homes too in the 80s and 90s. Holidays sold nationally, locally – to world visitors. The 90s moved on so well and then Jim confided in me Hoseasons Holidays was seeking a buyer. After 50 years, Jim, by now an OBE for his achievements for tourism, would retire – at the forefront of self-catering and boating holidays, 12,000 places to stay and a million customers a year. On October 31, 1999, Jim sold it – for £22 million. His timing was right. I handled all the publicity, and other HR work… and life moved on.
Today much has changed in Broadland – with a decline in family boatyards and operators from 3,000 hire boats, mainly week-long lets in the 1980s to about 900 today. But now many hire for short breaks as well as weeks. There are also lots more day hire launches and we locals have grown the total of private boats on the Broads, some going to sea, considerably.
Paul’s biography, My Life, My Way, is available from £10.75 including post and packing from email@example.com