RNLI searches for missing ‘Billy’ models from 1960s

Terrifying figure of man doll in yellow hood

The RNLI is on the search for its ‘Billies’. These are what it terms as ‘lifelike models’ (debatable as they’re truly horrifying) which were used in the 1960s as collecting aids.

The one pictured above is in Whitby’s museum. Originally from Leeds, where he belonged to the Leeds Shoreline Branch, Billy was part of many displays at local galas and fetes and also made appearances at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate.

“Billy has no maker’s name, but he is marked with a number three on him,” says Neil Williamson, Whitby RNLI Museum curator (pictured below). “Unfortunately, the RNLI have no records about the commissioning of the ‘Billies’, but the question is, are there still any other Billies in existence elsewhere? We’d love to hear from you if you know of any or even have old photos of a Billy.”

After leaving Leeds, the Billy pictured moved to Knaresborough. As part of the Knaresborough Ladies’ Lifeboat Guild’s fundraising activities he was always on display at events, and the annual gymkhana.

real man stands next to RNLI Billy to show height of RNLI figurine

With the demise of the Knaresborough Guild, Billy spent the last 15 years stored in a garage owned by Knaresborough supporter Paula Letts. However, Letts felt the time was right for Billy to be returned to the RNLI. And now he’s in the Whitby RNLI Museum but the long-term plan is to move him to the RNLI’s HQ at Poole.

Transported in two halves, as he stands over two metres tall, it’s thought Billy was an offshoot of the fashion in the 1950-70s to have a life-size figure outside High Street shops. Landers Butchers on Baxtergate, Whitby still has a model of a butcher (similar to Billy) in its shop.

The earlier Billies were plaster, with later versions being made of resin or GRP plastic. If there’s one lurking in a garage near you, terrifying all those that see it, contact the RNLI.

Recently, more than 40 rescue vessels, including both current and historical RNLI lifeboats as well as international boats, celebrated the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s 200th anniversary.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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