A fascinating account of the life and times of the famous London hotels during World War II and the interesting people who visited, worked and stayed there. The Ritz, the Savoy, the Dorchester and Claridges all had their share of exiled foreign royals, politicians and ministers from home and abroad, soldiers and spies, thieves and conmen, the famous and the infamous of the time as their guests.
In Cheltenham Matthew Sweet in his newly published book “The West End Front” treated his audience to a most interesting, absorbing and illustrated talk into a few of the more extraordinary happenings and snippets of life at these ‘palaces of luxury’ during the wartime years. He explained how the hotels became a refuge for the rich and famous, wartime meeting places, a venue for socialising for people from all walks of life, an oasis amongst the desert of war.
He spoke about King Zog of Albania who, with his family, ministers and advisers, occupied a full floor of the Ritz apparently satisfying the bill by payment in gold bullion.
How suite 212 at Claridges Hotel for one night became the sovereign territory of Yugoslavia on the 17th July 1945 to allow Crown Prince Alexander to be born on Yugoslav soil (there was actually a box of soil placed under the bed).
People believed they would be safe staying within their walls, that their edifices were sound and strong, almost invincible buildings (they did nothing to discourage this ‘reputation’ although there was absolutely no substance to this whatsoever) which was fortunately not tested directly by German bombs.
The Savoy Hotel actually boasted the most luxurious air raid shelters in London with downstairs bars and rooms converted to take beds partitioned by curtained bays, all with maids, valets, waiters and nurses. This was at a time when the underground stations were not used as air raid. A protest was led by communist party organiser Phil Piratin and a group of his followers, at a time when no one could be refused admittance or sanctuary during an air raid to highlight the inequalities between the rich and poor.
With their famous elegant bars and restaurants the hotels were exempt from the everyday rationing and wartime restrictions, although they did lose their Italian waiters and foreign managers to internment camps. The bars, foyers and corridors were fertile listening places for foreign spies eager to catch ‘war talk’, and there were examples of suspected double agents living there.
The talk was a fascinating insight into this bizarre wartime world only scraping the surface of his well researched and detailed book which includes many interviews, reminiscences and personal anecdotes.