Documentary which charts how luxury hotels have met the needs of new forms of wealth - from aristocrats to rock stars and beyond - with comfort, innovation and service.
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Butlers and bellboys, champagne and shoeshine -
to understand luxury, look no further than the five-star hotel.
Hotels are probably the ultimate urban symbol of wealth and power.
They tend to represent the finest that we can produce
in terms of an architectural environment.
No other place so perfectly reflects and defines
our changing ideas of comfort, design, service...and glamour.
There's always an energy around a hotel,
there's always a buzz about a hotel,
because most people are in there for an occasion.
Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.
Luxury hotels have always been about exceeding expectations.
When people were going to them for the first time,
they expected to enter a different world.
Here we are.
Once, it was only hotels that had en-suite bathrooms,
now we ALL aspire to them.
The need for innovation in hotels
is the insatiable appetite of the customer for what's new
and what's on the button.
The precise details of luxury may change, but the definition doesn't.
Luxury hotels are only for the few. THEIR story is a very select one.
The luxury hotel is around 150 years old -
a product of the age of empire, when Britain ruled the world,
and the aristocracy ruled Britain.
Their clients were a tiny, wealthy elite
who had huge houses run by servants,
so that's what they expected from a hotel.
A luxury-hotel experience
is all about taking out the worry,
the hassle and the problems of life.
For example, you could ring the bell
and somebody would come and draw your bath.
You would perhaps have one or two or three butlers there -
one to unpack your bags, another to make sure that they took everything away.
Titled travellers, Victorian business barons,
American millionaires -
this high society crowd could afford to pay for what the hotels offered.
The grand hotels of the past exuded total glamour
for a very exclusive, small group of people
who travelled from one grand hotel to another and often did a circuit.
So they'd be in Paris, Monte Carlo, Cannes...
And...a wonderful lifestyle.
Um, but it was for just a few, cos travel was just for a few.
The grand designs of hotels mimicked the importance of their guests
to give the nobility and millionaires a suitable setting.
They are built to look like palaces.
They are built to look like a new, new version of a palace.
They were often called
"The Royal..." this, "The Imperial..." that.
So it's a palace for a plutocrat rather than a king.
One could live in grand style in a large building
with an exceptionally high standard of service -
every whim catered to, constant amusement,
good food available at any hour of the day or night.
By the 20th century,
the names of our grandest hotels were famous -
The Savoy, The Connaught,
The Ritz and The Dorchester, The Grosvenor, Claridge's -
these were strung like pearls around Mayfair and the Strand.
They'd be your home away from home.
Somewhere respectable where good people, nice people,
could go and could meet...
..in the first era that was really...lacked chaperones.
When young ladies hadn't been able to really be seen in a public place.
They were an area of freedom.
They were also, of course, immensely more comfortable
than any of the aristocracy's creaking stately homes.
I mean, you had...hot water.
A lift! Here it was known as an ascending room.
From their earliest days, these hotels were more innovative
than almost any other buildings of their time.
As much as hotels might have an aesthetic
and be remembered for their aesthetic,
in practice, they're highly refined machines.
They were really ahead of their time, they were really...
not just laboratories for life, but laboratories for technology.
They were the places that first tested intercom to the front desk,
telephone, even lightbulbs.
All mod-cons were necessary for the smooth running
of the deluxe hotel,
which in turn, made life more comfortable for the guests.
Technology made the incredible cleanliness of hotels
tremendously important and much easier, much simpler.
When there was running water, there were electric sockets
that would support vacuum cleaners and other modern appliances.
Boys, try and not be so noisy tonight, won't you?
The grand hotels were little microcosms.
They had their own laundries, printing presses...
The Savoy even had its own electricity plant!
An entire world was within their walls
and the staff were a fundamental part of the machinery.
Well-trained, at your service, and three to every guest.
But because those who eat the honey don't NEED to meet the bees,
most of the staff were hidden way.
There would be entirely separate communication corridors
and stairways, so that staff were NEVER seen,
unless they were actually required for a particular service.
CLATTERING AND SHOUTING
This notion of keeping the hotel free of any evidence of work
was important to the notion of leisure
that was embodied in the design of these buildings,
and the notion that people should be entertained the whole time.
Work was not part of that equation at all
and so it needed to be hidden, to be concealed.
These hotels did not allow just ANYBODY in,
they were private clubs where rich women felt protected
and rich men could meet in convivial surroundings.
In the derelict remains of The Cavendish in St James's,
a former guest recalled the hotel's role in its heyday.
What secrets this small garden could tell.
And all the prime ministers were here at one time or another,
'even Sir Anthony Eden as a young man.
It was here that The Times newspaper
was sold by Lord Astor to the rising Lord Northcliffe.
That was only one of the big deals that went on
in the discreet surroundings of The Cavendish.
Discretion was all part of excellent service.
Staff were told to turn a blind eye to anything, or anyone
their guests might care to do.
The bedrooms, you can well imagine, would have some stories to tell.
One, at any rate, can be told about this room,
because it was here on the notorious tiger-skin rug
that the passionate love affair
between the lady novelist Elinor Glyn and the Marquis Curzon,
viceroy of India no less, took place. Here...
before this fireplace on the rug.
Oh, no, there IS a connection between hotels and scandal.
I think it's because hotels are this strange space
between public and private space,
they're somehow outside of the normal rules of society.
If there is a "do not disturb" sign on the door,
whatever you're taking, you must not knock or open or go in.
At the Hotel Meurice in Paris,
Salvador Dali drew on the walls of his room
while his pet ocelots pooed on the carpets.
At the Savoy, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
carried on their illicit affair.
Things go on in hotels that you would never know,
and it's the job of the staff never to let on.
Throughout the early 20th century, the private lives of luxury hotels
remained invisible to the public eye.
With the growing popularity of cinema in the '30s and '40s, however,
they began to be revealed.
ARCHIVE: Boys, I want to see every eyelid snap.
ALL: Yes, Sir!
Hollywood exploited the grand hotel,
for glamorous settings, drama and fun.
It found character in the ranks.
ALL: Good morning, Mr Hammerstein.
There was the spectacle of the hotel lobby and ballroom.
And the rubbing together of the classes
fed the American Dream with working boy often winning rich-girl guest.
He could name mine any time!
Hollywood also staged lavish cabaret on a grand scale.
Gradually, the grand hotels began to ape these films.
They began to put on cabaret
based on the fictional version of themselves.
It's the witching hour of midnight. We're watching the dancers
trip the light fantastic to Billy Gerhardy and his band.
To pay for this,
the wealthy public was admitted to swell the numbers.
It made financial sense.
And hotels began to have a more public face.
The Great Room in the Grosvenor House
used to be an ice-skating rink originally
That's what I was told.
The hotels were the places that had incredible shows.
I guess you could argue somewhere like Vegas
is a more tacky, but modern version of the grand hotels.
A lot of these hotels did that when it was part of their attraction.
A hotel is a business, and if a business doesn't generate cash
and make profit, it can't survive.
You have to get a return on investment
so it's all about square footage and making sure it works for you.
These grand hotels had huge public space.
And these spaces were ideal venues for the partying '60s,
when Britain had plenty to celebrate.
ARCHIVE: 'If you have money, you don't expect to fight your way into the Dorchester,
'unless you're so famous you can't move for your army of fans.'
This was when luxury hotels established themselves
as focus points for public occasions.
It was the era of the gala dinner, the charity ball,
the award ceremony.
The great and the good from all walks of life
mingled in the spotlights.
It was like Olympic rings of social circles
and then, as now, royalty and the aristocracy
were fascinated to meet the theatocracy.
It was a marriage made in heaven.
The hotels all sparkled and everyone was a star for the night.
There is a great quote from Michael Caine
talking about when you first arrive
it's like you were the first person on stage.
It's that sense of being walked to your table, the sense of occasion,
You probably put your best suit on or your little black dress.
It's an exciting evening for you. The anticipation is there.
'Good evening from the Dorchester Hotel in London
'on television's biggest social occasion...'
Something which runs parallel with the hotel industry is the theatre.
I always sort of feel that when you have a lunch or dinner service,
it is kind of like getting ready for curtain up.
I think cinematic, actually, more than theatre.
Done well, they can be completely immersive.
Done badly, they can be immersive as well!
You're in someone else's world.
You don't have control over that.
You are part of somebody else's narrative for better or worse.
TV cameras and press photographers were granted greater access
to record this parade of prestige.
The irresistible rise of the media spread the glamorous images
far and wide, but they were missing a far more interesting story
that was playing at the grand hotels.
Backstage it wasn't Great Expectations, it was Bleak House!
There was never any money spent on staff feeding or locker rooms.
There was a lot of fighting that went on, fist-fights and so on.
A lot of theft.
Back of house, it was completely ghastly.
When I worked at the Berkeley,
we had to take all our clothes off, apart from our bra and knickers,
lock them away, put on our whites,
and we were searched before we left the hotel,
in case we had stolen any food.
I think it says a lot about what the economic situation was.
Staff could be dismissed with a day's notice.
Wages were below average.
Waiters and kitchen staff worked long, hard hours.
The kitchen was like rowing on a galleon.
People shouting, the heat was huge, it was enormous.
It was thoroughly unpleasant.
For years, this story had remained hidden.
Staff put up with it as part of the job.
Then, in 1963, the BBC were allowed into a luxury hotel
to make a documentary.
Going in behind the velvet curtain,
they produced what must be one of the first examples of the TV expose.
-'Service trolleys like this can travel many corridor miles per day.
'It's as if this place was a hospital, where the staff are the doctors
'dispensing charm and tranquillisers.'
How are you this morning? Fine, thank you.
Come along, my dear, breakfast is here.
'Many floors below the splendour are the quarters of the staff.
'There's something archaic, almost medieval about the contrast.'
This was the enlightened '60s.
A time when trade unions were demanding a fairer deal for workers.
The documentary questioned the whole idea of the luxury hotel.
Is this yesterday's culture?
The diners here, the food they're eating, the music they're hearing,
the staff that serve them,
seem sometimes to exist only in a timeless international limbo.
It's hardly changed for 40 years,
despite the fact that after the war, many people were asking,
just how long CAN all this last?
I remember people came back from the war,
wanting to put things right for ever.
What are those extraordinary
Edwardian and Victorian mock palaces doing here?
They don't make any economic sense and they're just a great affront.
Aesthetically, they are always interesting.
They tend to represent the finest that we can produce
in terms of an architectural environment.
Morally, they are another matter.
They're there, as William Morris said,
to cater for the swinish luxury of the rich.
The film was shot at the Savoy
but it could have been any grand hotel of the time.
The management tried to get an injunction,
but failed, and the programme went out,
pulling no punches in showing the gulf between the rich and the rest.
Here, a client may pay £3,000 for a ball.
A washer-up keeps his family on this sum for seven years.
Could this mean that the luxury hotel will flounder?
The hoteliers themselves seem to think
that however society may change, there will still be people
who are able to buy what they are selling.
In the Herald newspaper the next day, its TV critic wrote,
"This cool-eyed documentary would have coaxed
"revolutionary sentiments out of the mildest of country rectors."
But they were all underestimating the powerful pull of luxury.
This was the beginning of the consumer age,
and rather than wanting to destroy the palaces of pleasure,
lots of people aspired to stay in them.
An awful lot of people were going to hotels for the first time.
People who weren't used to being served
and didn't know quite how to respond to it.
Here we are, Room 1520.
I've put you right next to the lift. It's very convenient.
-IN POSH VOICE:
-Oh, good, that is kind of you.
-Here we are.
These were the days when many people considered any hotel to be "posh".
Meaning not for the likes of us.
If you think of the psychology of the doorman in his uniform,
the epaulettes, the big hat,
he towers over the door of the taxi or car,
and you step out, it's intimidation. The big entrance.
And if you're not confident or used to it, this is very threatening.
Good night, madam.
Often, they were being served by people who, on the face of it,
were miles smarter than they were,
so the whole thing must have seemed rather intimidating.
They were very bad, historically, about being snobby about the guests.
Your luggage, madam. I believe I've got everything.
Not good enough. They're not for us.
Who are you to make that judgment?
Thank you, madam.
Fred, him bringing in our luggage!
Looked more as though he was delivering the groceries!
I bet you tipped him!
-Only half a crown!
-Half a crown for five minutes' work?!
That's £2.10 an hour!
I only get 10 bob an hour, and I'm a first-class tradesman,
with seven years' apprenticeship!
Yes, but you have to do things right when you stay in a place like this.
Tell him to take the ruddy lot down again!
I'll bring it all up for a tanner!
Oh, don't be mean, love. I mean, after all, we've got to pay,
so we might as well enjoy it.
I am! I'm running the hot water, and I'm not putting the plug in!
I've a good mind to let it run all night!
The ultimate testament to the pull of posh was to be found
hundreds of miles away
in the proletarian, egalitarian Soviet empire.
The old spa town of Carlsbad, in communist Czechoslovakia,
had grand hotels of the most palatial kind,
left over from its Imperial past.
In the '60s, the Communist Party saw them
not as a places the workers could aspire to,
but as a way of tempting foreigners to come and spend their money.
Foreigners like Alan Whicker.
Austrian emperors, German Kaisers, Russian Tsars,
all stroll through these quiet colonnades.
The local hotel registration books read like a roll-call of the famous.
And, remarkably, the place has changed very little
since those illustrious guests strolled this way.
Take this hotel,
the largest social centre in central Europe, with 800 rooms.
Today, it's casting seductive eyes towards those banished aristocrats
who happen to have hard currency.
And much is being done to lure them
back to the patrician surroundings that they once knew so well.
But perhaps to salve its communist conscience, the Hotel Moscow Pupp
leaves by every bedside a brochure in which it says,
how many famous and more or less important people from all parts of the world
this hotel has welcomed within its walls since its foundation.
But for a long, long time, it did not consider those through whose work,
drudgery, privation and sweat this proud enterprise was created.
The simple working classes.
The heroes of the commonplace, everyday life.
Today, however, the Grand Hotel Moscow belongs to them,
the true rulers of this country.
"Belongs to them."
They can't actually come in here, of course, it's far too expensive,
and it's reserved for foreigners, but, it belongs to them.
Come the revolution, you'll all have hotels.
In a strange way, he was right. A hotel revolution was on its way.
Back in Britain,
the Grand hotels were about to face their first serious challenge.
London's new landmark.
The Hilton Hotel, 30 storeys of it high over once sedate Park Lane,
to say nothing of four more storeys underground.
If you have a head for heights, there is a grandstand view
from the rooftop restaurant with that controversial view
of Buckingham Palace and the Queen's once-private garden.
This was the first international hotel coming over from America.
And having an American company come in with its systems,
with its different approaches, was a big, big occasion.
It was a determined statement
of American cultural imperialism.
It was huge. It was brash. It was modern.
At a time when there were virtually no tall buildings in London,
that one towered over everything else.
It gave people an image of the future.
Obviously, the '60s was doing that in so many other areas,
and hotels do manifest what's going on in other parts of society.
That's the point of them.
The Park Lane Hilton was a luxurious home away from home
for travelling Americans.
But what they took for granted was a revelation to the British.
It was air-conditioned.
There were very few hotels air-conditioned.
You didn't have air conditioning at the Savoy or the Ritz or anywhere.
You got lots of lifts, and the lifts were faster.
These were things that people went, "My God!"
It wasn't just the technology that was innovative.
It was the Hilton style of service, too.
Grand hotels were about paying attention and being servile,
standing to attention and receiving orders.
The American service ethic was far more upfront and in your face.
This is where America scored.
The Americans do smile and say, "Hi, how are you? Hello."
I think that people within - the travelling public, when I say people -
enjoyed that, enjoyed that difference.
In 1963, 12 Hilton hotels opened around the world.
Modern mansions built for the '60s plutocrat.
Mr Hilton, why are all your hotels so alike, so American?
I don't believe that they are so alike.
I believe they're all different,
and that is something that we thought of for a long time.
We do not even call our hotels a chain,
we call them a system of hotels, and they are all different.
But the whole point was standardisation.
From Park Lane to Addis Ababa, you always knew what you were getting.
The campaign was, wherever you landed, you said, "Take me to the Hilton."
And, of course, you could get a BLT and a club sandwich and a burger.
You wanted to know that you could get international standards,
meaning American standards, everywhere.
And you wanted to know that it was hygienic.
Is it safe to drink the water?
Hilton water was different from everyone else's water.
Not only was it safe, it was cool.
Let's talk about that just for a second.
Do you know what that was? Iced water.
Wherever you went, you got iced water.
Tell me when you get iced water now.
You don't go into a hotel or a restaurant anywhere
and get iced water, and yet in those days, that's what you got.
In the beginnings, there was darkness upon the face of the Earth,
and there was no iced water.
And Hilton said, "Let there be iced water."
And in every bathroom, pipes ran with plenteous iced water,
and Hilton saw that it was good.
Then he said, "Let there be music."
And in every lobby, single-studio parlour, double French bedroom
and luxury suite - nay, in every elevator -
other pipes gushed with plenteous canned music.
And Hilton said,
"Let the Earth bring forth Hiltons yielding fruit after their kind."
And the El Paso Hilton begat the Beverly Hilton,
which begat the Puerto Rico Hilton, which begat the Istanbul Hilton,
which begat the Panama Hilton, which begat...
I think what Conrad Hilton wanted to do was to establish a standard
worldwide so that people who travelled could always be confident
of a standard of comfort.
In a funny way,
he was the first person trying to homogenise the world.
..the Acapulco Hilton, and on the seventh day...
But real luxury isn't off the peg.
If Luxury were a town, it would be twinned with Exclusivity.
So the super-rich flew off in search of something new,
somewhere they could mingle with members of their own elite group.
On the Caribbean island of Jamaica, they found it.
Frenchman's Cove, the most expensive hotel in the world,
and Alan Whicker was on hand to sample it.
At last, I've made it.
This is the place where my every wish can be satisfied.
I've been looking for this kind of place for years!
Only a tiny number of people could afford to stay here,
in the private, purpose-built villas
scattered around 45 acres of tropical paradise.
Throughout the '60s, Frenchman's Cove attracted people like
the Queen and Prince Philip, the Aga Khan,
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
and, of course, a certain reporter.
# Desires will come to you
# When you wish upon a star
# Makes no difference who you are... #
Right, well, now I'm entitled to order anything I want in the world.
And I do mean anything.
Magnums of champagne, mountains of caviar, lashing of smoked salmon...
I can telephone my second cousin in Australia,
I can call for a Cadillac and chauffeur,
for a boat to go out marlin fishing,
for an aircraft to fly me down to Montego Bay for golf.
All this, and it won't cost me a penny.
That's to say, it won't cost me a penny MORE.
Frenchman's Cove was an all-inclusive package holiday.
In 1966, it cost £700 a fortnight to stay here -
over a year's pay for a trained chef at the Savoy.
The owner told Alan how REAL luxury worked.
it's an established procedure of the hotel that the chef interviews
each guest twice a day, once for his lunch and secondly for his dinner.
This gives us time to cook everything specifically to order.
But the interesting point is that we end up by having
no trouble at all, because when the average human being is
confronted with an unlimited number of choices like that,
he immediately lays himself back in our hands and says,
"What do you have?"
So we end up giving everyone baked beans for dinner!
The driving force behind the spread of luxury hotels
throughout the '60s was the rise of a new group,
the international business executive transported by jet travel.
As busy businessmen thronged through Heathrow, a new crop of hotels
sprang up to accommodate them in the modern grand style.
What these hotels offered was
cut-price variations on the Hilton hotel.
Room service, one of the hallmarks of luxury, was reduced to this.
All these hotels were built in response to a Government initiative
that was itself responding to a crisis in Britain's hotels.
The Labour Government decided that there weren't enough hotels,
and that they would offer a grant - not a loan, a grant.
And, believe it or not, it was £1,000 a room.
So all the property companies -
not hotel companies, property companies - said, "Whoopee."
And so, 27 major hotels opened in 1971 in London.
One of them was a bed factory.
'However, there seems to have been no planning to co-ordinate
'the rival projects, and the hotels have realised only now
'just how many rooms are waiting to be let.'
In 1971, David Levin flew in the face of the corporate scramble.
Using a Government grant,
he built a small bespoke hotel in Knightsbridge.
'I said that I was going to build a grand hotel in miniature.
'I had to say miniature because we only had 50 rooms.'
The Capital offered five-star service and accommodation,
but not, according to the rulebook, a five-star location.
The concept was that you had to be on the Rue de Rivoli, you had to be
on the Champs-Elysees, you had to be on Park Lane, or else you were a dud.
There was an American man that said,
"Position, position, position - the three most important points."
I don't believe that. And I said, "It's not a backstreet.
"There's no such thing as a backstreet in Knightsbridge."
Having worked in hotels all his life,
David Levin had firm ideas about what he wanted to create.
Where he could see the need for innovation in the '70s was
in the hotel restaurant.
You need to understand
that the world did not go to a hotel to eat.
The world came to a hotel to stay,
and there would be what was called the dining room, not a restaurant.
If I tell you that the Automobile Association, that was really
the only hotel/restaurant guide, had demanded that an establishment
to have five stars, it required one fresh vegetable on the menu.
The rest were tinned or frozen.
And I just felt the standards,
particularly in this country, were so low...
that it would be a joy to,
um...to improve them.
He took on a chef called Richard shepherd,
and their fresh approach to hotel dining made headlines.
We had a wonderful write-up in The Evening Standard.
It was written by a man called Quentin Crewe,
who absolutely closed restaurants.
He was so, sort of, difficult.
Quentin crew said,
"I ate a scallop mousse spiced with sea urchins
"and my friends had lobster bisque.
"It was so fresh and pure of taste
"that is seemed as if a wizard had just spoken sharply to some lobsters
"and they had turned into soup."
But we were full that night The Evening Standard came out.
That was how desperate people were to find good food.
In 1974, the Capital Hotel restaurant
was awarded a Michelin red star for excellence.
But the Guide was less impressed
by some of our other, more famous, hotels.
We can't see you because you don't want to be recognised in restaurants and hotels.
-What shall I call you?
Being French, Dupont is quite a good name.
This criteria by which you judge, presumably you haven't changed over the years,
but the 25 stars in this edition
go to restaurants that you call "good in their class."
There are world-famous restaurants, like The Ritz, The Savoy Grill - not good in their class?
# Is that all there is?
# Is that all there is?
# If that's all there is, my friends... #
Some of what was on offer in Britain's five-star hotels
seemed little different from a B&B,
apart from the theatre surrounding it.
It wasn't just food, it was standards generally
and the problem was widespread.
Why did hotels lose their way in the seventies?
They were mediocre.
They just didn't seem to be driven by people with passion.
I think they rested on their laurels
and then one day realised that they had empty dining rooms.
They woke up and said, "What will we do? We are dying."
It looked as though luxury had lost its lustre.
But each decade somebody comes along and shines it up again.
I think the hotel world, like everything,
is a combination of the established companies -
who have a great deal of money
and access to marketing and connections
and the machine, basically - and the innovators,
who are, invariably on the outside.
Innovation always comes from the outside.
It never comes from the middle. That's a fact in everything.
I think I was running a strange little life
between the Portobello Road and being a sort of strange actress.
And I was talking to people coming from Italy and LA saying,
"There's nowhere to stay between a bed-and-breakfast dump
"and the Ritz or the Dorchester."
There wasn't an in-betweeny.
There wasn't that thing I started - a home away from home.
That's how I got started.
The '70s saw a new group join the ranks of the rich.
Young millionaires from the music and creative industries.
They were sophisticated, well travelled and knew what they wanted.
And Anouska Hempel gave it to them with Blakes -
a whole new kind of hotel.
Hotels, up to that point, had not been fun and young.
The young weren't really acknowledged.
So what Anouska Hempel did was to create this very funky hotel.
And it was really decadent
and that suited the age
because it was naughty.
It was very ahead of its time.
It was very sexy. It was very glamorous.
It wasn't about business.
It was affairs and fabrics and souffles with gold leaf
and it was expensive
and it was a jewel, and I loved it.
It became synonymous with, sort of, sex, basically.
And with a very, sort of,
international jet-set/rock'n'roll crowd.
That was its mythology.
Anouska Hempel had created one of the first
small, stylish, independent hotels
that later became known as boutique.
She recognised that there was a new, more informal,
more design-educated kind of customer there,
who absolutely didn't want to stay, um...
with geriatric Americans in a city-centre hotel.
Rock stars belonged to AN elite but they weren't THE elite.
That accolade belonged to the sheiks of the Middle East,
whose oil had propelled them into the Premier League of wealth.
We think the British have invaded us some time ago!
We are giving you back a touristic invasion.
So England is gaining twice.
They were very opulent times.
They were in another league
as far as spending's concerned and what they wanted.
The Arabs arrived in the mid-'70s
and embraced everything that Britain had to offer.
My children enjoy staying here in London
because there's a lot of things to do.
What sort of things?
Going to the zoos, going to museums...going to Brighton Beach.
They love our weather.
I know that sounds extraordinary
but during the summer months in the Middle East,
if you have an average of 45-50 degrees centigrade,
wouldn't you want to come here to London
and enjoy the beautiful weather we have? They just adore that.
This wealthy group stayed in the best hotels and flashed the cash.
And in hotels, that gets you a lot of service.
They love hotels.
I remember, when I was a young manager,
and the first Middle-East guests arrived in abundance...
I was the only one who didn't end up with five gold watches.
I must never have been in the right place!
All the staff were, "I've been given another Rolex."
Arab guests didn't just stay in hotels, they bought them.
Most famously, The Dorchester on Park Lane, for £9 million.
Why are the Arabs particularly interested in a hotel which is something of a British institution?
I think that is WHY they are interested in it.
They want a hotel which is essentially British,
with the tradition that goes with it.
Tourists with money to spend knew what they wanted from the UK -
tradition, and what was left of our aristocratic past
and its luxurious trappings.
The owners of grand hotels realised
they were perfectly positioned to get in on the act.
This is The Ritz, can I help you?
In 1981, The new owner of The Ritz gave it an extravagant facelift.
£4 million was spent on restoring the hotel to deluxe splendour.
And the BBC were allowed in to make a documentary.
They found the Ritz flogging heritage tourism at £4.50 a head for tea.
Tea at the Ritz is now one of the things to do on the European tour.
You can sit next to a pop singer,
a politician or the Princess Elena Mutafia.
What is it about The Ritz that attracts you?
Well, its quiet dignity, really.
Um...the surroundings are very gracious and it's quiet
and I don't know of a place like The Ritz
that gives that particular atmosphere.
-Could you take that one away?
-Are you sure?
Everybody should enjoy what is beautiful in life
and this place is truly beautiful.
So let people enjoy it.
There are probably not many people in England today
who can afford to enjoy it, are there?
Yes, I agree, but they can always come to tea.
To stay at the Ritz in 1981 cost about £200 a night.
That included breakfast.
A nice breakfast in a moment, I hope.
Lord Carnarvon, now 83, has been coming to The Ritz for 60 years.
In the '20s, His Lordship got free board and lodging in exchange
for encouraging his wealthy friends to stay here.
Now he has to pay his bill with the best of them.
-Two coddled eggs, please.
Well, I'm ready whenever you are.
Coffee, that's right. Pour it out there, would you? Pour it out there.
-Put the coffee in there!
-Do what I tell you. Then bring...
I want a saccharine, do you see? Don't have sugar. That's right.
-No! No milk. Always black.
-Your toast, sir.
And put the toast down.
I want some butter and then hurry up the eggs.
-I don't want to be here all night.
-Right you are, sir.
-Thank you very much.
You must get on with it!
It takes about three-quarters of an hour to bring anything!
But, there you are, that's life. I think something's arriving.
Good boy! That's right, pop them down. Thank you very much.
-Everything you require, sir?
I want the marmalade and the butter! That's right, thank you very much.
-Got the marmalade. I think we're all set now.
Thank you so much.
Don't freeze the butter!
Never grumble about anything in life. That's a great motto.
The new look Ritz was not all to Lord Carnarvon's taste.
The makeover had got rid of some traditional luxury touches he'd once enjoyed.
I miss one thing only here, and that is the baths.
There used to be huge, great, wonderful baths here.
But I quite understand the reason.
Americans, for instance, they're used to taking showers
and they don't like these big, old-fashioned baths
like I used to like so much.
And The staff didn't like the changes either.
These bathrooms were really beautiful before.
They had lovely Battersea glass tiles
and beautiful porcelain baths.
They sparkled, yes. Just the kind of bath men would like.
You could swim in it!
They had to use a sledgehammer to break them up to take them out.
I thought the end of the world had come.
For a certain way of life, the end of the world HAD come.
Lord Carnarvon and his ilk were finding it financially tougher
than in the old days.
High taxation had seen many of the aristocracy
struggle to keep their country houses running.
So many of them had begun to let in the hoi polloi,
by opening their houses as museums, or filling their gardens with lions.
Some had even turned them into luxury hotels.
Country house hotels were run in a very personal way.
Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.
They would have six wonderful bedrooms
and 15 dreadful bedrooms because they were originally for staff.
They would tend to employ local people and they would tend
to do the things that they liked - the aristocracy liked.
Um...a fire burning in the bedroom.
You know, because that's what they were used to.
Well, I have to tell you that's quite dangerous.
Breakfast would be laid out on a sideboard with hot plate
and it would just be wrecked because they would do it at eight
and you came down at ten o'clock.
So there were all these foibles. They were unprofessional.
It was quite amateurish. But they shot up in popularity.
From the '80s on, wealthy city folk went off for the weekend
to get a slice of country living.
However, the landed rich weren't used to serving other people.
So what the city guests wanted and what they got given,
were two different things.
There was a feeling - you're kind of lucky to be coming to stay with us.
Don't worry too much about the odd bit of peeling paint.
Maybe the beds aren't as comfortable as you would have hoped
because you're in this wonderful building,
built whenever and made of whatever.
Someone very famous said something here.
Isn't this a wonderful, historical stay? Actually, no.
They often weren't fantastically well run.
They often didn't have... I mean, the food was often very cliched
and they talked all the time about food.
Someone would come and tell you about the food.
Leave it out - I don't want to know!
I just wanted to put on my jeans and throw a bag in the car
and race down to somewhere and I didn't want to put on a jacket
or have a sommelier overwhelm me with a ten-page wine list.
It took a city type to change the country house hotel.
In the '90s, entrepreneur Nick Jones had set up Soho House,
a private club in London,
that catered for creative and media types.
Now he began looking around for a country house to turn into a hotel,
and found Babington House in Somerset.
Nick Jones, along with friends like the actor Neil Morrissey,
saw the potential to innovate.
-Do you like it?
-I love it! I love it! This is a perfect bar area.
A long bar down here.
They knew what they wanted because they knew what they didn't want.
What we're trying to do here is create something which is totally different
from what else is out in the country at the moment,
which is the typical country house hotel
full of chintz and restrictions.
You know, as soon as you walk in, you feel you've done something wrong
or put your foot in the wrong place etc.
People love the country, and want to come, but they don't come
because of the restrictions which are imposed on them.
What we're trying to do is bring a bit of London,
a bit of urbanised way of life to the country.
The task of re-modelling the country house hotel
in a more creative way was given to Ilse Crawford.
It was a brilliant house.
It had been in the same family for generations
and they'd lost it in the Lloyds crash.
Certainly, for me, the most important thing
was to make it into a house where people felt
they could enjoy the whole house.
Like, say, your mythical mate's place where the parents have gone away
and left the keys to the drinks cabinet.
This new take on the country house hotel had the monied media set
piling down to rural Somerset to relax.
It was Notting Hill goes to the country.
So everybody knew everybody, and it had a spa.
The most important dynamic of the last few years,
which you never had in the '60s or '70s, was the spa.
They knew who their guests were and they provided what they wanted.
Then the idea that you would go to a country house
and dress up and whisper...finito.
Babington House played in to the boutique hotel explosion
of the '90s.
This was all about defining a niche market
and then designing a hotel that could serve it.
They were responding to the idea of clubability,
that you would meet other people like yourself there.
Your hotel says more about you than cash ever can.
It's all about fashion.
Just the same - the way you wear your clothes
and the different style of clothes that you wear.
Hotels have to be relevant and up-to-date.
Anouska Hempel, who had done so much
to kick start the boutique habit with Blakes Hotel,
rang the changes with The Hempel.
I'm sort of giving you the maximum in a minimalistic way.
You've got posts that go up into infinity,
to make it very tall and peculiar to sleep in.
All the rooms have their own uniqueness, their own strangeness.
What's this big hole above our heads?
Hole?! Tut! This is an atrium.
I'll take you into it. I'll stand you here and you too can fly.
It's not just bed and board... and a base for being in a town,
or any of those very fundamental human needs.
It's something to blow your mind aesthetically. It's an experience.
Gordon Campbell Gray created One Aldwych in Piccadilly,
with a hotel bar designed to tempt outsiders in.
I wanted to create a snob-free zone, where everyone is treated the same,
which was quite new for a five-star hotel. So I hired
only Australian doormen
because they don't understand snobbery.
You couldn't educate them to be snobbish. They don't get it.
So they welcomed everybody. That was our magic formula.
The Goring Hotel, where Kate Middleton stayed
for the Royal Wedding, has spent a lot of money
on recreating its glamorous Edwardian origins.
It now looks as though it hasn't changed for 100 years. But it has.
It was the very rich and the elite that used to come into our hotel
but nowadays it's business people, people who come in for tea, coffee.
In the morning, our lounge is full of people having small meetings
and that because they want somewhere to sit and be comfortable.
It's nearly 50 years since a BBC documentary predicted
that the writing was on the wall for the luxury hotel.
They were wrong.
There are nearly ten hotels opening here.
There are over 50 hotels opening in New York. Six in Paris.
And this is during a time of recession. Hotels are huge.
Once there was a consensus as to what a luxury hotel was.
It was a Savoy, a Ritz.
It was butlers and bellboys and glamour and gilt.
But the movers and shakers of each generation
have demanded different things,
so five-star hotels have offered clever variations
on the luxury theme.
But luxury has become a much overused word...
because luxury always needs to outdo itself.
The Burj Al Arab in Dubai is one of a tiny constellation
of seven-star hotels.
Built on its own island, the public are not encouraged to go in.
This is today's grand hotel.
A playground for the global super-rich,
who can pay up to £12,000 a night
for a suite with a revolving four-poster bed
and a butler to run them a bath.
Luxury, it appears, has come full circle -
with today's super-rich
as keen as the old aristocrats ever were
to keep it for the very select few.
# Living for you is easy living
# It's easy to live when you're in love
# And I'm so in love
# There's nothing in life but you... #
Timeshift invites you to make a reservation in the world of hotels for the super rich. The Savoy, the Ritz, the Dorchester - the very names of Britain's grand hotels spell luxury around the world. The film charts how luxury hotels have met the needs of new forms of wealth, from aristocrats to rock stars and beyond, with comfort, innovation and, above all, service.