Ward Morehouse III has had a love affair with London Hotels, as evidenced by his entertaining and informative new book, “London’s Grand Hotels: Extraordinary People, Extraordinary Service in the World’s Cultural Capital” (BearManor Media). Although I’m not sure about calling London the “Cultural Capital”—I might give the title to New York—Morehouse’s book is unusual in the sense that it isn’t an ordinary travel guide. His take is to get behind the scenes and talk about the hotels in terms of history, tradition, the executives who run them and the flow of celebrities who have stayed in their and his particular favorites. Previously Morehouse’s hotel concentration was New York with his books “TheWaldorf-Astoria: America’s Gilded Dream,” and “Inside the Plaza.”
The London biggies are all included, such as the Savoy, Claridge's, The Connaught, Brown’s, The Dorchester, The Ritz, The Hilton Park Lane etc. He includes the famous May Fair in Stratton Street, where I have enjoyed staying during my last few visits to London. I have also at various times bedded down at the Savoy, The Connaught, The Ritz, The Dorchester and the Hilton Park Lane, so I have a familiarity with the institutions covered.
The reason I’ve been enjoying The May Fair Hotel is its friendly service, its great Green Park location, the modern facilities in its re-decorated and re-furnished rooms under its recent modernization, and such amenities as a 24-hour computer room at no charge. The hotel also serves generous buffet breakfasts attended by a congenial, friendly staff. Morehouse writes much about various aspects, such as the theater in the hotel that is used for movie screenings and other events.
Recently, I found in seeing Clint Eastwood’s film “Hereafter” that the May Fair lobby was used for an important sequence. For a few moments, it was like personally being back there. The May Fair looked great and up-to-date on screen.
Apart from the years in which he visited London staying at select hotels, in researching his book Morehouse spent two weeks of one-night bookings at an assortment of what he regards as London’s finest. That’s a hectic feat.
His general approach is to encompass a hotel’s history as one of the important reasons one might chose it. Take The Ritz. That has long been regarded as a great hotel, as is the case with The Ritz iin Paris. Tea at the Ritz in London has become something of an institution in itself. When my wife and I returned to the Ritz a second time after a few years our same room was awaiting us. Such is the attention one gets.
The Savoy, which has been undergoing renovation, was a favorite of Charlie Chaplin. It has great rooms overlooking the Thames. My wife and I had such a vista on one occasion.
The Dorchester on Park Lane became especially popular when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton stayed there in the midst of their internationally publicized liaison. Photographers camped outside. I stayed there during one trip to do movie interviews, and later my wife and I also enjoyed the hotel’s comfort. It also has the advantageous Park Lane location.
Morehouse writes reverentially about the Connaught, where my wife and I stayed on one occasion, when there was a danger from Irish rebels. We had brought a cake from New York on the request of a friend, who wanted one from his favorite bakery, and the box had to be opened and examined—gracefully, of course—when we arrived. What I remember most about the Connaught is the incredible service. It seemed that one just had to think about calling for a service employee and he or she was already outside the door.
I stayed at the Hilton Park Lane when it was first built. In the beginning it was scandalous because it was a towering hotel unusual for London. One could see Buckingham Palace from a high floor room, and there was concern about invasion of royalty privacy. I recall one magazine editor who snobbishly looked down his nose at the new giant, but when we made an appointment for drinks, where did he want to go? He was curious about the hotel’s bar with a view. The Hilton rapidly earned its respect as a prime location.
Morehouse discusses such other hotels as Dukes, The Stafford, The Goring, Grosvenor House, the Berkeley ( I interviewed director John Huston there), The Millennium Hotel Mayfair, as well as some of the newcomers reflecting development in various London areas, such as the Four Seasons Canery Wharf.
He approaches the hotel scene as a romantic, enamored of a hotel’s past, the anecdotes associated with it and the famous. Accordingly, the book is filled entertainingly with name-dropping and an array of stories. There is also information about cost, but not in the thorough sense of an ordinary guide. The book is peppered with celebrity photos by Rose Billings.
Morehouse himself has an interesting background, which probably helps explain his fascination with past as well as present. His father, Ward Morehouse, was a famous New York drama critic, and as the writer’s son, he had the early opportunity of spending time with his father at the hotels he frequented in New York and abroad. The fascination continues as Morehouse III pursues his own writing career.