The Thoughts of Chairman May... on British
Observations and experiences from the English hotel industry,
or "The piece of England that passeth all understanding."
After staying in English hotels while on a working assignment in
the United Kingdom for about six months in 1997, and again in 2000, I am firmly convinced that
"Fawlty Towers" is in fact a documentary for the British
For those out there who haven't seen this classic piece of
television comedy, "Fawlty Towers is a British sitcom set in a
Brighton hotel, where the manager, Basil Fawlty (played by John
Cleese of "Monty Python" fame), is of the firm belief that the
running of his hotel establishment would be improved greatly if it
wasn't for all the guests in the place. While the British
hospitality industry is admittedly not as bad as all that
everywhere, I experienced sufficient strangeness to start
considering the possibility that Basil Fawlty and Manuel the
Spanish porter are running hotel management courses in some dark
distant part of Hampshire.
- A hotel in Milton Keynes had - unusually for an English hotel -
a mini-bar, however this was firmly and securely locked,
with no indication as to what was contained inside or how to get
into it. In fact, it was only an educated guess that is was
a mini-bar, as there normally isn't the demand for a refrigerator
in a hotel without one. I expect the hotel might have had a problem
with pilferage, so the hotel management proudly took steps to stop
it. And in the process somehow forgot about the point of having a
room mini-bar for legitimate guests...
- Another hotel, this time in the small town of Garforth just
outside Leeds in north England, had a singularly bizarre policy
regarding their central heating. Doubtless for reasons of economy,
the hotel decided to switch off their radiators between 11pm and
7am each night. At first, this sounds reasonable - except that they
continued this into December, which in Yorkshire is the middle of
winter. And a Yorkshire winter is the sort of Arctic cold that
blasts in all the way from Siberia, a bone-chilling cold that
freezes up condensation on parked cars in less than an hour... and
still, the hotel turned the heaters off! And the hotel staff
lived there! Surely they knew that guests might, like, you
know, require to be kept warm at night in such conditions? Oh no!
That's too expensive! They won't mind the cold! Yeah, right!
- Hampton Court, in London, had a hotel that excelled in the
strange and eccentric. For starters, the rooms were across the
street from reception, necessitating negotiating across a busy
London street (which is redundant, all streets in London are
busy) every morning for breakfast. And the rooms themselves - in a
building which seemed to date back to the time of Charles Dickens
at least - were marvels in classical geometry, for not one corner
was a right-angle, which meant that the whole room had a floor plan
resembling a pushed-over rectangle. This provided such fun-filled
effects such as the bed, at right angles to one wall, was
nevertheless at an angle of thirty degrees to the outside wall with
the window. Being inside a room such as this - which even
getting to it involved negotiating a virtual rabbit-warren of
twisty passages, no small feat laden with large suitcases - was
like sitting inside one of those Escher puzzle-pictures where
everything is all inside-out and upside-down. For full effect, try
this with a migraine headache coming on. Who needs drugs to take
you out of this world?
- And finally, a hotel in Watford, just north-west of London, has
the award for the most locked-into-the-script,
I'm-just-doing-my-job-on-autopilot reception staff. This became
apparent when I was checking out of this particular place, and was
making a follow-on booking for in a couple of days. After checking
me out of my room and taking the details of my next stay, the
fellow at the desk asked "Can you make a fax confirmation of
your booking please?"
Hello? I'm standing right in front of you, in
person, and you want me to go someplace else and fax you
confirmation of my stay? Being here, in person, isn't good
enough for you?
I said as much to him (though more politely), and after a minute
of furious thinking after having his script derailed, the guy did
accept that there was no need for the confirmation fax. It was
suggested to me later that what I should have done was asked to
borrow their facilities, and try and send a fax from their
own fax machine to itself...
"Hmmm, your fax number's always busy. Could it be that I'm
calling from the number I'm trying to dial? Naaaah..."
But don't let me put you off travelling to England. It really is
a great - albeit expensive - place to visit. Just bear in mind that
despite the latest attempts at hipness in "Cool Brittania", the
great English tradition of eccentricity still survives!
Return to the Welcome
Copyright 1996, 2002 Terry Knight.
Last Updated December 2002
For more information contact: