Savoy Hotel (1)
Initially the press office at the Savoy was most welcoming. We were given an office to work from in the press office suite and sumptuous meals, combined with gin and tonics, were delivered to us through the day.
From this vantage point I was free to wander and talk and make recordings, and begin to get a sense of the flesh and sinew of this great hotel.
Treading the flashy corridors, then passing through the green baize doors and entering the squalour of the stark quarters where the staff worked, seemed to me a powerful metaphore for a society in which some people have so much and others very little.
The stately, cynical, somewhat irreverent film I wrote about the Savoy was attractively directed by Tony de Lotbinière, in black and white, for the BBC. He went on to make films about the royal palaces, and his feelings about the hotel were, I think, not nearly as complex as were mine.
When the film was complete, the Savoy asked to see a copy and objected to the picture we painted of the luxury of the ballrooms, bedrooms and other front of house places, compared to the squalour and degradation of the service areas on the floors stretching far down below, the domain of the waiters, chefs, dishwashers and other workers.
The Savoy top brass took out an injunction against the BBC in an attempt to prevent the film being shown. The case was heard on the afternoon before the advertised transmission. The Savoy’s injunction was quashed, which resulted in evening newspapers like the London Evening Standard giving it huge publicity, and it was triumphantly shown that evening to audiences far larger than it would otherwise have received.
And writing the film made me a number of friends among the staff at the Savoy. I also met Gina Lollobrigida, the film star, who was staying there, but this friendship lasted less long. She was smaller than I remembered, and exquisite. I was introduced to her by her agent and there had been talk that she might be in our film. The stress of working at the Savoy had begun to tell on me and I accepted a cigarette which the agent offered me from a silver box. Unfortunately I was not familiar with cigarette smoking and coughed and blew smoke and ash towards the bronzed neck and shoulders of the lovely Gina. The agent tried to waft these away by scooping at the air between us with both hands, as if trying to bail water out of a boat. Gina declined to be in our film.
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