The Savoy

STV/STV Player


IT was a close run thing whether the timing of this fly-on-the-wall series about a hotel where suites start at £1500 a night was perfect or ghastly.

Was the middle of a pandemic the right moment to feast your eyes on luxury and frivolity, the better to dream of savouring them one day? Or was it the documentary equivalent of telling the peasants to eat cake?

The Savoy was made by Studio Ramsay, the production company of Gordon Ramsay, who runs the hotel’s famous Grill. As such, it could have been one long advertisement for the Scots hammer of hopeless restaurateurs.

To some extent it was. But in fairness to director/producers Bella Lloyd and Libby Overton, it came with enough hints of irony and dashes of sly humour to make it more than PR puffery.

Boasting of “unprecedented access” (does any filmmaker ever have bog standard access?), The Savoy breezed in, all facts and figures. Opened 1889, first luxury hotel in Britain, 267 rooms, four restaurants, 600 staff – 2.5 for each guest – on and on went the thrilled narrator, Celia Imrie (nice touch to hire the actor who played Miss Babs in Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques).

The four episodes will cover the months up to lockdown, a spell described as “the most dramatic period of the hotel’s history”. I would have thought the Second World War would have something to say about that.

To the swirls of Rhapsody in Blue, the opening shot took in the scene on the Strand, moving from a figure in a sleeping bag on the pavement to a liveried porter emerging from the Savoy to hail a taxi. Point made.

The idea that the Savoy was a haven for the rich and beautiful took a dunt when we moved to the American Bar. Sitting there was a man sporting a denim jacket and a mullet.

It was time to meet the first of the “characters”, without whom no factual series can be complete. Sean the head butler fancied himself “a little bit of a tyrant”. Then there was Michael, a new start Sean had taken under his not-very-tyrannical-just-a-bit-moany wing. Michael had wanted to be an actor, just like his late mother, Lynda Bellingham, the mum from the Oxo ads. But then a child came along, Michael needed a steady job and here we were. “I’m determined not to fail again,” he said.

What stories and sadness lay behind that pledge we will hopefully find out. That was one of the winning things about the film: it supplied just enough information about people to hint that there were depths there if one cared to look.

This was particularly the case with Thierry, the restaurant director. “He oozes sophistication and passion,” said Ramsay, doing some oozing of his own.

Thierry liked to give his staff a pep talk before service, telling them in his French as the Eiffel Tower accent that they were not waiters but “salesmen of pleasure”. One wondered if Thierry was acquainted with David Brent.

It was Thierry’s job to “big up” the arrival of Ramsay, who was coming to test a new dish. In he swept, swearing and frothing in tiresomely familiar fashion. “It’s all just getting a little bit too comfortable,” Ramsay scolded after finding a chipped plate Matters took a turn for the excruciating when Thierry tried to carve a duck breast with a dull knife. “It looks like it’s been served in my ****ing granny’s Spanx,” said Ramsay. Thierry looked mortified. To think he used to run his own restaurant till soaring rents forced him out. Stories, see?

The same went for the guests. The married couple who had been coming to the Savoy for 26 years. Her: “We could have bought several houses.” Him: “Don’t say that, darling.” She said the staff were always so genuinely glad to see them, then added, “Well I hope that’s the case.” Or the accountant from East Anglia who stayed 70 days a year and knew the Grill menu better than most. In a scene dripping with irony he and a guest ate Steak Diane while discussing the idea of helping the homeless at Christmas.

The evening ended with Michael fraught and pale after catering a small drinks party under Sean’s watchful eye. But there were pleasures to come. “I’m looking forward to being on the bus, on the way home, at one o’clock in the morning, on my own, with a £3 meal deal from Tesco."

Home to the family, a day’s work done. Did any of the pampering at The Savoy afford similar satisfaction? Of course, but keep it to yourself. Times are hard.