Fawltier Towers: Meet the hoteliers who put Basil and Sybil to shame

Fawltier Towers: Meet the hoteliers who put Basil and Sybil to shame

Who’d be a wedding planner Presumably you have to be a naturally calm sort, given that you’re arranging the most important day of people’s lives. Not so, if the evidence offered by a new series of fly-on-the-wall documentary The Hotel is anything to go by.

For Christian, the hapless, perma-tanned soul charged with ensuring the smooth running of the wedding that kicks off the series, is way out of his depth. He’s only been in the job a few hours, after the shock resignation of another member of staff.

And what preparations has he taken for the task ahead ‘I’ve taken two energy tablets, two strong painkillers and two Pro Plus,’ he reveals. What could possibly go wrong

From left: Ron, Alison, Mark, Christian and Ryan from the Grosvenor

From left: Ron, Alison, Mark, Christian and Ryan from the Grosvenor

The fact this is the second series of The Hotel is a miracle in itself. When a show going behind the scenes at some of the country’s most ‘value-formoney’ hotels was first mooted, there were concerns no hotelier would want to be involved, knowing full well the show was always going to be billed as the real-life Fawlty Towers. Amazingly though,one did.

Jonathan Denby was delighted to invite the cameras into his three-star hotel, Damson Dene, in the Lake District. And if anything, the ensuing chaos was worse than anything the fictional comedy could serve up. Who can forget, for instance, Amos, the waiter whose English was so dire he couldn’t even take a basic breakfast order

But Damson Dene has had record bookings this year, with guests flocking to the place simply because it’s been on TV – and the programme makers may just have unearthed another gem. The Grosvenor is a traditional three-star hotel situated in Torquay – Basil Fawlty’s stomping ground. And its owner, Mark Jenkins, has Basil tendencies himself. ‘I don’t stay in places like this when I go on holiday,’ he admits. ‘I go for the sort of place where you have a personal butler.’ The producers have also found a Sybil – Alison Pennell, reservations manager for the hotel, and the woman charged with keeping Mark in place.

The books weren’t in good shape and we had no advance bookings… Disasters befall every hotel but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

‘I don’t hold back from telling Mark just what I think of him,’ she says. ‘I suppose I shout at him a lot. It’s probably not a very PC workplace.’ Mark admits it was a risk to let cameras into the Grosvenor. He’d taken over the place only a few months before and, he reveals, ‘The books weren’t in good shape and we had no advance bookings. But I thought the show would give an insight into how a hotel like ours works. Normally, the guests never see the hard work behind the scenes.’

Should guests see the grisly truth, though Mark confesses the hotel’s track record with weddings hadn’t been brilliant. ‘After the last wedding we did there was a letter of complaint that ran to four pages,’ he says. Yet he sanctioned the cameras to follow Faye, 34, and Mike, 31, from Dudley as they turn up at the hotel to finalise their plans for their big day. Alas, it’s anything but plain sailing.

The first problem is with Philip, the Grosvenor’s long-standing wedding planner. Previous meetings with him have not been a success and the bride and groom are refusing to be in the same room as him. How can you organise a wedding when you won’t speak to the wedding planner Simple. Faye agrees to deal directly with Christian, the hotel’s charismatic and extremely camp deputy manager. Philip will actually organise things, but Christian will be the go-between. It soon ends in tears.

First, the wedding party turn up to find the bride’s mother’s room – requested a year in advance – has been double booked. Then the groom retreats to the bar, causing his bride to have a meltdown and threaten to call the whole thing off. Philip promptly decides to throw a sickie – leaving a near-hysterical Christian to cope alone. Meanwhile, the skies are getting steadily blacker.

This wedding is supposed to feature an outdoors ceremony but there’s no plan B in case of rain. Mark’s nerves start to show. ‘Your worst fear is being pinned up against a wall by the father of the bride,’ he reveals, and for a minute it seems his nightmare might come true. Now it’s all over, does he still feel it was wise to sign up for reality television ‘Yes. Disasters befall every hotel but it’s how you deal with them that counts. The bride had a wonderful day in the end, and she’s booked her anniversary here too. So we must have done something right.’

The Hotel, Channel 4, New Year’s Day, 8pm.