langtry manor (1/7)

Five’s documentary series examining failing hotels in the UK returns to take another look at some of the establishments that featured in earlier programmes. Following on from the first visit of hotelier and author Ruth Watson, this week’s show sees the cameras return to Langtry Manor in Bournemouth to see if the staff have managed to turn around the hotel’s fortunes.

In this week’s instalment, the hotel inspector heads back to Langtry Manor, a three-star hotel in the resort town of Bournemouth. Originally built by King Edward VII for his mistress, actress Lillie Langtry, it was bought by Pamela Howard more than 30 years ago and has been run as a hotel by she and her family ever since.

When Ruth first visited the hotel two years ago, her initial impressions were mixed: “It’s a really fine Edwardian house, but I don’t know why they’ve painted the bricks,” she said. Things soon got worse when she inspected one of the hotel’s 27 bedrooms. “Oh dear!” she cried. “It’s like some elderly lady decorated it in the late 50s!” When shown to the Lillie Langtry Suite, one of Langtry Manor’s most prestigious offerings, Ruth made no attempt to disguise her disgust at the avocado corner bath that greeted her. “Oh, for God’s sake! Why do people ruin beautiful houses with this rubbish?” she asked. Then, after road-testing a room for the night, Ruth’s bad impression of the place was cemented. “There were rattling noises at 6.20 in the morning, and the bathroom is so crap it’s untrue,” was her conclusion.

The restaurant was next on Ruth’s agenda and, again, it was a mixed picture. The “hugely generous helping” at breakfast got the thumbs-up, but an over-complicated and unseasonal dinner was less impressive. The dated table settings did not improve the overall experience. “I loathe these burgundy napkins,” said Ruth. “They just look rather Trusthouse Forte, 1982.”

Although many of these issues were straightforward, Ruth soon identified some more serious underlying problems. The main issue concerned the fact that owner Pamela Howard wanted to be involved in the day-to-day running of the hotel, despite having supposedly retired and left her daughter Tara at the helm. Tara, meanwhile, did not have enough confidence to run things her own way – leading to ongoing conflicts about all manner of issues, including room decor and hotel maintenance. Arguments between the two were commonplace, meaning that important issues such as high staff costs went ignored. Although Ruth warned them that they needed to cut back, Pamela and Tara found it hard to consider the prospect of making any of their 30 staff redundant, creating the need to make savings elsewhere.

One of the most important changes Ruth insisted upon was that the women establish their roles more clearly and schedule in a structured meeting once a month. Also, in order to give the pair some food for thought, Ruth sent them off to Winchester to have lunch at the Hotel du Vin, a hotel that manages to combine period charm with modern service and comforts. Pamela and Tara agreed that there were touches at the Hotel du Vin that could be carried through to their own business – including the restaurant’s simple, wellexecuted food. But could they stop squabbling long enough to put any new ideas into practice?

Over two years after Ruth’s first visit, the Hotel Inspector returns to Langtry Manor to see what changes the Howards have made to their business. Is the decor still firmly rooted in the 50s? Has the chef managed to develop a lesscomplicated dinner menu? And have mother and daughter managed to put aside their differences in order to create an effective partnership?

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