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West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London's Grand Hotels Hardcover – November 1, 2011

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About the Author

Matthew Sweet presents Night Waves and Freethinking on BBC Radio 3, and is the summer presenter of The Film Programme on Radio Four. He is the author of Inventing the Victorians and Shepperton Babylon, which he adapted as a film for BBC Four. His TV programmes include Silent Britain, A Brief History of Fun, The Age of Excess, Truly, Madly, Cheaply and The Rules of Film Noir.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1St Edition edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571234771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571234776
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,242,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. P. Jay on February 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-researched work, including oral history from people still alive. It is full of bizarre people like the Yugoslavian prince who liked pop music and who later has to be kept way from prostitutes, the mad king who kills his servant by trying to shoot a cigarette out of his mouth, eats rats and puts broken glass all over school playground.

One of our book group members, a publisher no less, praised its good muse of language whilst another said that it was boring unless you like gossip. Our resident curmudgeon liked it. That's only the thirds book he has enjoyed during the past five years. He read it during his lunch breaks at work - it was `like meeting a friend for lunch.'

The book begins with a lyrical description of the evening before World War was declared: newspapers carry normal news, cafes opened late in Soho, London's West End was brighter that night than it would be for a decade, there was an advert. for a TV set which is doomed to go dark the following lunchtime, as history clicks back to 1914.

One of the most graphic descriptions is of a smoke from a factory fire after it was bombed - rum and sugar make for some colour.

Despite Somerset Maugham predicting that social class divisions would end as a result of the war, the only change for hotels was the end of the top hat and frock coat. They would rather have real aristocracy who couldn't pay than nouveau riche who could. Dowager duchesses are two a penny. `Some are born to be served, others to serve.' Staff worked long hours with no payment other than tips until the tronc system was introduced, in which tips are collected and later shared out between all staff.

Hotels aren't home.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book looks at the wartime secrets of London's grand hotels, such as the Ritz, the Dorchester and the Waldorf. It begins very well, with Victor Legg, a phone operator at the Ritz eavesdropping on a call to Randolph Churchill informing him that Germans are to bomb Poland that morning. When Legg tries to tell a friend at the BBC about the impending war, he is interrupted by a voice telling him to be careful what he repeats. Legg, who spent half a century working at the Ritz, spends the night in London - the only man outside of the government who knows war is about to be declared.

The author then leads us through many different elements of hotels during wartime. They housed not only those from the government, but deposed royalty, spies, military leaders, governments in exile, writers, artists, musicians, prostitutes and homosexuals. They were a hotbed of suspicion, interrogations, decadence and wealth. Sweet sometimes stretches the link between hotels and characters too far, in order to unravel an interesting story, but overall this is an excellent read.

There is the story of hotel workers, many of whom were Italian, who were arrested and interned despite being British citizens and working in the UK for over twenty years. Although the original plan had been to distinguish between citzens of enemy countries who were a danger to the British state and those who posed no threat, apparently Churchill decided it was safer to "collar the lot!" One of the most interesting events was when demonstrators invaded the Ritz, asking for shelter - a situation which led the government to open the underground and allow people to have somewhere to go during air raids.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An astonishing look into the occupants at some of the posh hotels in London during the war years. A bit fragmented as it discusses a number of anecdotal situations but most of it very amusing. I especially liked to lengthy coverage of the beautiful nymphomaniac/spy whom I looked up on my iPad where I found a few photos of her. To fully comprehend the text you have to have been born and living in London to understand the colloquialisms used. There were a lot of royals and other shady characters hiding out under luxurious conditions in London, read up on these goings-on, don't miss out on the fun!
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