West End Front – Matthew Sweet
There have been a plethora of books written about the Second World War and its effect on the common man in the UK, yet Matthew Sweet's investigation into the lives of the more extravagant hotels on London’s west end presents a fresh view of a world at war. The Savoy, Claridge’s and The Ritz are the protagonists as they cater to a London that refused to let Hitler interrupt the sacred ritual of tea. These hotels were home to those who called the shots, made the big decisions, with entire floors rented to MI5 and war ministers. Within the richly upholstered walls were Kings and Queens, Spies and Agents, and the many men and women who served them.
Sweet’s writing is extremely accessible and enjoyable to read, full of atmosphere and characters that jump off the page, in particular the vivacious men recalling their time at the Ritz’s Pink Sink – the best place to ‘pick up’ in town. Yet this is not the romp behind formerly closed doors that I had imagined it to be. Even at their most extravagant this London was one that suffered (albeit less than the general populace), tales are told of monarchies exiled to rooms in the Savoy who were never able to go home, innocent waiters who were interned under Regulation 18b and of Winston Churchill hearing about the end of the war he fought so hard to win from the sidelines of a room at Claridge’s. Ultimately the reality of War could never be escaped, however much the great hotels tried, even the moments of oblivion they provided could not stop the world from turning. This was a great read; I would really recommend it for History buffs and anyone simply enjoys a good yarn.