Gone for a burton

23rd May 2012
I watched an old interview the other night on BBC 4 when Parkinson interviewed Richard Burton. To those under 50 you may not have even heard of Richard Burton, so just in case, he was one of the greatest actors these islands have ever produced. (He was proudly Welsh and had a voice like a silk oak tree.)

So to those under 50 it's probably not very impressive for me to say my claim to fame is that I tried to prevent Burton and Sophia Loren (sharp intake of breath for those over 50's again) from dining in the hotel's restaurant I was responsible for.

It was 1974, I was working as an assistant manager at the 4 star Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst in the beautiful New Forest. They were shooting a remake of the famous film 'Brief Encounter', originally starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The original was filmed at Carnforth not far down the road from Linthwaite.  

The crew and cast were staying at the Balmer Lawn.

One day they decided to come back for lunch. Burton was dressed in a T shirt and trousers. Our dress code policy was shirt and jacket, if not a tie.

I was just doing my job. Of course all hell let loose. The producer demanded to see the general manager. I was overruled of course, because hotels are driven by money and practice double standards for famous people. 

This was ironic because when I was working for the same group a year before in another of their hotels, I was on duty one Sunday night and had allowed someone in to dinner without a tie. Well, it was dead. His table for two doubled the business for the evening. So I took what politicians these days call a 'difficult decision'. Our managing director just happened to pop in at that moment and I got an enormous telling off for allowing such a slip in standards. Do it again and I would be out on my ear.

And it's interesting these days, 38 years later. Dress codes still get people going. One guest was recently disgusted by a lady's dress; she turned up to breakfast in her pyjamas. Or at least that's what he thought they were. 

Which brings me back to Burton. Not long ago we had a couple staying, probably in their 70's. He was made to wear his suit by his wife. It was a mothballed 70's model, flared trousers, chocolate brown, slightly shiny fabric. He looked a bit daft, but his wife obviously believed he shouldn't let the side down.