The Savoy has always attracted the great and the good, the glittering and the glamorous through its doors, to rub shoulders with each other, and with guests who quite possibly fitted into none of these categories, but were nonetheless thrilled to find themselves in the same restaurant, the same bar or lounge as the very celebrities they read about daily in their newspapers and magazines. Admittedly not every notable guest who came to The Savoy was glamorous or immediately recognisable. These are just a few of the many extraordinary people who have passed through The Savoy through its history.
The stout man in a sober suit walking through The Savoy’s Front Hall in 1905 wouldn’t merit a second glance, but this was George Kessler, an American millionaire who loved hosting extravagant parties. His contribution to Savoy history is the Gondola Party of July 1905. This legendary event saw a large “gondola” holding a dining table for a dinner party of only 24 people set in the middle of the central courtyard of the original hotel. The courtyard was flooded to give the illusion of Venice’s Grand Canal; a bridge between the boat and the hotel allowed access for guests, and waiters. There was after-dinner entertainment from Enrico Caruso, the greatest tenor of his age; and at the end of the meal, a large cake was brought over the bridge on the back of a baby elephant.
Lights! Camera! Action!
Late one evening in 1920, an unremarkable middle-aged man arrived in the Thames Foyer. The man was author H.G. Wells, who had come to watch the filming of some scenes from one of his most famous novels “Kipps”(1905). Unrecognised at first by cast or crew, Wells sat down in a corner on set, half-hidden by a potted palm. The movie “Kipps”(1921) has the distinction of being the very first of many films and television dramas to have scenes shot on location at The Savoy.
Socialite and author, Margot, Lady Oxford, moved into The Savoy after her London home was bombed during World War II. A tall, striking woman, she dressed for dinner every night in a long white evening dress with a train, and leather boots. Lady Oxford refused to go into the air-raid shelter, and this familiar figure would sit in the Thames Foyer late into the night, chatting and playing bridge with anyone brave enough to join her.
In the mid-1950s, the 33rd President of the United States, now retired from office, was sent by the new administration on an official fact-finding mission to Europe. Arriving at The Savoy, Harry S. Truman and his wife were accommodated in a suite on the 5th floor, with a second suite on the 4th floor where a team of secretaries dealt with the copious correspondence he received. Although in residence for some time, the ex-President had a peaceful, if busy, stay.
The Little Tramp
The same could not be said for the comedian and director, Charlie Chaplin. His iconic “Little Tramp” look was so well-known, that it was not easy to recognise the actor as himself, without the moustache, make-up and bowler hat. Chaplin arrived at The Savoy with his family in 1952, staying for three months. The hotel was almost constantly under siege from excited crowds of admirers. Chaplin, however, found it easy to slip outside un-noticed, and was able to revisit his childhood haunts with relative ease. Once or twice he actually joined the crowd, and joined in with their good-natured chant of “We want Charlie!” It generally took quite a while for anyone to recognise him, standing right there on the street.