The Proper Gander Column from the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
Next time you stay in a cheap B&B or one of those dreary chain hotels, try asking for a brand-new jacuzzi to be fitted in your room. Or why not specify how you would like the walls redecorated before you arrive? You’d expect baffled looks or swear words in reply, but not if you were staying at Claridge’s hotel. There, your requests would be met with just a slightly forced smile. Paying up to £7,000 a night might make you feel entitled to make demands like those, or something more modest like having a piano in the room. 83,000 guests a year can apparently afford to do this. And humble plebs like us can vicariously book in too, thanks to Inside Claridge’s (BBC2). The hotel’s polished doors have been opened to the cameras, which follow round its servile staff and bloated guests. Claridge’s is a ‘five star luxury hotel favoured by royalty and celebrities, known by some as the annexe to Buckingham Palace’. Its waiters and managers scurry round like worker ants to maintain the top-price service.
There’s something admirable about the staff’s attention to detail, even if it is used in such ludicrous ways as forming a committee of four to choose and test new alarm clocks. Or making sure that the handle of a fork is an inch away from the edge of the dinner table. It’s a shame that their energy is wasted on pandering to the whims of the elite. To satisfy the conservative tastes of the ageing clientele, there is a deliberate emphasis on following traditions, especially deference from staff. The only aspect of the hotel which isn’t old-fashioned is the price. And it’s this reassurance which the guests are paying for, as much as the extravagance and the pampering. Claridge’s represents a step back to a bourgeois golden age, where the wealthy can hide themselves away from the world’s problems. The four-poster beds and million-pound chandeliers help insulate the elite from the rest of us. The excesses shown on Inside Claridge’s shouldn’t make us feel jealous, they should make us feel angry.