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JIM PARKER: Won't some of the mud stick?

By Herald Express  |  Posted: February 21, 2013

Alison Pennell, Mark Jenkins, Christian Scott-Lee

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SO The Hotel series is over. Mark Jenkins and co-stars Christian and Alison are, in TV life at least, long gone. Now Keith Richardson, Mark's 'knight in shining armour', is at the helm after buying Torquay's Grosvenor Hotel in October.

The owner of the resort's four-star Grand Hotel and a string of other hugely successful hotels, has embarked on turning the Grosvenor into a three-star hotel. But just how?

The Grosvenor has entertained millions of TV viewers over the past couple of years with its Fawlty Towers-like antics. But those antics, for me at least, have been a little over the top in the past couple of weeks during which Mark has also come across as a bit of a chump — all right, a likeable chump.

How is Keith going to get away from that kind of Basil Fawlty-esque image? Won't some of the mud stick for the Grosvenor? And has the Grosvenor really sent out the wrong message to the rest of the world about what holidays are like on the English Riviera as some in the tourist industry have feared?

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Keith is turning things on its head and is taking full advantage of the Grosvenor's notoriety and turning any negatives into a positive.

As far as the reputation concerns go, he answers that in one word: "Rubbish!"

He says those who didn't support The Hotel at first were wrong, although they are supportive now.

He says: "You cannot tell me that Torquay does not look fantastic in the programme.

"We have marketed a lot on the back of the programme."

Proof of the pudding comes via some of the bookings.

Keith says: "We have an inquiry about a wedding from somebody in the Outer Hebrides who liked the gardens they saw on the TV."

He is adamant he will transform the hotel.

He has spent £250,000 on improvements to date.

He says: "We are spending money every day. We are doing it slowly and steadily.

"A few months ago Carol Smith (once owner of the former Belgrave Hotel) rang to say the best thing that could have happened to this end of Belgrave Road was me buying the Grosvenor.

"I am going to restore and make it beautiful.

"We have re-opened the Inn at the Grosvenor — it had three rosettes a few years ago. We have decorated bedrooms and put up new curtains. We have also £60,000 on a new boiler house.

"There are 50 bedrooms, an outdoor and indoor pool.

"It even smells a lot better when you walk in the front door."

Keith has also made some key appointments.

Rico, a former chef at the Grand, is now back at the Grosvenor. Jacklyn Studley, another former Grand employee, is head of front of house andBecky Snowball was appointed manager in October with the new operations are being overseen by Grand Hotel manager Chris Jones.

Keith says: "We now have a company structure."

All the hotel bookings go through a central reservation system at the Grand. It's a far cry from the days of the former regime.

Keith claims things like weddings 'were on the back of a fag packet'.

It cost him between £4,000 and £5,000 when he had to give one couple a free wedding because they 'just turned up'.

He is determined to turn things around and dismisses criticism about offering cheap bed and breakfast.

He says: "We have been criticised for giving breakfast away at a cheap price. Do I care? If we get customers in we can make a bit of money and pay the wages. There is so much demand for Torbay in the summer we will fill it with regular customers.

"It is all part of the capital costs of the place. I bought it at the wrong time of the year. All hotels lose money in January/February."

He paid between £750,000 and £1million for the hotel, which employs between 45 and 50 people with a wages bill is £50,000 a month.

To be fair to Mark Jenkins, his biggest concern when he was going under was making sure nobody lost their jobs and Keith reveals: "We have not laid any member of staff off. We might have sacked a couple."

He recalls how Mark rang him in Florida when the Grosvenor was sinking to ask if he would be his knight in shining armour.

Keith says Mark wanted him to make a flashy entrance by driving his Rolls Royce down to the seafront in Torquay and up to the Grosvenor.

He had a better idea — he flew Mark above the Grand, Grosvenor and Torbay skies in his own helicopter and on to Falmouth where the deal was struck. "I wasn't going to buy it at first. It was just a bit of fun but I ended up buying it," said Keith.

Christian went before he appeared on the scene. Alison went the day before he took over.

As for Mark, he says: "I have not seen him since the day I took over. He buggered off to London like Dick Whittington to seek his fame and fortune. He is trying to be a TV star, a game show host.

"I asked him to call us. I was going to pay him for guest appearances on a Saturday night at the hotel. Customers still walk in and ask where Mark is?"

Keith is totally confident about the future.

He says: "The Grosvenor is a lovely hotel. It is a fantastic location. It cannot go wrong as a hotel business. We run good hotels and we can make it a real success. There is no doubt in my mind. I guarantee that within months we will be a fantastic three-star hotel."

All the very best with your plans, Mr R. The Bay is behind you. Don't know about that pink shirt, though...

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