This book looks at the wartime secrets of London's grand hotels, such as the Ritz, the Dorchester and the Waldorf. It begins very well, with Victor Legg, a phone operator at the Ritz eavesdropping on a call to Randolph Churchill informing him that Germans are to bomb Poland that morning. When Legg tries to tell a friend at the BBC about the impending war, he is interrupted by a voice telling him to be carful what he repeats. Legg, who spent half a century working at the Ritz, spends the night in London - the only man outside of the government who knows war is about to be declared.
The author then leads us through many different elements of hotels during wartime. They housed not only those from the government, but deposed royalty, spies, military leaders, governments in exile, writers, artists, musicians, prostitutes and homosexuals. They were a hotbed of suspicion, interrogations, decadence and wealth. Sweet sometimes stretches the link between hotels and characters too far, in order to unravel an interesting story, but overall this is an excellent read.
There is the story of hotel workers, many of whom were Italian, who were arrested and interned, despite being British citizens and working in the UK for over twenty years. Although the original plan had been to distinguish between citzens of enemy countries who were a danger to the British state and those who posed no threat, apparently Churchill decided it was safer to "collar the lot!" One of the most interesting events was when demonstrators invaded the Ritz, asking for shelter - a situation which led the government to open the underground and allow people to have somewhere to go during air raids. London's hotels were a locus of resentment, with the privilege of safe underground shelters and good food being available to the few and not the many.
Many of the stories are sad - girls who died of botched abortions, for example. Many are funny - one lady who was interrogated as a possible Nazi spy had such a filthy mind and language that interrogators failed to report on much of her conversation, describing it as having such a "filthy nature" that it was unrepeatable! Overall, this is a very entertaining and interesting account of London during the war. Not the typical war stories, but of the characters which made up a more decadent section of Society, where socialites defied Hitler by 'lunching for England' and the wealthy clung to their privileged world against all the odds. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and the illustrations were included.