Mark, the owner-manager of the Grosvenor Hotel in Torquay, isn't a man who has much time for computerised reservations systems.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said in last night's The Hotel, "cards, different coloured pens, bottles of Tipp-Ex – works perfectly." I don't know how exactly he defines "perfectly" but his understanding of the word seems to allow for long, bickering set-tos with his receptionist Alison and a surprising number of guests who arrive to hear Mark saying, "We have a room for you. We've just got half a headache for tonight."
Clutching an increasingly dog-eared set of reservation sheets, rainbowed with highlighter fluorescence, Mark staves off chaos by moving a different bit of chaos into place. And one of the joys of The Hotel is that almost nothing that happens seems to penetrate Mark's armoured sense of competence. At one moment, he's proudly announcing his computer illiteracy; at the next, he's physically wrestling with his staff because he thinks only he can sort out the grudgingly acquired online booking system. Vigilant about the shortcomings of his staff (they range in his view from "useless" to "a nightmare"), he's quite unable to see that more often than not he's the grit in the machine. And all of this unfolds with a strange kind of geniality, except for the moments when Christian, the deputy manager, comes over all sulky and petulant.
Like the preceding series, The Hotel trades partly on the social comedy of a fraught workplace and partly on the subterranean currents of feeling that emerge when people are at leisure. And though it is to a degree dependent on the accident of who comes through the doors in any given week, it also finds ways to shape the raw footage around distinct themes. Last night, fatherhood seemed to be an issue, with Mark making a ham-fisted attempt to celebrate his own son's birthday. Too busy annoying his staff to go out and buy a card, he found one in the hotel's small collection and customised it with a pen. He then rang a local cake shop to ask whether they had "a small blue one knocking about?" Mark's son, currently at university and writing his first novel, looked affectionately resigned to this kind of thing as he picked the toy car off the top.
A much better example of paternity was supplied by Luke, step-father to an 11-year-old called Basher, who had his name shaved into the side of his head. "My other dad wasn't very nice and didn't treat me as good," said Basher, who, along with Luke and his mum, Lisa, offered an unsweetened vision of love in action. The comedy coach driver was good value too, so committed to the pleasure of his passengers that he came down to breakfast in Mexican fancy dress. Astonishingly, they seemed to love this, which may help to explain why the Grosvenor is still in business.
Elective parenthood also did its bit for this week's episode of Call the Midwife, in which one storyline concerned an unexpected pregnancy for Winnie and her much older husband, Ted. Ted was thrilled at the prospect of being a father, but Winnie seemed strangely skittish about the whole thing, an anxiety that was explained when the emerging child turned out to be black. If you'd imagined that Ted would belt Winnie and storm out to get steaming drunk, then you obviously haven't seen the drama before. "I don't reckon to know much about babies," he said as something plangent was faded up behind him, "but I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world." Also working on the public tear ducts this week was Roy Hudd, as a Boer war veteran. "His ulcers became gangrenous and both legs had to be amputated at the knee," someone helpfully explained – a perfect example of Call the Midwife's distinctive combination of clinical grot and pathos. It seems to be a very popular cocktail.Reuse content