who's in the house?: Pure theatre

The Savoy's dramatic interiors and immaculately costumed staff are a fitting testament to its thespian past

The impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte had the idea of using the profits from the Savoy Theatre on the Strand in London to build a hotel next door to accommodate theatre-goers. Construction began in 1864 and it opened on 6 August 1889, boasting a blaze of electric lights; some of the most sophisticated plumbing London had ever seen, with 67 baths in total and even a well. The hotel still operates its own electricity generating system - Strand Power Co - which supports all lifts and services in an emergency.

The Lancaster Ballroom was initially the Savoy forecourt. It was flooded for one spectacular party, the Gondola dinner held in July 1905, when guests were serenaded by Caruso, by the light of 400 Venetian lamps. This area was roofed over just after the First World War to create the new ballroom. Claude Monet came to stay as soon as the Savoy opened in 1889. He painted the Thames from his hotel room on the fifth floor, where he could view the changing light on the water. James McNeill Whistler stayed in May 1896. The drawings he made depicting the view from his room captured London at the close of the century.

The cloakroom

Joe Vassello, gentlemen's cloakroom attendant

Worked here since 1968

The gentlemen's cloakroom was renovated three years ago. It is an art- deco temple of red and white marble, chrome fittings and mirrors. Joe Vassello has worked here so long that he has seen his original customers' children grow up. This is the most enjoyable aspect of the job, meeting people. He has a silver tray of brushes for sponging or brushing down suits. Other trays contain moisturisers and aftershaves. Joe will also polish shoes and sew on buttons.

The room

Christine Gunther, room attendant

Worked here since 1997

Christine Gunther is pictured in a River Junior Suite on the seventh floor (pounds 425 a night plus VAT). This suite was designed in classic Edwardian style with mouldings, curved doors, mirrors and plasterwork. Christine Gunther cleans 10 or 11 rooms each day, often over three floors. She says: "I like the courtside rooms best because they're smaller. These riverside rooms take longer to do. Cleaning an average room takes 45 minutes. A suite can take 90 minutes. Sheets are changed every day."

The ballroom

Andrew Coy, banqueting manager

Worked here since 1997

The Lancaster Ballroom has just been totally refurbished. The original 1919 horsehair plasterwork has been burnt back and all the paint of the past 80 years removed. Gold leaf has been used to highlight the ceiling architraves. In the Sixties the colour scheme was Wedgwood blue and cream. For the Nineties the colours are warmer and the ballroom is now peach and daffodil. In the opinion of Andrew Coy, only the seventh banqueting manager since 1919, it is still "the prettiest ballroom in London".

7th Banqueting Manager since 1919

The lift

Phil Dearden, bell boy

Worked here since August

Phil Dearden is part of the concierge service and takes guests' luggage to their rooms. He uses either this red lift, the blue lift or the service lift. The red is the most dramatic, with a gilt mirror and red painted walls with gold lacquer work. The original Twenties doors to the lift were considered a fire hazard by health and safety inspectors and had to be replaced. Phil admits that during his first few weeks at the Savoy he "got lost in the corridors plenty of times - people do!"

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