The Third Leader: Sea change

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The Independent Online

Bravo, Torquay! The Palmed Paradise of the West has once again confounded the sneerers and jeerers, this time by acquiring not one, but two new Michelin stars for its restaurants. Bury for ever those memories of gourmet evenings, drunken lovelorn chefs, waiters from Barcelona with errant Siberian hamsters, and a sudden shortage of Waldorfs; summon instead the style of a town that could come up with that legendary slogan, "See Naples and die, but see Torquay first".

It was always a disproportionate revenge, the one John Cleese exacted after an unfortunate stay at one of its less distinguished resting places; and one more than partly fuelled, we suspect, by Cleese's hailing from Weston-super-Mare, which has had its own share of condescension, calumny and unfortunate connections, including the production of Jeffrey Archer.

But Torquay has risen above it. Did you know that, like Rome, it is built on seven hills? Or that in 1815, Napoleon, awaiting his final exile, gazed at it from the deck of the Bellerophon and said, "Beau"? There are no kiss-me-quick, B&B ambitions about its pretensions to romance, either. It is the birthplace of Sir Richard Burton, famed Victorian traveller and translator of that handbook to the exotic erotic, The Perfumed Garden. It was in Torquay, too, that the occultist Aleister Crowley lost his virginity.

Oscar Wilde stayed there; Sean O'Casey died there; Brunel wanted to live there; Isadora Duncan danced there; Peter Cook was born there. Now you can get a good meal, too. And almost as impressive is this search result on its official tourism site: "no matches found for Fawlty".

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