Celebrities galore, immaculately dressed staff and golden memories.
That’s what comes to mind for Ronnie Joynes when he thinks back on his days at the Grand Hotel in Sunderland.
And it’s thanks to Ronnie that we can today share some wonderfully colourful reminders of the Grand which was a former favourite venue.
Sadly, the hotel no longer exists as it was demolished in 1974, five years after it closed.
But Ronnie remembers it in its heyday when he worked there between 1962 and 1966.
He got to meet some of the biggest showbiz names at the time including Hughie Green, Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Alistair Sim, Bob Monkhouse, Eden Caine, Helen Shapiro, and Christopher Lee.
I remember Hughie Green arriving with his entourage. It was late at night and the chef had closed the kitchen, so I went out of the way to rustle up a cold meat salad for him. He was so grateful he gave me a £5 gratuityRonnie Joynes
And in some cases, it wasn’t just a passing glance at the stars.
Ronnie said: “I remember Hughie Green arriving with his entourage. It was late at night and the chef had closed the kitchen, so I went out of the way to rustle up a cold meat salad for him.
“He was so grateful he gave me a £5 gratuity. This was, at the time, almost a weeks wage.”
Then there was Christopher Lee, famous for his roles as Dracula in horror movies.
“I saw him sipping at a Bloody Mary (tomato juice and vodka) which I thought was rather ironic,” said Ronnie.
There’s lots of other memories too. “I was descending in the open caged lift one afternoon and a guest asked me if I had a light for her cigarette. I obliged her, and only then did I realize it was Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner off Coronation Street).
And he also remembers the time when Helen Shapiro ‘decided to play a few tunes’ on the electric organ in a corner of the “white Rose” Restaurant.
“I recall hovering around and we had quite a conversation. This made my day as at this time - 1963/4 - she was very famous for a couple of pop songs, Walking Back To Happiness being one,” said Ronnie.
He had lots of wonderful memories of the hotel itself.
“I remember innumerable staff from the main dining room which was called the White Rose Room. It was very ornate with solid oak Victorian sideboards gleaming with silverware.”
“There were many other smaller function rooms, all named after historic periods - the Georgian room, the Jacobean room, Victoria room, Stuart room.
“The manager was a Mr Donaldson, who lived on the premises with his wife and two children.”
Ronnie’s detail of the people he worked with is still as sharp as ever and he recalled the Head waiters, Mr Desmond and Mr Eric Blacklock ‘resplendent in tailcoats and bow ties, with white waistcoats for breakfast, and black for dinner.
“Some of the many waitresses that I remember were named Yvonne, Hetty, Hazel (nicknamed Nettle), Phoebe, and Phylis.
“The waitresses were always immaculate in starched white aprons and caps.
“The head receptionist was a lady called Dolores who worked with Jane Legge.”
Ronnie added: “There was a great and friendly atmosphere about the Grand Hotel and I hold many pleasant and very happy memories about this sadly now demolished building.
“I was only an indentured apprentice at the time, but after a while I stood in for the head waiter Mr Eric Blacklock ,
“He was a big 6ft strapping gent who ran the dining room. I believe he lived in Murton Colliery, his brother was a police officer.
“The two managing directors whom I recall slept on the premises were named Mr Kitchener, and Mr Berry. Manager was Mr Donaldson.”
Ronnie’s Grand Hotel adventure came to an end in the early 1960’s when he moved on to ‘work all over the south west and London.
“I ended up in San Remo Northern Italy for a while, and after 50 years or more I intend going back to have a look at my old haunts this June.”
In the meantime, Ronnie gets our thanks for some wonderful recollections.
The hotel closed in January 1969 and was put up for auction with a starting price of £20,000 in 1971.
But no bids were forthcoming and it was withdrawn from the auction. Demolition followed in October 1974.
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