The night of the coronation offered London's swishest hotels a chance to throw the most lavish balls seen in post-war Britain. Rosalind Mullen flicks through the archives
If the economic downturn is tarnishing your expectations of the Diamond Jubilee, think again, because post-war Britain didn't let a few privations get in the way of a good party.
Imagine the excitement back then. The Second World War had ended only eight years previously and Brits were still using ration books, but here was a beautiful young queen about to be crowned. Without doubt, Elizabeth II's coronation on 2 June 1953 was a chance to celebrate. And if the Savoy's archives are any indication, they certainly knew how to celebrate in style.
In fact, all the big hotels - Claridge's, Park Lane, Grosvenor House, Dorchester and the Cumberland threw dazzling dinners and balls. The Savoy Coronation Ball, however, was arguably the most high-profile and certainly one of the most expensive to attend at 12 guineas a head (about £262 today), compared with an average of seven guineas elsewhere.
Marketing the event, which was by invitation, was not an issue - in fact, the Savoy had a waiting list. It hosted 1,400 silk and diamond-encrusted guests, many of whom had been invited to the Westminster Abbey service earlier in the day. There were foreign royals, Hollywood stars, politicians, lords and ladies. State guests who attended the ball included the Rajah and Ranee of Faridkot, Prince and Princess Takeda of Japan and Sir Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia.
But the organisers were fairly blue-blooded, too - in the celebrity world, at least. The committee included actors John Mills, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, playwright Noel Coward and photographer Cecil Beaton. While Beaton and Leigh advised on the decor for the ball, Coward, Mills and Olivier offered their talents in the cabaret.
Outside, the Savoy was decorated with garlands, coloured balls, ribbons, flags and floodlights. The River entrance was sheltered with a canopy running the length of the building and was so successful it has evolved into the permanent porch there today.
Inside the hotel, every public room was used to create a New Elizabethan Era theme, inspired by the Tudor style of Elizabeth I. Society designer Cecil Beaton and Savoy heiress Bridget D'Oyly Carte colluded on lavish decorations that included huge white velvet curtains made to look like ermine using black felt "tails", which took two seamstresses two days to sew on. The Restaurant was transformed into a domed tent with 4,000 yards of pink, grey and turquoise fabric. There were historic standards lining the halls, 200 Prince of Wales ostrich feather plumes crowning the lights, 300 bay and camellia trees and 2.5 tons of box hedging… you get the picture. In all, it took 20 men 36 hours to assemble the decorations.
As guests arrived at 8.30pm, the staircase to the Restaurant was lined with some of the Beefeaters who had been at the Coronation ceremony earlier in the day. Under head chef August Laplanche, the menu (see page 30), included La Noisette d'Agneau Coronation, La Pomme Comtesse, while toasts were made with John Exshaw Grande Fine Champagne. No doubt the tasty puddings were all the better because of the bonus ration of 1lb of sugar and 4oz margarine given to all Britons by the Ministry of Food, to help them celebrate. Artist Abram Games - famous for designs for the Festival of Britain in 1951 - designed the Coronation coach that appeared on the menus, which were designed as parchment scrolls.
The cabaret was led at 12 midnight and again at 2am by stars such as Noel Coward and Maurice Chevalier, while at 1am the guests were showered with thousands of party favours, such as Elizabethan hats, ruffs, jester sticks and whistles.
And if it was all too much, hotel guests could slip up to their rooms, for which they had paid the princely sums of up to £7 and 7 shillings for a suite overlooking the river. (Some 60 years later, the Savoy is offering guests a special deal of two nights' accommodation and breakfast and a Diamond Jubilee dinner for two people at rates starting at £1,230).
Interestingly, a report in the Evening Standard back in 1953 observed that London hotel rates were being pushed up during the festivities. Miss Elaine Burton (Labour, Coventry South) told the House of Commons that an agency in the capital had stated the Grosvenor House charges were being doubled over a five-day period and Park Lane hotel charges "nearly" doubled… ring a bell?
In fact, it seems many of the problems that beset Londoners today also taxed the organisers of coronation after-parties. Planning for the Savoy Coronation Ball, for instance, included sending the illustrious guests a parking permit and a map to the hotel.
And in another quirky parallel, while big-screens have become a hotel staple to attract guests during events such as the wedding of William and Kate or the forthcoming Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, they were also installed at the Savoy so that the army of behind-the-scenes workers could watch the coronation while preparing for the evening's festivities.
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The Stafford London by Kempinski It may be the day of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, but this landlubber hotel is planning a street party in the hotel's Blue Ball courtyard on 3 June.
At £100 a head, up to 120 guests can watch the pageant on a large screen while sipping Champagne cocktails and indulging in a British-inspired menu of spiced lobster and fennel cocktails, traditional pulled pork sandwiches, spit-roasted meats and diamond-inspired cookies.
The courtyard will be transformed by Union Jack bunting and a marquee, and the festivities are planned between midday and 6pm.
Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Perthshire This world-famous golfing hotel is pushing the Queen's favourite outdoor sports to the fore during Jubilee week - including shooting, fishing, riding, falconry and gundog training. It's also aiming to attract families by marketing activities such as mini-golf and mini-archery for the children.
There's a reprieve from fresh air and hearty pursuits on 5 June, however, when guests can slump in front of a big screen to watch the ceremonial proceedings at St Paul's, followed by afternoon tea. Packages on offer include a free 24 hours over three nights at £970 or seven nights for the price of five at £1,625 per room.
Dukes, London Head barman Alessandro Palazzi is creating a limited-edition martini from the Queen's reportedly favourite Booths gin, finished with a spray of cherry liquor to create a "subtle feminine flavour".
Served in crystal-cut antique glasses from the Queen's coronation, the Jubilee Martini will be hand-mixed by Palazzi in front of guests from 1 June, and is priced £22.50.
Alternatively, guests can tack their martini on to a £308-a-night package, which also includes Champagne afternoon tea. All the festivities will be screened in the Marlborough suite, decorated patriotically throughout the weekend.
Dormy House hotel, Broadway, Worcestershire This 43-bedroom converted 17th-century farmhouse in the Cotswolds is offering a free glass of Champagne to couples with names that match a royal pairing.
Guests don't have to be married, but they do need to be in the same party and have ID proof. The most obvious combinations are Elizabeth and Philip, William and Kate or Charles and Camilla - but whether there are many of those around remains to be seen. The offer runs from 1 to 5 June and it will be interesting to see which "couple" shifts the most Champers.
The Capital, London Between 1 and 10 June, the hotel is offering diners for lunch and dinner a Queen's Jubilee Menu, which is a re-run of the dishes served to Her Majesty on a previous visit to the hotel.
The menu, priced at £60 a head, will include seared scallops ceviche, deep-fried crab and cucumber jelly, fillet of lamb in black olive crust, cumin jus and lightly spiced couscous and poached pear with vanilla crème brûlée. To set the scene, the hotel's Best of British theme will kick off with artistically patriotic displays of indigenous English flowers in the hotel's halls, and will continue throughout the Olympics this summer.
Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno Throughout June and July this historic Welsh hotel will be offering a three-course set menu, priced £24 per person. This includes a glass of Prosecco on arrival and dishes from coronation year, prepared by head chef Michael Cheetham.
The feast processes from a starter of roast tomato soup, garlic toast, tarragon cream (Le Cordon Bleu, London 1953), through poached breast of chicken, garden pea and gem lettuce risotto, curried cream (Bodysgallen's Coronation Chicken originally created by Constance Spry in 1953), and finishes with Vanilla Bombe Glasse Princess Elizabeth (Le Cordon Bleu, London 1953).
Savoy Coronation Ball Menu
Le Zéphyr de Foie Gras au Cliquot
La Coupe de Melon au Kummel
Le Consommé riche Albion
Le Délice de Sole Royale
La Noisette d'Agneau Coronation
La Pomme Comtesse
Le Suprême de Surrey en Gelée Regina
La Salade Princesse
La Couronne Glacée Elizabeth
Les Belles Fraises Britannia
La Corbeille de Réjouissance
Château Pontet Canet 1947
Perrier Jouet Vintages 1942 and 1943
John Exshaw Grande Fine Champagne (over 30 years old)