Today I'm hosting a guest post from the lovely Hazel Gaynor, author of The Girl from The Savoy.
When I moved to London in the early ‘90s I was instantly charmed. There was something about the iconic buildings and the atmosphere that I just loved and felt very comfortable being around. I lived and worked in London for seven years, and was sad to leave when I moved to Ireland. Of course, when you live in a city you rarely do the ‘tourist’ things so it was only after I’d left, and returned for visits, that I did the Tower of London, St. Paul’s, the London Dungeons and so much more.
It was such a joy to write about London in THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY. In many ways, the hotel and London itself became characters in the book. Writing about such a golden age as the 1920s made me very nostalgic for the more glamourous side of the city, so here is my perfect London day, inspired by my characters Dolly and Loretta, and by my experience of writing the book.
Where better to start the day than breakfast at The Wolseley, such a London institution that food critic A.A. Gill has written a book about it. (No prizes for guessing the title. Yep. Breakfast at the Wolseley). I would have to choose an omelette Arnold Bennett, created by chefs at the Savoy Grill especially for Mr. Bennett, a novelist, whose book Imperial Palace was written at The Savoy and formed part of my research.
After breakfast, a stroll through Green Park and Belgravia before visiting the V&A Museum. The permanent collections – fashion, ceramics, glass and many more – are always wonderful, as are the special exhibitions. The wedding dresses exhibition was amazing. At the moment, you can see Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear! The beautiful gardens at the back of the museum are also the perfect place to escape the bustle of London and relax over coffee. It was at the V&A Theatre Archives (housed separately in Blythe House near Olympia) that I did most of my research into the lives of actresses and theatrical producers of the 1920s.
On to Afternoon tea at Claridge’s which is where my characters, Loretta and Perry, meet every Wednesday. When I was writing the book I contacted the hotel to check what would have been on the menu in the 1920s. They explained that the selection would have been very similar to today – sandwiches, scones and cakes. Sandwich fillings would have been chicken and tarragon, roast beef, and egg mayonnaise. Today, afternoon tea is served today in The Foyer but up to 1926 this was known as The Winter Garden, which is what it is called in The Girl From The Savoy.
Of course no day out in London would be complete without taking in a West End show. The Gallery Girls of the 1920s - ordinary working girls who saved all their wages for theatre tickets - would queue for hours at the theatre doors and scream the house down from the cheap seats at the very top of the theatres. It was from up there that Dolly watches the spectacle on the stage and dreams of being there herself one day. The Novello Theatre was named after the composer Ivor Novello who lived in a flat there for many years. Novello inspired my character, Perry, who lives on the top floor of The Strand theatre (as it was known at the time).
After the show, it has to be dancing at The Savoy with a cocktail in the famous American Bar. The Savoy always had a resident band (the Savoy Orpheans in the 1920s, which has a small cameo in the book). Now the band is Alex Mendham and his Orchestra, who play authentic 1920s and 1930s jazz in the Savoy ballroom. I’d love to try a Corpse Reviver cocktail, invented to fight off the Spanish Flu epidemic that followed the end of WW1.
And to finish the day, a moonlit walk along The Embankment where Loretta looks for shooting stars and Dolly admires the work of the screevers – pavement artists. After all that, just time to curl up with a good book in one of the famous Savoir ‘Savoy’ beds, first made especially for The Savoy in 1905, and still made for them today.
The Girl From The Savoy is out now and you can get it here: