During the Blitz, while East End workers survived on powdered egg and “macon” (mutton-bacon) and were prevented from sheltering in the Underground (until they marched on the Savoy demanding access), society’s upper echelons lived in luxury and safety at the Dorchester, Claridges and the Ritz.
Matthew Sweet’s engrossing history of London’s grand hotels during the second world war is eye-opening. The rich danced through air raids (the band timing songs to the boom of falling munitions), and slept cheek by jowl with cabinet ministers, aristocrats and captains of industry on camp beds in the bomb-proof basement. Around them, spies, prostitutes and con artists plied their trade.
The West End Front is meticulously researched but, like a waiter at the Ritz, Sweet effortlessly serves up dish after dish of deliciously intriguing, scandalous and funny tales that give a rather different view of London life during the war.
The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London’s Grand Hotels, by Matthew Sweet, Faber, RRP£20, 384 pages