The Marine Hotel has been an integral part of the life of Hermanus ever since it opened in 1904.
The Luyt family were involved with the hotel from its opening until 1947. After the death of owner P John Luyt in 1940, his wife, Joey, and her daughters kept it running at the same international level but after seven years they needed to pursue their own lives and the hotel passed into the hands of a succession of owners.
By 1970, The Marine had declined dramatically when two of the Luyt daughters, Paddy and Berdine, decided to return and attempt to bring the place back up to scratch. In retrospect this was always going to be a losing battle as a succession of incompetent managers were appointed by an absent owner.
Possibly in self-defence, Berdine kept a diary of events in the period 1971 to 1973. The diary is comic, even satirical and brings a little of the pathos we often feel for Basil Fawlty when everything that can go wrong, will go wrong – again. Berdine portrays individuals with a friendly irony and has the knack of seeing the comic side of every disaster. The three extracts have been very slightly edited to avoid personal embarrassment to the people involved.
Ineffective managers: Basil also dreams of fame . . .
17 October 1972
We now have another Manager, who appears to be a pleasant person,
except for a Walter Mitty tendency. He tells everyone, especially in the Bar after a few drinks, the most fascinating stories about his life. The stories are always different, and sometimes contradict each other, depending on whether he fancies himself as a famous Hotelier or an equally famous Engineer. He is tall and dark, with a slightly sharp- featured face and a receding hairline, about forty-five years old. His manner is amiable, his voice soft. He wears a grey suit during the day and a dark suit in the evenings.
He was a highly qualified engineer, he sometimes tells an enthralled audience in the Bar, having built roads and bridges in most of the inaccessible portions of the world, and has had hair-raising adventures – during which he remained cool, calm and collected in the best British tradition – involving spear-carrying natives, warlike Indians, and a variety of fierce carnivorous animals.
On other occasions he is an equally highly-qualified Hotelier, having been manager of the Savoy in London, the Ritz in Paris, and various other well- known hotels. Once he had a special trip over to New York to advise the management of the Waldorf-Astoria; and Mr. Conrad Hilton frequently sought his advice in regard to the establishment of his various hotels.
Staff with interesting part-time jobs: Mrs. Fawlty keeps an eagle eye on anyone like this
30 October 1971
One of the Reception staff, having spent three days in Cape Town to do some shopping, is now waltzing about in mini frocks and looks more top heavy than before. She also smells strongly of a rather musky scent, which she tells me is called “Tigress”. She now spends every Saturday evening singing [in the ballroom] at San Marino with the Russell Duo, having been a famous jazz singer before becoming a receptionist. She has bought three evening frocks, with very low necklines, to sing in. The band leader says she croons in a very sexy way and undulates with such vigour that he continually expects her breasts to pop right out of their somewhat meagre covering. I am told that the locals call her “The Two Milk Shakes”.
Forward planning? Racing into Torquay to buy guests’ dinner
15 October 1972
Last Friday afternoon the hotel ran out of both tea and biscuits at 4 p.m. and one of the temporary students had to dash up to the village to buy some, while guests waited for their tea with varying degrees of impatience. On Saturday morning there was no bread for breakfast, and he was off on another foray. By 8.30 a.m. there was no more bacon, and the student had to run out to buy a couple of packets. At lunchtime that same day we ran out of fish. In the afternoon there was again a lack of biscuits for tea. On Sunday morning there was no milk and no butter. On Monday morning again no bacon and no eggs.
We spent more time running round the village buying supplies than we did in the hotel. One would think that this experience would make our manager increase his ordering, but he does not, nor do complaints from guests waiting irately for their food affect him at all.