John Fothergill made 'inn-keeping' a profession, he was the man who started the trend for high standards of food and service in English country hotels. This TV play centres on his time at the Spread Eagle in Thame, an Oxfordshire market town about 50 miles from London, in the 1920's.
Fothergill published his story as "An Innkeeper's Diary" and the film charts his struggle to raise the tone of the place, getting rid of all the farmers (who take advantage of a 'traditional' free buffet each market day to eat him out of house and home) and jumped-up commercial travellers (who refer to the menu as the "me 'n' you"), and persuading the smart set from London and Oxford to visit.
Fothergill was an irascible snob who would escort a customer from his hotel if he felt they were unable to appreciate it properly. In one incident he serves identical lunches to an aristocratic lady and her chauffeur. The lady declares the meal delicious, while the chauffeur complains about his food. To Fothergill this proves his theory that the working classes are inferior people because they can't appreciate the finer things in life.
He also wages a constant battle against people who use the hotel toilets but aren't paying customers.
Eventually Fothergill's high standards (in cuisine and clientèle) worked against him. He simply couldn't get enough of the 'proper' type of guest to make the hotel a paying business and had to sell it. He went on to own two more inns, but none were as well-regarded as the Spread Eagle.
This film is a fairly plain dramatisation of the 'Diary'. Robert Hardy obviously relishes the chance to play such an eccentric and awkward character and the period is well presented. The only problem is the script which can't decide whether to play for comedy (snobbery and elitism versus ignorant yokels) or drama (financial problems and downfall).
The Spread Eagle at Thame still exists and "Fothergills(sic) Brasserie offers a high standard of modern and French cusine(sic)". It's just the grammar and spelling that's crap.
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