Living the Midland dream

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The Midland is a magical place.

Brian Jenkins was swept away by the magic when he stayed in the hotel as a regular guest many years ago.

Then in 2008, Brian quit his job as a transport contracts manager and sold up, leaving his native Widnes to join the Midland’s brave new future.

Today, the hotel concierge helps thousands of guests per year to experience the magic – in his role as the Midland’s tour guide.

“People come to the hotel because they want to want to relive the 1930s,” he explains.

“It’s still that era here. The music, the art...they are living the dream.”

Brian whisks his guests around the glamorous curves of the hotel, telling tales of its 80-year history with a trademark wit and twinkle in his eye.

Brian’s tours always begin in the hotel foyer. He starts with a crash course in the famous Eric Gill stone relief behind the reception desk.

The British sculptor Arthur Eric Rowton Gill was recruited by architect Oliver Hill, who designed the original Midland prior to its opening on July 12 1933.

Gill was a controversial figure, whose work was renowned for its naughty imagery.

His relief of a naked Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa, attended by three female servants, is based on three episodes of that great work of Greek mythology, Homer’s Odyssey – such is the grandeur of the Midland.

Brian explains the piece weighs six tonnes and is made of Portland stone from Dorset.

Next it’s through original double doors and into the function room, where Brian speaks with gusto about Gill’s wall map of North West England, painted by his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier.

The 2.6m by 5.7m carving shows the north west coastline from Whitehaven to Birkenhead, with landmarks depicted like the Blackpool Tower, Lancaster Castle and Furness Abbey, as well as the Lutyens’ cathedral in Liverpool which was never completed.

Brian points out a spelling mistake on the carving, as Thirlmere in the Lakes is spelt ‘Tthurlmere’.

“They don’t do Tipp-Ex for rocks!” he jokes.

Brian also gestures towards some typical Gill rudeness hidden away amongst the drawings – an image of a man groping a woman’s breast. Highly inappropriate, especially as Brian explains the room used to be a children’s play area!

Back to the more genteel surroundings of the Midland reception, where Brian leafs through a book on the Midland’s history. This lists some of the celebrities who stayed there during Morecambe’s golden age, including Alma Cogan, Al Martino, Abbott and Costello, Tommy Trinder, Guy Mitchell and Max Bygraves.

Brian himself has met guests including Janet Street-Porter, Dave Hill from Slade, Victoria Wood, Miranda Hart, Vic Reeves, ‘Turn Back Time’ host Susanna Reid, Phil Tufnell and his favourites, The Pet Shop Boys (Brian’s a big fan).

Next, the ground floor lift spirits us up to the top of the hotel’s spectacular staircase for a view of the Eric Gill medallion painted on the ceiling. The colourful artwork shows Triton emerging from the sea in front of Neptune.

Brian tells me the handrails on the top floor landing are originals, touched by famous guests like Coco Chanel, Laurence Olivier and Roger Moore.

Now comes my favourite part of the tour, as we step out through glazed doors and onto the front terrace.

Here I get a shiver down my spine, and not just from the chilly weather. To my left is the breathtaking view across the Bay. I proudly take in the awesome scenery, a massive smile on my face.

Back inside, Brian shows me into the Midland’s most in-demand suite. For a cool £400 a night, guests can ‘live the dream’ in a playground of ultra-modern comfort, complete with hot tub, a bathroom the size of a small office, humongous sofa and stunning view of the Stone Jetty.

As Brian quips: “You can just about rough it in here, can’t you?”

Next, we stop off on the first floor landing, now the home of two green ‘elephant chairs’. These rather clumsy chunks of furniture were in the foyer for the first 12 months when the hotel reopened after restoration five years ago.

But due to a public outcry, they were eventually moved.

“People hated them,” recalls Brian.

“I used to take all the grief from guests. Some would try to drag them out of the hotel. I’m sure they would have torched them if they could...”

This ‘chair rage’ is a perfect example of the passion the Midland inspires in its followers.

Dedicated Midland lovers see the hotel as their own, and are intrigued by every nook and cranny. Brian tells me some have even studied university diplomas on our art deco gem.

So Brian’s job clearly carries great responsibility. But as he takes me past the Marion Dorn room through the Rotunda Bar on the final leg of our tour, he confides that he absolutely adores it.

“I get to talk about the Midland hotel, and get paid for it,” he grins.

“Now you see why I love working here!”

Tours with Brian can be booked by calling the Midland on 01524 424000.