Have you been watching … The Hotel?

Channel 4's fly-on-the-wall documentary celebrates the Great British holiday in all its tedious glory

It is a brave hotelier who invites the cameras into his establishment. And a braver guest who agrees to let them into their room. And yet here they all are in Channel 4's Sunday night fly-on-the-wall documentary: drunkenly falling over their own trousers, having a row, wandering round in their pyjamas, trying to shut the kids up for one second, attempting grand romantic gestures. Britain on holiday, making the most of a few days away surrounded by beautiful scenery and within convenient reach of a well-stocked bar.

The Hotel offers the opposite of edited holiday highlights; it's the dull bits that nobody ever mentions. There is the odd charming high note – the world's sweetest bride saying "I do", a proposal by the pond – but generally we see the bleary exchanges over breakfast, afternoon lulls and telly before bed. For those worried that everyone else spends their holidays having non-stop fun and glamour with their brilliantly well-behaved kids, it is reassuring confirmation that largely they don't.

Quite how reassuring other aspects of the programme are, is perhaps more debatable. The staff at the Damson Dene are often hilarious; but less than 100% efficient. The kitchen is led by Kirk, a head chef with a penchant for T-shirts with "fuck" slogans and enormous, ludicrous, headscarves which permanently threaten to come unravelled and drop their fringes in the soup. With kitchen porter/assistant (don't get him started) Kuba sometimes less than totally engaged, and often speaking an entirely different language, the food operation at times resembles rather less a well-oiled machine than a well, well-oiled misfiring banger sustained largely by unsuspecting couples' wedding cake. And that's before poor old general assistant Amos tries to take an order or – worse – deliver one.

At the centre of all this is the hotel's general manager, Wayne. I'm not entirely sure the owner Jonathan Denby – who reminds me of a bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber for reasons I can't quite put my finger on – would agree, but neither The Hotel or the hotel would be nearly so enchanting without his ambitious employee. Off Wayne goes each night, tramping down the garden, dog Fly at his heel, smart quip at the ready, to iron his shirt for the morning and bed down in his caravan next to the pigs. (Actually, why are the pigs there? It never has been properly explained.)

Wayne is not the kind of general manager who spends long periods sitting in an office. If he's not humping around tables, he's admonishing kitchen staff, feeding the ducks, taking Fly for a quick walk, even hiding in the bushes to pop out with a bottle of champagne at a preordained romantic moment. His tart asides and seemingly non-stop commentary on events provide the programme's pace; the motor that propels the rather languid staff onwards.

Not that this is a documentary in a rush. Like One Born Every Minute, which is made by the same people, The Hotel is all about the little details. The dynamic between couples gazing out on yet another rainy British summer day; the interaction between different staff members. The result is a gentle slice of Sunday night television that reveals more than one might expect about the hospitality industry, couples behind closed doors, and just how annoying kids can be, while not leaving the viewer so horrified that British tourism collapses overnight. It's all curiously old-fashioned, but also rarely less than charming.


Vicky Frost

The GuardianTramp

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