By Lucy Komisar
Alfred Hitchcock fans walking into the lobby of the old Coburg Hotel must shiver a bit. This was the place in the 1972 thriller “Frenzy” where Dick Blaney (Jon Finch) took his girlfriend, the barmaid Babs Milligan (Anna Massey), after his soon-to-be murdered ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) slipped him some cash. The bellhop led them through the square paneled glass doors, to room 322, “the cupid room.”
You might get the same chamber if you go there today. Ask for the Dome Suite.
You‘ll see the same lobby and the halls Hitchcock shot. You‘ll get the view of Hyde Park through the entrance door. But the bellhop will not call the police to arrest you. Nor – forewarned by a garish newspaper headline – will you exit through the window and down the fire stairs.
Something else has changed. In the dining room is a fine painting of the old Coburg Hotel. The cream-colored stone bulding, which has the air of a villa, was built in 1905 by the same designer who built the Queensway tube station in a part of London called Bayswater. But the nameplate outside announces that now it‘s the Hyde Park Hilton.
Hitchcock‘s London! The old master liked to put his characters in places familiar to him. He set the murderers’ flat in a nondescript Covent Garden building with a sign plate for Duckworth Publishers at the front. Hitchcock‘s father had been a Covent Garden merchant and he knew the produce market well. It‘s gone now, but some locations are still there.
One is the Globe Pub on Bow Street, where Dick and Babs worked. You can still have a pint at the Globe and enjoy its 18th century interior.
Hitchcock shot the “The Man Who Knew Too Much” with James Stewart and Doris Day in 1956 in London and Marrakech. An American couple Dr. Ben MacKenna (Stewart) and his wife Jo (Day) who are staying in Marrakech at the legendary Mamounia Hotel meet a mysterious Moroccan who is murdered in the market.
As he is dying of a knife wound, the Moroccan – who turns out to be a secret agent — whispers to MacKenna (a medical doctor, of course) about an assassination that is going to occur. After two Brits who have “casually” joined the day‘s outing witness the whispering, they kidnap the couple‘s young son Hank (Christopher Olsen). The clues lead the distraught Americans to London.
The assassination is plotted for Royal Albert Hall, easy to spot on the real map. But many of the sites said to be in one location in the film are really someplace else. The building that Hitchcock used to represent the Ambrose Chapel in Bayswater is really in Brixton. The most interesting locations for that film are in Marrakech, especially the big market square, the gate to the Medina and the legendary Mamounia Hotel. I‘d been there by chance just six months before.
So out of the chill, back to the Coburg….um, the Hilton. If you think Hiltons are all five star and pricey, you‘re wrong. This one is 4-star and has a friendly demeanor, starting with a cozy living-room-style lounge with easy chairs and a fireplace where you can take tea and drinks. Rooms are small but comfortable.
Just around the corner on Queensway are several cyber cafes, there are numerous eateries (none very expensive), and just past the Bayswater tube station is a shopping mall.
And, “Yes,” said the Hilton desk clerk, “People do come here to check out the location used in Frenzy.”
If you go
The Hilton London Hyde Park
129 Bayswater Road
London W2 4RJ
Tel 44 (0)20 7221-2217
Fax 44 (0)20 7229-0557
The Mamounia Hotel
Avenue Bab Jedid
Tel 212 4438-8600 or 212 4444-4409
Fax 212 4444-4660 or 212 4444-4910
Reservations also via Leading Hotels of the World or Concorde Hotels.
Top 10 London” from DK Eyewitness Guides is the best concise (and lightweight!) travel book on London for sites, maps, food, shopping and events.
Eyewitness‘ “Morocco” is more detailed, filled with glorious color and just the right amount of detail for the sites you want to see as well as detailed information about restaurants, shopping and “survival.”
Both at http://www.dk.com.
All photos by Lucy Komisar