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Wednesday, January 23rd 2008

11:00 AM


(from Market Rasen mail)

Bob Monkhouse, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Jim Davidson, Lenny Henry and many more are just some of the star names with a link to a former Lincolnshire hotel.
ANYONE seeing the recent demolition of the former Four Seasons Hotel at Dunholme - to make way for a housing development - may well have been swamped with memories of the hotel in its former glory.

In its day it hosted all of the great names, prime ministers and prima donnas. Michael Steed went along to share the memories of former owners Dennis and Joan Hall, now in retirement in Market Rasen.

IN 1970, Joan and Dennis Hall who, since 1963 had been owners of the village shop in Dunholme, saw the house - then called Dunholme House - up for sale and, because Joan had always had a hankering for a restaurant, decided to buy and convert it.

It had formerly been Dr Dean's house and surgery.

The couple created a 40 seat restaurant and moved into the upstairs to live, whilst still running the village shop - at a time when restaurants outside the larger towns and cities were few and far between and most pubs were purely for drinking.
Dennis recalled how a year later they upgraded further to provide more than just a dining experience.

"I was chatting to some girls from one of the Lincoln banks who were in the restaurant having a meal," he said. "They said they were going on to Lincoln for a dance and so Joan and I thought - we've got them here for a meal, why shouldn't we provide dancing as well, and keep them here for their whole night out."

It was this that determined the couple to sell the shop and devote themselves totally to the Four Seasons, building a new kitchen and a ballroom - called 'The Lindsey Suite' - and extending the restaurant and lounge bar.

A year later, and it was another guest who was to plant the seed of providing cabaret, which led to the development of the hotel as one of the major entertainment facilities in the area.

Dennis remembered: "One evening a man called Roy Tipper from Skegness came in. He had all the cabaret bookings for Skegness and Chesterfield and would take acts for a week and place them in different venues.

"However, no-one wanted them on a Thursday, so he offered us four acts on that day for £60! We took it!"

The top of the bill act would finish in Skegness at about 10pm and then drive over to Dunholme to perform at about 11pm.

"However, with four acts, we found people were watching the cabaret but not buying drinks," said Dennis, "so we cut the acts down gradually until we had just one headliner."

The usual format was that people would dine between 8 and 10pm when the resident trio and singer would perform, then there would be dancing to a dance band or group until 11pm when the star name would come on for an hour followed by dancing until the early hours.

"We relied on people drinking to make a profit," said Dennis "as the star name typically cost us £2,000 for the hour, but it did mean we obtained enormous prestige because of the quality of the entertainment."

Many of the well-known stars of the period appeared - the venue was opened by Charlie Williams, who had achieved stardom through 'The Comedians' and 'The Golden Shot' on television, and the restaurant was serving 400 to 500 meals on a Saturday night.

Some of the biggest names of the day - and still today - appeared at the venue: Bob Monkhouse, Jim Davidson, Sacha Distel, Paul Daniels (who Dennis had never heard of when he booked him!), Acker Bilk, Des O'Connor, Marian Montgomery, Kenny Ball, Duncan Norville, Ken Dodd, Frank Carson, Lenny Henry, Patti Boulaye, Frankie Howerd, The Krankies, Jimmy Cricket, Joe Longthorne, Kathy Kirby, Little and Large, Iris Williams, Mike Reid, Norman Colyer, Matthew Kelly, Leslie Crowther, Michael Barrymore, Freddie and the Dreamers, Joan Turner, Ronnie Hilton, Bobby Davro, Bernie Clifton - and many others too numerous to mention.

Dennis and Joan's clear favourite, however, was the wonderful Les Dawson, with whom they formed a great friendship, often visiting him at his home in Lytham St Anns.

In 1980, they added 12 ensuite bedrooms, which they later doubled, so that guests could come for a meal, a dance, cabaret and then stay the night, with a relaxing walk in the morning followed by lunch before going home.

The house was set in 20 acres of land, so they added a nine hole pitch and putt golf course to add to the entertainment provided for guests, although this was lost when it was compulsorily purchased to build the Dunholme by-pass.

The couple have so many memories of the time they spent at the Four Seasons.They were there the whole time, seeing every meal go out. They introduced wedding receptions, often doing three on a Saturday and even on Sundays.

"We had the most wonderful staff," recalled Joan. "They are still friends to this day. We cannot speak highly enough of them."
Of course, not all the performers were as wonderful as the staff!

"The top stars were fine," said Dennis "but some of those who were starting to come down were a bit of trouble."

He remembered the legendary Arthur Askey asking what time he was due on and, on being told 11pm., complaining that was past his bedtime!

When Frankie Howerd, who had been the star of 'Up Pompeii' on television, came, Dennis built a wonderful Romanesque set for him only for Frankie to refuse to go on until it was taken down!

Recording star Kathy Kirby was so nervous of performing live she refused to come out of her dressing room until Dennis and Joan were finally able to persuade her that everyone loved her and wanted to hear her sing!

Another singer got so carried away, she not only ordered a bottle of champagne for her room, but during her act she sent bottles to various tables in the audience saying "Put them on my bill". Unfortunately, she left the next day without paying her bill!

After being let down by a chef, Dennis did some cooking himself, even though he had no training or experience. When one of the grills caught fire, someone opened the back door and the resulting fire explosion removed Dennis' trademark beard and head hair.

"That was the end of my cooking career and I got a new chef pretty smartish!" he said.
That was not the only thing that went wrong - on the opening night of the restaurant Dennis and Joan had thought of everything. Guests were arriving and then someone asked for a bottle of wine and he realised no-one had thought to buy a corkscrew, so there was a desperate drive around the area to find a shop open with one for sale!

On another occasion, they allowed the waitresses at the end of a wedding reception to finish off the wine. Unfortunately, they all drank a little too much and Dennis and Joan spent two hours trying to sober them all up with black coffee in time for the regular Saturday night service in the restaurant.

They remembered all their guests, all their staff and most of their stars with great affection. They thought the most talented was Joe Longthorne, and also singer Eric Prince, who was one of their first performers and who came over from retirement in Spain to sing at their Diamond Wedding party last year. But their favourite was clearly Les Dawson.

They sold the business in 1987 when a variety of circumstances made it difficult for them to continue and the hotel went downhill from then. It was sold again and the next owner went into liquidation and, by 1990, it closed down and remained empty until the decision to demolish it and build houses on the site.

The Four Seasons was a phenomenal success in its day, drawing customers from near and far to what at the time was the must-go destination for dining.
Dennis hopes the name 'Four Seasons' will at least be remembered in one of the new roads on the estate.

"We had the most wonderful time but, above all, it was the staff who made it," he said.
"It was the days of wine and roses and really, that's what it's all about it, isn't it?"

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