Bedford Hotel, King's Road

Fire at the hotel

Photo:Undated fire

Undated fire

Image reproduced with permission from Brighton History Centre

This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
This picture certainly brings back memories for me, as when I was a youngster I worked there as a commis waiter. The early morning starts; the greasy fat head chef with a foul temper; standing at an old gas grill doing trays and trays of melba toast, while attired in a bow tie and white shirt and short white jacket (it was hell when you got hot and sweaty!). And then I remember having to run up the service stairs with early morning breakfasts! All that was for a pittance in those days, but it was a fortune to a school boy on summer holidays. I will always remember the dark dingy Dickens room, perhaps he had some earlier connection with the hotel? I wonder - and always will.
By Chris (18/12/2003)
Charles Dickens did in fact stay at the Bedford Hotel, he wrote Dombey & Son while there. In fact one of the suites in the new hotel is called the Dickins (signwriter mistake) suite and has pictures of his books in it.
By Liam (22/01/2004)
As a young married couple in the fifties my first husband Dick and I would come down from London and stay at the Bedford with my in-laws. We all loved the Bedford. It broke my heart when I heard it had burnt down. All the same, I have now come to live in Brighton in a garden flat in Cavendish Place, (the Bedford used to be on the corner). But oh how different Cavendish Place is, with a monstrous grey hotel and tower block of flats hiding it from view as shown recently in the sad front page picture in Greenleaf. When the West Pier was set on fire, too I did wonder if I had done the right thing coming back - but my children and grandchildren love coming down to me from London and so I think I will just have to get used to change!
By Sally Cedar (01/06/2006)
Is there anyone that can tell me the owner of the hotel before or at the time of the fire?
By Rebekah Radulovich (30/06/2006)

The hotel was owned by AVP industries.

By Liam (18/10/2006)

During the fire a brave young lift boy risked his life to help firemen get the guests out of the hotel. The lad was called Gerrard Sayer later to be known as Leo Sayer the well known pop star from Shoreham by Sea. This tale was related to me by my good friend Stephen Grenyer who went to school with Gerrard (what modesty never to talk about such a brave act).

By Malcolm Lima (06/02/2007)

Do you know the name of the firefighter or any details of the brave men who put the fire out? I believe my father may have been one (Michael Irwin). Thank you.

By Diane (10/10/2007)

You're right Diane, your father Mick Irwin was one of the fireman at the fire. I too was at the fire, only 18 years old at the time and had been a fireman only six months.

By Brian Megenis (04/11/2007)

I remember this fire well. My uncle lived in a flat near there and we watched the fire from his lounge window! I was touched to read about Leo Sayer's act of bravery. Hope he got an award for it. I think I went to St Mary Magdalen's school in 1968 with you Malcolm. Do you remember me?

By Maggie Williams (nee Doogan) (12/01/2008)

Malcolm Lima's comment (06/02/07) is not accurate. Stephen Grenyer is my cousin and he did NOT go to the same school as Gerard Sayer. Stephen went to Shoreham County Secondary School in Middle Road, Shoreham (now bulldozed and built over with housing) whilst Gerard, who I did know well (we used to play football together and swap records) went to a Catholic school (he was brought up Catholic as his Mother was devout). Hope this clarifies matters.

By Howard Funnell (12/02/2008)

I was the firewoman on duty in the control room. It was 1st April 1964. We received the 999 calls early morning and I thought it might be April Fool pranksters but the volume of calls was enormous and we soon realised we had a major emergency to deal with. I can remember you Brian along with Barry Tiplady and Les Ellis who I think was a Station Officer. I do remember the photo and headlines from the Daily Express, it was a picture of a turntable ladder fully extended with the fireman shrouded in smoke and the caption was "The Lone Fighter". It was an amazing few days, we had to bring fire appliances in from Surrey to help on standby.

By Ann Allsop (02/03/2008)

Brian - was your father Station Officer Megenis?

By Ann Allsop (02/03/2008)

My birth name is Gerard Hugh Sayer, and I am now known as Leo - yes, that Leo - the entertainer. I was intrigued to read about the story that I was a "hero" of the Bedford Hotel fire. This is simply not true, probably a misquote from a journalist. I was however involved in a tragic fire at The Kings Hotel, Hove. It was further along the same road as the Bedford opposite the West Pier, and yes I guess an act of bravery did take place. I was 19 at the time and the story was printed in the Brighton and Hove Gazette. That makes the year 1967, though I can't remember the exact date. I had a cutting of the paper article but it's lost now. I remember Howard Funnel very well (he was a great and close friend) and it was nice to see his correction - Hi Howard! If anybody has any info about the Kings Hotel fire, please let all of us know - I'd really love to read about it.  This is a nice and fascinating site, keep up the good work. Sydney, Australia.

By Leo (Gerard) Sayer (02/03/2008)

Hello Ann - my father was indeed Station Officer Megenis.

By Brian Megenis (05/03/2008)

Whilst researching Thomas Sayers the prize fighting boxer. I stumbled across this page and just wondered if Gerard Hugh (Leo) may have descended from the same line? Do you know anything of your Sayer roots, Leo?

By Jill (12/03/2008)

Hi Brian, I'm so pleased you were able to confirm that it was your father.  It brings back many happy memories of those great days and working in the control room.  Were you involved in the Hove Town Hall fire?

By Ann Allsop (18/03/2008)

Sorry about my incorrect information and thank you for correcting me.  Yes Maggie, I recall being at school with you.  It does seem so long ago now. This is a wonderfull site and it's nice to see so many marvellous folks recalling their memories.

By Malcolm Lima (24/03/2008)

No Ann, I was on 3 rota days off when The Hove Town Hall caught fire.

By Brian Megenis (25/03/2008)

Brian - thanks for your reply, it does bring back many memories. As you know it was only a small control room and once we received the emergency call it was my job to activate the bells, display the appliances to go and ensure the 6 sets of traffic lights directly outside were on 'red' hence stopping all the traffic, I was always efficient at doing this but then I would return to my duties as switchboard operator, which always kept me busy, until an irate motorist would come in and say the lights were still on red, I would apologise and naturally blame it on the police and then return the lights to 'green'. I wonder if there is still a control room based at Preston Circus.

By Ann Allsop (30/03/2008)

Hi all, my birth name is Jacqueline North-Coates, and I am now known as Charlotte Coates,  I am not from Brighton but I am a big fan of Leo Sayer, and I happened to come across this website when I was doing further reading on Leo. Hello Leo, I wonder if you remember me (from 1998,1999 + 2004) ? Well, upon reading more about Leo Sayer adding further to my knowledge of him - I came across the Wikipedia website about the Bedford Hotel. On that website, I read that the hotel had been destroyed by fire in 1964. There were claims of a young boy who was a lift operator at the hotel and he became as famous as Leo Sayer, who had helped to save the lives of others at the hotel and risked his own life in doing so. Well as soon as I discovered about that, I emailed The Grand Hotel in Brighton, and then I received a reply from the office manager by the name of Antonio Lopez, I told him about Leo Sayer, and he informed me that Leo was at The Grand Hotel during 2004, and he had spoken to him but Leo didn't mention anything about him being a lift operator there and rescuing people from the fire. Does this jog Leo's memory? If I can get hold of an old newspaper report about either the Bedford Hotel or the Kings Hotel in Brighton, I will let you know and save it for you. Hopefully the Brighton and Hove Library will still hold a copy of the original newspaper article regarding the Bedford Hotel/Kings Hotel. Leo Sayer deserves an award for act of bravery! The Bedford Hotel now the Holiday Inn Hotel is situated on the same site as the Bedford Hotel was! And if my memory serves me rightly, Leo Sayer attended the boys school a RomanCatholicSchool at Goring-by-Sea, Sussex. The school was in Ham Road. I discovered that sometime ago when I went on the friends reunited website.

By Charlotte Coates (03/04/2008)

Just to let you all know, I have received confirmation today from the Brighton Historical Society who happen to have the original newspaper article about the fire which destroyed The Bedford Hotel, during which Leo Sayer was brave to help save the lives of the hotel's residents and staff, and indeed putting his own life at risk in doing so. The year I can also confirm was 1964 which made Leo Sayer just 16 years of age. (He's 12 years older than me!) Once I receive the photocopied article, I will send what it says in the article to this website, and I will also save it for Leo Sayer and hope to give it to him hopefully if I see him again. The only thing I have found out about The Kings Hotel is that it was formerly 3 magnificent Regency private residences and was converted into a beautifully presented hotel at the turn of the last Century. I discovered that bit of history on the Kings Hotel via the Internet, but not traced anything about a fire at that hotel. I trust the above info is of help!

By Charlotte Coates (05/04/2008)

I have just received an email from the Brighton Historical Society. They sent me an article about the fire at the Bedford Hotel. There were in fact two-fires; in the email,  was told there was a fire at the Bedford Hotel in 1964 and a serious fire at the Kings Hotel in 1967. I have asked them to send me the copy of the article as it was too small a print to read it on the attachment. So hopefully as soon as I receive it, I promise I'll post the article on here for you all.

By Jackie (Charlotte) Coates (08/04/2008)

Sorry to Leo, for me saying there wasn't a fire at the King's Hotel in 1967. I didn't find any reference of it on the Internet but have done further research, and a Paul Jordan from the Brighton History Centre actually emailed me and told me there was a serious fire that happened at the King's Hotel. He informed me he's sorting out the article and he'll send it to me. So I am now just waiting to receive it, and as soon as the details arrive to me, I will let Leo know, and everyone else on here know too. My apologies again for saying there wasn't but thought I ought to come and correct it. Also in advance, I'd like to wish Leo Sayer a very happy 60th birthday for the 21st of May (20 days after mine!) congratulations, and may you have many more happy returns to come. Best wishes from your fan always, Jackie - now also known as Charlotte.

By Jackie (Charlotte) Coates (14/04/2008)

Here it is just for you Leo Sayer, and for everyone else visiting this website. This morning I am delighted to have received a photocopy of three/four paged articles regarding the fire at the Kings Hotel in Brighton. Some of the print is a bit small to read but I will do my best and post the bits I can read here for you all. I think one article is from the Brighton and Hove Gazette dated 26th January, 1967.
The heading of that article reads:-

HOTEL BLAZE RESCUE HEROS
Brave efforts were made to rescue the four trapped people from the back of the King's Hotel, when the upper floors and the back of the hotel were well alight, by the 18-year old hall porter and lift boy at the hotel, Gerard Sayer of Upper Shoreham Road, Shoreham, and builders working on the block of flats beside the hotel.
When Gerard heard the fire alarm called he was in the lift on the ground floor and he went up to the third floor to find out what was happening. By this time the place was full of smoke and fumes, probably coming from the lift shaft.
"I was helping to run out the hoses when the proprietress shouted to get the others out. I went to the room of one guest, an elderly woman. She was screaming and in a panic and all I could do was drag her from her bedroom to another room at the back where I thought she would be safer."
Then he got one of the old men and took him to a window at the back and climbed on to a balcony, but the old man panicked and broke away and went back into the hotel. "There was nothing I could do. The smoke and heat were terrible. I grabbed a towel and signalled with it," said Gerard.
He was eventually rescued by builders from the flats, and was treated for shock at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton.
The second article is from the Brighton Evening Argus dated Jan 1967. The heading reads:- KING'S HOTEL FIRE PRECAUTIONS HAD BEEN HELD UP
In this article there's a picture of Fire hero Gerard Sayer, and the small part of that article reads;- Bulb exploded and set fire to part of a toy display set up by a London firm of wholesalers.
Mr. Golomb was turning down Easter holiday bookings from guests this morning. He is due to meet insurance assessors later today, said Mr. Golomb. I personally think the building is still structually sound in which case we should be back in business this coming holiday season.
"The damage seems to be confined mainly to the front part of the first floor. We shall start work as soon as we get a report from the engineers."
Hotel staff came into work this morning still shaken by the tragedy. Back at work as usual was the hero of the fire slightly-built Gerard Sayer, the 18 year old hall porter and lift boy.
Gerard took his lift up to the third floor through smoke and choking fumes and tried to save two elderly guests. He was rescued himself by ladder.
Gerard of Upper Shoreham Road Shoreham, said this morning " I didn't really think about the risk at the time, I had the lift and I used it."

(It brought tears to my eyes reading that about Leo Sayer). I can either keep the articles on me, and give them to Leo Sayer the next time I see him. I hope to see and meet him again at another concert, or I can perhaps send them to Jill, c/o the SAS Band - Leo Sayer's musical friends.

By Jackie (Charlotte) Coates (15/04/2008)

FOR THE SPECIAL ATTENTION OF LEO SAYER, I hope you're still keeping an eye on this nice and fascinating website - as I have some news for you and everyone else. Well since the finding about you being a fire hero at the King's Hotel in Brighton, I have emailed a James Brown, (I believe that's his name) at the hotel, and I have told him about the whole incident in which you were involved in. He asked me who my contacts were at the Brighton History Centre - and I delightedly told him. James is waiting to get a copy of the article, and as soon as he has got it, he's going to look into my suggestion of a plaque being placed on the wall at the front of the King's Hotel commemorating Leo Sayer's act of bravery. I told James this would be a nice way of setting off early celebrations for Leo's 60th birthday on the 21st May this year. I will with immense pleasure let you know as soon as I know when the famous Leo Sayer plaque is placed on the wall at the front of the King's Hotel, Brighton.

By Jackie (17/04/2008)

I am interested to have just come upon this article as I remember this fire very well.
My parents ran the Claremont hotel which was next door to the Bedford and my father rescued a lady across the roof top. I was only 14 at the time and will never forget seeing a poor woman who later died being bought down a ladder and the trouble the firefighters had trying to get the ladder up to her window. I believe she was a barmaid at the hotel. I still have the newspaper from the day of the fire.

By Jane Lister (30/01/2009)

Hi Jane, it was interesting to read your article. My father Michael Irwin was one of those fireman who fought the blaze. I would be very interested to get a copy of the newspaper clipping to give to my father. If you can help me please let me know. Kind regards, Diane.

By Diane (08/02/2009)

Hi Diane. Yes I do have the front page of the newspaper in a box of papers in my loft that I could dig out & copy for you. Not sure how we contact each other without posting our emails on this page? My father was William Bartlett than ran the Claremont Hotel that was joined onto the Bedford up Cavendish Place. I will always remember that morning as I was woken up to the screams from the Bedford where a lady was trapped at the top floor window. The fire brigade was having a lot of trouble getting the ladder to go high enough to reach her. Best Wishes.
[Editor: If you give your permission, we would be happy to forward your email address to Diane without posting it on the website.]

By Jane Lister (10/02/2009)

Hi Jane.  After speaking to my father he recalls that up to four people may have died in that fire. He cannot remember if he himself was one of the firefighters who climbed the ladder. However there were many times when he did. If Brain Megenis (comment 4-11-07) has any old photos of the fireman crew at that time I would dearly love to have a copy. Many thanks to all that add their comments here.

By Diane (11/02/2009)

I have turned out the newspaper articles now. There are four. The Brighton & Hove Gazette dated Friday 3rd April 1964, the Daily Sketch Thursday April 2nd, the Evening Argus Wednsday April 1st and Brighton & Hove Herald Saturday April 4th. The articles mention that the hero of the fire was a Mr Paul Guppy from Rottingdean who was working near the hotel and dashed into the hotel and rescued six people. He suffered a fractured ankle when he carried out an elderly lady after he first led a group of five people that he found on the 3rd floor to safety.  My father was attempting to reach the barmaid, Miss Rita Turnbill, who was trapped at a top floor window. He went out of our hotel skylight and across the roof but was unable to reach Miss Turnbull but did find the Bedford hotel receptionist, Miss Leigh Day, on the roof in her night clothes and helped her over the roof and into his hotel through the skylight.  There are several photographs, including one of the Brighton fire chief, Mr E Calvert, and another photo of a firefighter enjoying a cup of tea but there is no name on the photo so not sure if it could be Michael Irwin.

By Jane Lister (11/02/2009)

I'm sorry Diane but I have lost all the press cuttings of the fire, but I was the fireman on top of the 100ft turntable ladder in the picture at the top.  If any of the readers do have have any press cuttings, I would love to view them.

By Brian Megenis (12/04/2009)

Been scanning this site for details of some of the large fires that my Dad would have been involved in as he was a fireman at Hove Fire Station, Hove Street from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. I believe he was on the Bedford Hotel shout and I know he was on the old Hove Town Hall one. His memory is not what it used to be but he remembers somebody by the name of Turvey and he also gave me a few of the station officers he served under and I believe that Calvert was one of the names he mentioned. My Dad is Gordon Jupp, more commonly known as Jumbo. Does anybody remember him?

By Pam Pantzer (20/04/2009)

Does anyone remember a fireman called Ron Scammell? He was based in the control room at Preston Circus Fire Station. His hobby was carpentry and he made me a foot stool for my wedding in 1964; I still have it and many fond memories connected with it. I was a firewoman and worked alongside Ron.

By Ann Groves (26/09/2009)

I remember Ron Scammell, bit of a bad tempered chap as I recall, liked burnt toast and water for breakfast.

By Brian Megenis (13/02/2010)

Reading this page brought back some memories as on the day the fire occured I was working in Western Road and saw the smoke rising in the sky. I went down to the seafront and saw the Bedford Hotel on fire and as I watched I wondered what my Grandfather, who had already passed away, would have thought as he had worked there. I still have an engraved tankard, given to my Grandfather when he retired, the wording is as follows:- CHARLES DE'ATH, In appreciation of 50 years loyal service with the BEDFORD HOTEL, BRIGHTON, March 1905 - March 1955. Unfortunately I know very little about his service at the hotel other than he was some sort of Steward leading up to his retirement.

By Derek Lake (10/05/2011)

I was working in Vokins (my first job on leaving school). I was in the ladies' clothing department upstairs. I recall people coming in with vouchers or coupons, not sure which. Anyway it was to kit people out as they had lost property in the Bedford Fire. I hope I was suitably sympathetic as a 16 year old girl. Poor people.

By Jennifer Tonks (11/05/2011)

I was four, and remember this day vividly. I was with my mother shopping in Western Road when we saw the smoke and everyone saying "the Bedford's on fire!" We headed down with others and I remember standing, probably outside the Kings, I dont think we could go any nearer, and watching the ladder at the front of the building and the rescue. I remember my Mother calling it a "Firemans lift". I had never seen a fire before and it left an indelible impression, the drama of it, the clouds of grey- brown smoke, the hoses snaking everywhere, and I remember it being a grey, overcast and (I think) windy day. Brighton's had more than its fair share of bad fires over the years. And then that awful thing they put up in place of the Bedford.

By Mark Thompson (04/06/2012)

My aunty Rita Turnbull died in this fire, aged 32 years old.

By Karen (22/10/2012)

I hear the man who tried to rescue my aunty was named Alberto Gorritz, a Spaniard. Very sad.

By Karen Jones (24/10/2012)

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