Jim Parker: Harry and Mitch - the 'A' team fighting to give hospitality the voice it needs so badly

Picture of leading hotelier Harry Murray

Harry Murray - 'Mr Tourism and Hospitality' - Credit: Submitted

Harry Murray was synonymous with tourism and hospitality in the Bay during its golden days.  

Days when the Imperial was the only five-star hotel this side of Bristol and was truly an imperial lady sat on the hill in Torquay with some of the most stunning views in the land.  

Harry was its general manager between 1976 and 1994 and he was a champion of all things tourism.  

Now here he is, still fighting the industry's corner during its bleakest times.   

The sector has suffered more than most business-wise in the pandemic - £200 million has been lost in the English Riviera in the past year.  

Now industry leaders are campaigning for a stronger and more influential voice at Westminster.  

They want to see a minister appointed with a specific portfolio for hospitality. Tourism currently has a minister but the role is somewhat lost in the Department for Culture Media and Sport. It doesn't even get a mention in the title.  

Most Read

Harry, honoured with every industry award going and with an MBE to his name, is 81 now but has lost none of his vigour and is helping to lead the Seat at the Table campaign.  

He is still very much well respected in the industry. He is chairman of the luxury Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa in Wiltshire and president of the Hospitality Professionals Association.  

“It is what keeps me young,” he jokes.  

He is deadly serious with the campaign and, in typical candid Harry Murray fashion, doesn’t hold back when he says more can be done by the industry itself.  

He says: “It is typical of the industry. They work hard but they are quite lethargic when it comes to banding together.   

“I remember back in Torbay with things like training grants and various organisations helping to train through hotels. It was always difficult to get some hotels to take part.”  

He singles out fellow, leading hotelier for Robin Hutson for his support and there is a hint of praise for TV celeb chef James Martin. “He did a short video about the campaign which went down well,” said Harry. But he adds: “Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have done nothing. We asked them. “ 

He could easily have put his feet up but he says: “I wanted to help those people who are suffering and there are a lot of people suffering.” 

Local celeb chef and well-known businessman Mitch Tonks has suffered as badly as any although, ever inspirational, he takes it all in his stride and is also playing a leading role in the campaign. 

Picture of chef Mitch Tonks

Inspirational - Mitch Tonks - Credit: Rockfish

He has had a ‘disastrous’ 12 months. His Seahorse Restaurant in Dartmouth was flooded by a burst water main in July. It re-opened in December but is closed again due to the current restrictions.   

The Rockfish restaurant on Torquay harbourside was flooded by storms in August with a lengthy refurbishment due to finish in a couple of weeks. And his business in Exmouth was badly damaged in the recent storms.   

Mitch says: "It has been a disaster - stop, start, stop start, but we are a strong company and we will be fine.”  

Mitch is appealing for people to sign the petition to get the industry voice heard. 

Just one little anecdote from Harry Murray. After leaving the Imperial, he spent three years in South Africa running Cape Town’s Intercontinental Hotel with the magnificent Table Mountain on its doorstep. 

Nelson Mandela was a visitor and Harry remembers making the headlines back home when the hotel hosted a banquet with Mandela and the Queen.   

He especially recalls a conversation in the lift after the banquet between Mandela and Her Majesty. “We got in the lift and the 6ft 5in security guard pushed the button for the 32nd floor instead of the ground floor,” says Harry.    

As the lift continued to climb, Mandela was quick on his feet to show the Queen that Table Mountain had been specially lit up just for her unique visit. 

Great memories from a genuinely nice and great bloke who still has a passion for people. 

‘Fit as a fiddle’ and still running and cycling, he says: “I loved the Imperial. I miss Torbay.”  

We miss Harry. 

With people like Harry Murray and Mitch Tonks behind the campaign, the government would be daft not to give them a Seat the Table...