Portmeirion Hotel and Village
Portmeirion Online Shop
This article was first
published in 2009.
Portmeirion is the
renowned and magnificent Italianate fantasy attraction on the north
Wales coast, a pottery and a brand as well as a cult TV icon, being
the original village in The Prisoner. Robin Llewellyn, the
Managing Director at Portmeirion and grandson of the visionary
founder Clough Williams-Ellis, tells us about the latest
developments for 'the village' and its online presence.
Robin: Hi David.
Digger: Hi Robin. Have you watched any of the new series of The Prisoner?
Robin: I’ve got it on Sky Plus but haven’t watched it yet.
I’ve read the reviews. It seems to have had very mixed reviews
really. Some people have enjoyed it but most have been very much
underwhelmed. I mean A.A. Gill writing in The Times.
Digger: It’s a difficult act to follow for many reasons but I
think location is a primary one. You have to feel claustrophobic and
the new series is set in the desert. It doesn’t do that.
Robin: No, not so easily.
Digger: Can you tell us a bit about the relaunch of the Prisoner
Robin: That’s due to be relaunched this summer. We’re just
working on the look and feel of it.
We’re doing some development in-house and some is being done by
Sanderson who specialise in Point of Sale and property management systems.
They have a system called Midas Direct which is the software behind
the online retail.
Digger: Have you taken any feedback from the Prisoner fraternity or
clients there in terms of what it should look like?
Robin: We’ve looked at lots of different websites and come to the
conclusion that we want a horizontal menu at the top of the screen
which then allows a dropdown of items that you can pick off
sub-headings. It will be that sort of style and much easier to
navigate than the current one.
Digger: How many visitors a year do you think are coming because of
Portmeirion's associations with The Prisoner?
Robin: We have carried out surveys in the past and it indicated to
us that it was about 10% of people here are coming primarily because
of The Prisoner and that would equate to something like 25,000
people. We get about 250,000 visitors.
Digger: That’s not bad is it?
Robin: Hopefully that will increase a little bit this year because
of the new Prisoner plus they’re showing the original series on
ITV4 starting tomorrow night. (April 2010)
Digger: Are they doing anything with it or just showing it in the
Robin: In the original form.
Digger: How many special events are held at Portmeirion each year?
Robin: We have The Prisoner convention and various other
events. Sometimes we have theatrical productions and so on. We have
Christmas and New Year so half a dozen or so.
Digger: And you get people occasionally trying to make a TV
programme or music video?
Robin: We’ve had a few. We had something for CBeebies last year
and Captain Adorable. We’ve had Cold Feet.
Digger: Stephen Fry and Jools Holland were there?
Robin: Yes, they were here to make a programme called The Laughing
Prisoner. That’s going back to about 1987.
Digger: There’s a connection between where I am in Northampton and
where you are at Portmeirion actually. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis was
Robin: He’s my grandfather actually and his parents were from the Flint
Peninsular. His father was living in Northamptonshire so he was
born there but they moved back when he was about three or four. He went to the local primary school and
then they sent away to school. So
he wouldn’t consider himself to be anything other than a proud
Digger: (Laughs) I know. We have a Welsh family connection
here and the Welsh ‘clans’ often invade Northampton... There's a
great new offer on Ball Chairs on your site. How have you managed to
get such a good deal for clients?
Robin: We source those direct from China.
Digger: Everything’s from China these days Robin, isn't it?
Robin: Well, you can get these ball chairs from Finland but they
will cost you, I think, £6,000. And if you get a very similar thing
from China, we negotiated and got a good manufacturer and we are
selling them at just under £500. It’s not like a cottage
industry. There’s a big manufacturer in China who specialises in
that sort of product and they can make all kinds of shapes of chairs
and tables. The Prisoner series had one bought from the original Finnish designer.
It’s a replica really.
Digger: What are the top sellers at Portmeirion?
Robin: For The Prisoner we tend to sell a lot of The Prisoner
jackets. In general we sell a lot of Portmeirion pottery here, of
Digger: I bought quite a few bits in my time and didn’t even
realise it was Portmeirion as it’s quite a diverse range, isn’t
Robin: Yes, it is. We also sell a lot of other items, including
Portmeirion books and we sell souvenirs and designer wares and housewares
and pottery for other manufacturers. And there’s the botanic
garden range. Furniture that we sell in the hotel. So there’s
quite a good mix.
Please click any
picture for the bigger image
'holiday' snaps of Portmeirion
Digger: I stayed at the hotel in one of the Prisoner 'outbuildings'
for a birthday treat and it was one of the very few times where my
expectations from TV were exceeded in reality. When I visited it was
beyond expectations. Normally when you see a place on TV it isn’t
as good in ‘real life’ but Portmeirion looks even better than it
does on the screen. How hard is it to maintain the hotel and grounds
to such high standards?
Robin: That’s good because we try our best to keep the place
looking spick and span. We spend about half a million a year on the
upkeep of the grounds and buildings. And we’ve just completed a
project to restore the front of the hotel which was £325,000.
Digger: It’s not cheap maintaining older property.
Robin: It’s an ongoing process where we have to cut our cloth
according to our means and spend what we can afford. The revenue
that comes in is invested back into the fabric of the building and
the gardens and the woodlands.
Digger: A nice touch when we came to stay in one of the individual
rooms down by the water… we hadn’t been there before and we
drove in and your man drove down in his van so we could follow him
down and not get lost. Some hotels would just tell you the
directions and leave it up to you. It could be confusing.
Robin: We try to provide a to-your-door service, especially on
‘Arrival’. Hopefully the new hotel front will provide a better
check-in and concierge service. And a better sense of 'Arrival' and
Digger: One thing I would have liked during my stay as a fan of The
Prisoner was a copy of the ‘Tally Ho’.
Robin: Right, well it could be arranged, I guess.
Digger: What are the best things about running Portmeirion?
Robin: It’s quite a diverse environment with a lot of
variety. We're quite a small organisation but we’re dealing with
lots of different aspects. We’re involved in catering,
accommodation, visitor attractions, publishing, retailing...
Robin: Yes, quite a bit of showbiz. We either have people coming to
visit or to take part in productions and so on. Then there’s the
maintenance and restoration work and scope to be quite creative in
the developments. Also, one needs to be aware of the trends in
catering and hotel-keeping and so on, so it’s very diverse, which
keeps one interested. And hopefully helps to ensure that the place
doesn’t get old-fashioned and keeps up with the times without
changing anything visually. High speed broadband and Sky TV and so
on and so forth.
Digger: What are your plans for the Hotel and for the Shop?
Robin: The big redevelopment of the front of the hotel has just been
completed and that will enhance customer service and improve
efficiency. Then we have the ongoing upgrading of rooms, with new
beds and furniture and soft furnishings. The shop – we’re
redeveloping the online retail and we’re also developing a
Portmeirion café in Porthmadog which will be opposite the Tesco’s
there selling lattes and cappuccinos and cream teas and so on.
Digger: There’s never been any demand for a room that was kitted
out like The Prisoner’s?
Robin: Well, that’s another point. But when you look at the programme
and look at the interiors obviously The Prisoner's house is where
The Prisoner shop is now but if you go into that building it would
be minute – just one room. But in the series he had a suite of
rooms. There are photographs of the interiors, and the interior
people remember most I suppose is the Green Dome with the whirling
cameras and the ball chair coming up through the floor and so on.
But again, the interiors within the studio where space was no
limitation – it would be quite difficult to design a room that
looked like The Prisoner because people remember the exteriors. And
The Prisoner's own apartment just looks like a fairly ordinary flat
of the sixties and there’s nothing much to mark it out as being
Digger: It had the arch and the big sixties lamp.
Robin: Yes, you’d have to be high up there in terms of your
knowledge of the series to recognise it. People recognise the mini
mokes, the signage, the Rover balloons but we thought about it. And
I suppose you could make a generic retro sixties-style room using a
Prisoner chair and the phone and lava lamps, so it wouldn’t have
to be a replica of The Prisoner's room exactly.
Digger: There was lots of imagery in that series, because there was
also the penny farthing ‘logo’.
Robin: Yes, that could be used as a motif in the room. Dress the
room up as a sort of homage to The Prisoner. Maybe it’s something
we should be considering for the future.
Digger: Well, Robin, it’s been great talking to you and keep up
the good work.
Robin: Thank you David.
Portmeirion Hotel and Village
Portmeirion Online Shop