The real-life Basil Fawlty who ran 'absolute dump' claimed it was three or four star when even one would have been 'flattering'

John Dixon Hart appears at Hull Crown Court -Credit:Hull Live
John Dixon Hart appears at Hull Crown Court -Credit:Hull Live

A Beverley guest house boss branded "Basil Fawlty" because of his rudeness to guests used misleading advertising to claim wrongly that the "awful" and "unclean" rooms that he provided were of either four-star or three-star standard.

John Dixon Hart used dubious information and pictures to give a false impression to potential customers about the level of luxury that they could expect at the "absolute dump" of his guest house. A barrage of complaints was made by guests about tobacco and "musty" smells, "shabby" and unclean rooms, "stained" and "gruesome" bedding, security worries and rude and "unwelcoming" behaviour from Hart.

He was said not to have had the "minimum standards required of hygiene, health and safety, customer service and overall presentation" at the "tatty and run down" guest house. Misleading advertising, including pictures, was used on three websites, Expedia, LateRooms and, about the guest house, Hull Crown Court heard.


Hart, 60, of Minster Garth, Keldgate, Beverley, admitted six offences involving misleading commercial practices between June 1, 2021 and March 22, 2022. He and the guest house had been due to face a 10-day trial but Hart admitted six of the offences, involving unfair commercial practices and misleading actions. The six charges against Beverley Guest House Ltd were dropped.

Michele Stuart-Lofthouse, prosecuting, said that Hart was the sole director of the guest house, known as Minster Garth. Trading standards officers for East Riding of Yorkshire Council received complaints during 2021 and 2022 from guests about the standard of service that they had received at the guest house.

It was claimed that the building, very near Beverley Minster, was "tatty and run down" with "unkempt grounds". There were delays in checking guests in because of an unmanned reception area.

Minster Garth Guest House -Credit:Hull Live
Minster Garth Guest House -Credit:Hull Live

Telephone calls were unanswered, the accommodation was "musty and smelled of tobacco throughout". There was a "shabby interior" and "unclean rooms and bedding". A woman was concerned that a door catch would not shut properly. A fire alarm was not working properly.

A woman complained: "It was an absolute dump. The door handle was missing." Carpets were "threadbare" and bedding was "stained". A shower curtain was hanging off and there were missing bathroom tiles. Mouse droppings were seen in a drawer and there were dead insects in window areas.

Paying guests provided shocking photographs of the problems that they suffered. Judge Mark Bury said: "Pretty gruesome photographs of some bedding. Shower areas leave a lot to be desired."

A guest complained about the poor state of hygiene in her room. "Given the smell and how awful the room was, they had no option but to go into town and buy cleaning products themselves," said Miss Stuart-Lofthouse. "There was a bin with all the previous occupants' rubbish in it."

There were complaints about Hart's "extremely unwelcoming" rudeness to guests. Judge Bury said: "It's a wonder he had any. He wasn't particularly welcoming."

Hart called one woman a "c***" and he was rude in telephone calls. "He called some lady he had never met a f***ing letch and told her she was a sponger," said Judge Bury.

Complaints were made to the local Tourist Information Centre and this was very unfortunate for the town of Beverley itself because the guest house, near the Minster, was such a well-known building, said Miss Stuart-Lofthouse. Judge Bury said: "It's a great shame because it's a good spot and this has huge potential to be a successful business." Hart had advertised the guest house as four-star or three-star.

John Cleese, left, as hapless hotelier Basil Fawlty in the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers -Credit:BBC
John Cleese, left, as hapless hotelier Basil Fawlty in the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers -Credit:BBC

A council Investigator decided that even one star would be "flattering" to it. Judge Bury said: "He did admit that his rating was somewhat optimistic. Mr Hart wasn't very keen on giving people refunds."

Hart told the court that this was because the guests involved had not booked "flexible rates" that might allow for a possible refund. He claimed that some people were "reporting exaggerated problems" but he said that he was now "a bit more flexible" about giving people refunds. He said of the incident in which he called a woman a "c***" during a nasty exchange: "I'm terribly sorry if I did."

Among the people wanting refunds were a group of international equestrian judges, who at the time were in the area for an event at Bishop Burton College.

Hart admitted that he had been less than polite to guests and he said: "In the evening, I was in the habit of drinking quite a few vodka and cokes and that worsened my behaviour towards guests.

"We have got 12 or 13 rooms and, if people are all turning up at the same time and demanding attention, it can all get a bit fraught."

Judge Bury said: "It's your responsibility to make sure that all the advertisements are accurate. How you managed to keep it going, I have no idea.

"I have heard how you treated guests. I am absolutely staggered you had any. I wouldn't even have dreamed of staying in a guest house like that."

Hart said: "It's the price. We are always the cheapest in Beverley." He said that he had suffered a "lot of personal stress and upset" at the time after his wife left him. "I wasn't paying attention to the business," he said. He and his wife were now back together and he had made improvements to the guest house, including redecorating and sorting out problems.

"My dream is to let my two boys and stepson carry it forward," said Hart. His sons were aged 10 and eight and his stepson, aged "23 or 24", was already helping out.

"There have been quite a few more positive reviews recently," said Hart. "I had the whole place redecorated last year and decent carpeting. I regularly replace the bedding."

Judge Bury replied: "Washing it would help." Hart said: "My wife does help. The window frames have been repainted. I don't think there is a broken pane in the whole house and I have done all these things single-handedly.

"A reasonable person would arrive and think: 'This is good value for money'. If you look at the reviews, we are getting some tens and nines and sevens regularly.

"They are getting a room that they ought to be paying double for. It has the potential to be a gold mine. I am hoping that my sons can take it over. We'll see what happens. I am working hard to that effect."

Hart claimed that he had only a "meagre income" from the guest house because of costs and bills and that he "lost a lot of money last year" but he added: "Because it is such a fantastic building with such fantastic potential, I am desperate to try to find a way around it."

Judge Bury said: "The idea is that you get back on your feet and run this guest house as it should be and not as Basil Fawlty. You are charging reasonable rates so people should not expect The Ritz.

"They should expect reasonable facilities and, from you, politeness. More recently, your guests have been much happier. If you continue that, it's like a gold mine, that place. It's in a desirable area in a desirable market town and should attract many guests."

Judge Bury added: "He advertised it initially as a four-star residence. It doesn't merit one star. These guests either didn't stay because it was, in their words, a dump or they made complaints. It's quite disturbing.

"He still charges reasonably modest rates and so people shouldn't expect The Connaught." They should, however, expect basic standards.

"Minster Garth in Beverley is a potentially lucrative business," said Judge Bury. "It's in a charming spot in a charming market town, so Mr Hart wants to keep it going, hoping to pass it on to his family. He has the opportunity to keep it going but he has to stay off the drink."

Hart had been jailed in August last year for 22 weeks for public order and harassment offences. Judge Bury said that, although Hart was actually in prison for only just over a month, he had since become "transformed" and he had made remarkable progress since leaving prison.

"There's absolutely no public interest in sending you back there," said Judge Bury. An update on Hart's progress since then was the "most impressive" that the judge had ever seen. "He has given up drinking apart from the occasional glass of wine," said Judge Bury.

Hart was given a nine-month suspended prison sentence and 20 days' rehabilitation. He was ordered to pay £729 compensation to reimburse eight guests who had complained.

"The people who stayed there had genuine grievances and I don't see why they should not be paid," said Judge Bury. It was a "shocking set of circumstances".

He told Hart: "Do not go to the off-licence and buy vodka. All I can do is wish you the best of luck with it."

At an earlier hearing, Judge Bury said that Hart had become a victim of his own notoriety after the guest house boss claimed that people staying there competed with each other to leave the worst reviews.

Hart claimed that guests expected "the world" and he admitted telling them to "sling their hook" and that he "gave arrogant responses". He admitted that he had "gone off the rails".

Judge Bury told him: "I sometimes think you should be called Basil Fawlty" – but Hart insisted that people wanted to stay at the guest house because they wanted to meet him.