Why Harrogate's Bettys has been this RAF veteran's favourite spot for half a century

From the 'best table in the house' Geoff Sanderson has watched the world go by for half a century at his favourite spot in Bettys.

Monday, 11th February 2019, 3:32 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 3:19 am
Geoff Sanderson, 89, of Killinghall, Harrogate, has been visiting Bettys in Harrogate for more than 50 years and sit and the same table each time

The institution is the closest thing in Yorkshire to the old boys’ clubs on The Strand, he says, and the observations of it he has committed to paper are almost as exclusive.

In his immaculately crisp shirt, tie and tweed trilby, Geoff Sanderson from Killinghall, an 88-year-old veteran of the RAF, is as much a part of the furniture on Parliament Street as the coffee grinders and tiered cake stands.

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Geoff Sanderson with Louise Lockwood, deputy Front of House Manager at Bettys Harrogate

The staff, whom he knows by name, can set their pocket watches by his arrival, and every Tuesday and Thursday morning they prepare his cushion, his coffee and scones, and a bottle of non-alcoholic elderflower wine.

“I stopped drinking 40 years ago, he said. “This keeps me going between breakfast and lunch.

He eats both meals at Table 18, just to the right of the tea room entrance. “It’s the best table in the house,” he said. “It’s a good machine gun position. From here I can see that door and half of Harrogate. Everybody in town goes through that square.

“You never stop looking at pretty girls, however old you get.”

Between reading the papers and eating his preferred meal of bacon rosti, he jots down his thoughts on an iPad and publishes them, for his three children, six grandchildren and friends abroad, as an illustrated, bound volume called The View From Table 18. Two copies have been presented to the staff.

“It’s like a club here. If the table is occupied when I arrive I’ll sit somewhere else until two waiters come and move me across.”

He spends up to five hours at a stretch on the upholstered banquette – a more sedentary existence than the one to which he grew used during his 34 years the air force, which saw him serve in Egypt, Singapore and Cyprus. His last 22 years was seen out as a commissioned officer, training in physical education. He retired in 1985, a flight lieutenant.

Between postings, he fenced, hill walked and cycled – at one stage competing in Yorkshire time trials and covering 402 miles in 24 hours.

But after two hip replacements and a new knee joint, he now requires a walking frame to get between the bus stop and the tea room. “You can’t win,” he reflected. “If you’re a couch potato, you’ll have a heart attack but your joints will be fine. If you’re active, it’s the other way around.”

He settled near Harrogate, with his late wife, Jill, after putting in time at RAF Church Fenton, nearby. “She was from the south. She fell in love with Yorkshire,” he said.

“We moved house 26 times. Finally I was able to look for a house round here, and we bought a stone cottage from 1800, where I still live.”

When he made his first visit to Bettys, it was across the road in what is now a Jaeger shop, with the tea room of today trading as Taylors’ Cafe Imperial. The companies merged in the 1970s.

Mr Sanderson has become part of the family at Bettys, said Sally Bartlett, assistant front of house manager at in Harrogate.

“Everyone knows him and he knows everyone. He’s always charming and full of chat. He’s had a very full life and done amazing things, and he loves to entertain us all with his stories,” she said.

“We love the fact that he comes in so regularly and that we’ve got to know him, not just as a customer but as a friend.”