HE played Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind but a few years later, so it is said, Clark Gable found himself in another drama.

It was when he was reprimanded by a housekeeper for smoking on the balcony at Bournemouth’s Palace Court Hotel, where he was staying.

Gable spent his war years in the UK and is said to have been billeted at the Silver How Hotel in Bournemouth’s West Cliff Gardens.

That is one of many intriguing references in a new book on the history of Bournemouth hotels, A Bed by the Sea.

Meticulously researched by Jackie Edwards, it not only studies the heritage of hotels past and present but uses the industry to monitor the changes the resort has experienced.

Beginning with the three hotels – the Bath, the Bellevue and the London – that could be found in the town in 1850 when the population was 695, it provides a guide through the passing decades to the present day.

The author covers social changes prompted by the two world wars and reflects on the surge in ownership of cars in the 1960s, the impact of the Wessex Way, the conference trade and conversions of hotels to rest homes.

“The 1990s saw a transformation in the town,” writes Jackie, who formerly ran a hotel on the East Cliff and today runs a B&B in the town. “Upgrading of the polytechnic to university status brought in thousands of youngsters, adding to the large number of foreign students.

“The town began to lose its ‘God’s waiting room’ image and attractions such as the controversial Waterfront building, pub chains opening premises along Old Christchurch Road, numerous night clubs and the remodelling of the Square ensured the town was still alive and kicking.”

Her study mentions some fascinating famous people who have stayed at or been involved with the town’s establishments.

They include Oscar II, King of Sweden, who laid the foundation stone of the Mont Dore hotel, now the town hall.

The artist Aubrey Beardsley stayed at the Pier View at Boscombe in 1876 and Robert Louis Stevenson boarded at the Iffley guest house and then the Firs at the West Cliff before moving to his own Westbourne home.

The author reminds us that the school in Derby Road where John Galsworthy – later to write the Forsythe Saga – had been a pupil, was to become the Majestic, one of several Jewish hotels located in the town.

The First World War poet-soldier Rupert Brooke stayed with his aunt and uncle at Grantchester Dene and D H Lawrence spent a month convalescing at Compton House in St Peter’s Road.

The Empress Elisabeth of Austria, later murdered by an anarchist, once took over Newlyn’s Family Hotel (later the Royal Exeter) for nine days and Victoria’s son, the Duke of Connaught, also stayed there.

Comedian Tony Hancock was brought up in the town by his parents, who ran the Durlston Court in Gervis Road, and he worked as a clerk at the Carlton.

That hotel, too, has had many famous guests, ranging from Harold Macmillan and Sir Matt Busby, Enoch Powell and Bobby Moore to Princess Helena Victoria and Princess Marie Louise.

One Canadian soldier’s memories of staying in the town in the Second World War tell of how he and a friend would go on a “binge of drinking and sex” on their six-day leaves to block out what was behind them and ahead.

During that conflict, the Central Hotel on Richmond Hill and the Metropole at the Lansdowne were destroyed in a bombing raid that left 200 dead.

Another hotelier whose hotel had been used as a billet in that war found that rooms used to accommodate night fighters had been painted with black tar.

A Bed By The Sea (Natula £12.95) is a flowingly written, original study making a timely appearance in the town’s bicentenary year.

Looking back over the town’s glory years as a magnet for the affluent gentry and invalids, the author notes how corporate chains have now replaced many of the old independents.

But she remains optimistic for the future of the industry.

“Bournemouth,“ she writes, has proved itself to be resilient and able to adapt itself to changing times.”