Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being the Compleat Taverner. No. 12: Famous Folk


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Oi landlords! Stop modelling yourself on the bloke in ‘Early Doors’, moaning about broken glasses, picking up dog ends and never going to bed on the day you got up and think about some of the positives of the job. This is a list of famous people I would never have met if I hadn’t stood behind the bar (it should be noted that the legendary old grump Norman Balon met a lot more famous people in the Coach & Horses, Soho, on a daily basis and he clearly didn’t see it as cause for celebration). In fact – side-tracking a little here – one of Norman’s famous responses to an agitated customer which encompassed the high profile of his clientele was, “Can’t you see, you fucking idiot, that I’m on the phone to an MP trying to find the Private Eye lunch?”. I might write a whole piece on Norman one day. Anyway, that list:

Writers and CEO’s

Too many to mention. Some have OBEs and the like; at least one topped the best-seller list in the UK and US. But unless you’re a regular FT reader, you’ll never have heard of any of them, so I’ll move on. Likewise, an eminent surgeon who was given the Legion d’Honneur for operating on President Pompidou’s nether regions.


Well it’s hard to tell, isn’t it? There were two we suspected but as they kept changing their stories, if they were spies, they weren’t much good at it. Oleg Antonivich Gordievsky was, however, definitely a spy. A KGB Colonel who was a double agent from 74-85 when he defected to be much photographed with Messrs. Reagan and Thatcher. The Queen gave Oleg a CMG, which is the same medal 007 has, proving his spy credentials. In 2007, Oleg was taken to hospital and he maintains that he was poisoned by the Kremlin. Last time I saw him, he had just fallen over in the garden following many double whiskies plied to him by an over-eager lady journalist, so I suggest Mrs May holds off for a while before expelling any more diplomats.


Dean Richards, one of the best number 8’s in the world was a regular until Bloodgate, after which he kept a lower profile. Rob Andrew also came in. Damon Hill and his wife were always totally down-to-earth and very low profile. Damon even laughed when he got an F1 question wrong on quiz night.

Music people

Rick Parfitt (before my time, a nightly visitor), Chris Evans (wearing a cap as a disguise but not thinking that people may notice his Bentley Continental), the Jam’s Bruce Foxton, gentleman rapper Professor Elemental and New Romantic pioneer Rusty Egan would all come in. Rusty seemed to have suffered from years of drumming and DJing as his volume control had gone missing. He also asked questions that suggested some brain cells may have gone with the volume control:

– “What’s that big bit of land over there with all the cars in?”

– “That’s my car park Rusty.”

-“Oh. I couldn’t work it out.”

Actors and the like

John Bird was definitely my favourite. Remembered by one generation for That Was The Week That Was and another for Bremner, Bird and Fortune, you could occasionally coax a hilarious story out of John about drunken theatrical nights or even drunken theatrical knights. Andrew Hall (he was in Corrie); Sara Crowe (she with the squeaky voice in the Philadelphia cheese ads). Not Maggie Smith, although she once lived in the village.

Other people off the telly

Kate Humble – lovely country girl. Ian Hislop – absolutely charming gent; thoroughly enjoyed his breakfast. Nothing pompous about him but in conversation I realised that he was intellectually superior to probably everyone I’ve ever met.


Whatever your politics, I must tell you that the Secretary of State for Health is a very affable person with a really lovely family. And he signed my wife’s passport photo. Winston Churchill…… we don’t know that Winnie came in the pub but he lived in the next village between the wars. He liked to walk his dog and he liked a drink, so maybe he did. Discussing this once with our cleaner, she got the wrong end of the (walking) stick. Drinking with a crowd of friends the next evening, she animatedly asked, “Guess who used to drink in ‘ere?”. Blank faces. “Hitler!” she exclaimed.

Funnily enough, we do have another link to Churchill –  David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick, who recently picked up the Best Make-up Oscar for transforming Gary Oldman into the old man, stayed in the pub while filming went on. David was up and gone every morning by 4:30 to put the star through four hours of gruelling prosthetics before filming began. He told us how he had been fascinated by film make-up as a child and never wanted to do anything else. He got his break by writing hundreds of letters and never taking ‘No’ for an answer. He also told us how Oldman was constantly saying he wasn’t up to the role and ‘not very good’. Good on both of them. We used to get a lot of film extras in too – dozens of archers once slept in our field to shoot Russell Crowe’s version of ‘Robin Hood’.

My favourite

Simon Weston. “CBE; Falkland’s War Veteran, author, motivational and inspirational speaker & charity supporter”, according to his website but that doesn’t tell you half of it. He is hilarious, never stops laughing and just fills the room with charisma.  He believes that his misfortune, which would have broken most people, has given him a life that he could never have dreamed of had none of it happened. Truly an inspiration.

People who thought about buying the pub

Paul Baxendale-Walker. Entrepreneur, struck-off solicitor, pornographer, convicted fraudster and architect of the Glasgow Rangers tax scheme. Need I say more?

People who bought the pub

Peter de Savary. Sailor, entrepreneur, property developer, former owner of Land’s End and John O’Groats and ex-Chairman of Millwall FC.


Not a bad list for a small country pub.


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