WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

London’s rudest landlord backs Coach and Horses campaign

Norman Balon laments pub days when staff left at 4.30pm 'pissed out of their minds'

22 February, 2019 — By by Samantha Booth

Norman Balon back in the pub this week

IT’S been 13 years since “London’s rudest landlord” Norman Balon called last orders at The Coach & Horses – after six decades in charge.

The legendary Soho pub in Greek Street was taken over by Alastair Choat, who gave it a new identity, transforming it into London’s first vegetarian pub.

Mr Balon, now 92, was back at the pub this week and threw his support behind a campaign to “save” it from a management takeover.

A campaign has been launched against Fuller’s plan that has been backed by a petition of more than 6,000 signatories.

On Wednesday Mr Balon told the Extra: “I wish [Mr Choat] luck and I hope he keeps the pub and if not a part of London will go with him. It’s a shame. The brewers could make almost as much money by leaving him there and charging him exorbitant rent.

“And they have enough outlets in central London that it wouldn’t make any difference to them.”

But he said the old days of “friendly brewers” had gone and the pub’s predicament was the “nature of modern business”.

Gone are the days when customers would turn up at midday and leave at 4.30pm “pissed out of their minds”, and go back to the office for half-an- hour’s work.

“It seems that those days the guvners or bosses tolerated that,” said Mr Balon, whose memoirs are titled You’re Barred! You Bastards.

“Those days have gone, and the fact that that used to occur led to the downfall of British manufacturing business. But it suited me,” he said.

The pub’s rich history includes hosting the Private Eye fortnightly lunches and it was the setting for the Keith Waterhouse play, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

The pub was famous for being full of drinkers from all walks of life – from shoplifters to cabinet ministers as well as being popular with writers – and Mr Balon said this “reflected my personality”.

“They all came in and I treated none of them any different, and it gave me great insight into life,” said Mr Balon.

“I remember getting divorced. I was terribly upset and a customer grabbed hold of me like this [on the collar] and lifted me up the air – he was very strong – he said ‘Norman, yesterday’s dead, live for today and look forward to tomorrow’.

“That cheered me up. I thought the man was a bastard. But he was right.”

Although more than a decade has passed since Mr Balon handed over the keys, he is a regular face at the pub.

“I’m now 92 years old and I miss the pub still. I made a fantastic  number of friends there and a lot of them are still friends to this day,” he said. “Funnily enough I can’t walk – certainly anywhere in London – without somebody coming up to me and saying ‘are you Norman from the Coach?’ That may sound boastful but it’s true. I miss it enormously. Alastair has made a worthy successor.”

Fuller’s claims it wants to restore the pub to its “former glory” and said it should be “one of the gems of our estate”.

“We have a history of preserving iconic pubs – and this will be no exception,” a spokeswoman added previously.

Mr Choat, who works alongside his daughter Hollie, said he was “devastated” and a takeover would be “disastrous for the soul of Soho”. An online petition is gathering pace calling for a halt to the brewery’s plans.

But will Mr Balon still visit his soul of Soho if the plans go ahead? “I don’t think they will want me,” he said. “I haven’t spent any money [today] and I’ve occupied this table for two hours, I don’t know whether they would or not, I don’t think so. I have a very good rapport with Alastair, he’s treated me extremely well. If it wasn’t true I wouldn’t say it. I am grateful to him. I will be very sorry if he goes.” He leaves his thoughts at this simple question: “Is it progress?”

To sign the petition, visit change.org/p/save- coach-soho

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