Pubs are the jewel of socialism and must be saved from becoming soulless chains

If Fuller’s gets its way, Soho’s Coach & Horses will have its interior ripped out and replaced with the echoing, dismal open-plan space that seems to be the norm these days.

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Seeing off a friend at a pub near the station, I notice on the bar a pile of small leaflets that depict on their front cover, underneath a Fuller’s brewery logo, a mock-up of a pub sign which says “MY DAD’S PUB”. This is, it turns out, a Father’s Day promotion: the idea is that children nominate their fathers and thereby enter a draw in which the prizes include the renaming of his favourite Fuller’s pub for the day, and his very own pub sign to keep.

Well, it’s all partly in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, which can’t be a bad thing, but I have to say my face darkens when I think about Fuller’s these days. Readers may remember that this columnist went on a tour, with his children, of the Fuller’s brewery in Chiswick for the eldest one’s birthday. We had a great time, got dewy-eyed at the video stressing what a great old family firm it was, each worker personally tucked up in bed by Mr Fuller himself etc, then toasted the company with pints of London Pride.

And then, the week after that piece was published (and @Fullers followed me on Twitter), the company announced “a new chapter in [its] history”. You don’t have to be fluent in Corporate Bullshit to know that new chapters in companies’ histories usually mean something pretty bad, and in this case what it meant was that the company was flogging its entire production off to Asahi, a Japanese company that makes beer that is not very good.

No more the family business; no more twinkly eyed old Mr Fuller reading Goodnight Moon to his assistant head brewer. My daughter and I howled across the internet: it seemed like a personal betrayal.

Worse was to come: last week a friend alerted me to a petition to pressure Fuller’s, which owns the freehold, to renew the current landlord’s lease of the Coach & Horses in Soho. If Fuller’s gets its way, we are warned, the Coach will turn into a soulless chain pub; its interior will be ripped out and replaced with the echoing, dismal open-plan space that seems to be the norm these days. (I hold that the more and smaller rooms a pub has, the better it is. Every bar should be a snug bar.) I’ve signed – along with, at time of writing, 11,000 others – but I fear it may be too little, too late. The Coach, I should point out, is one of this column’s spiritual homes. I may not visit much any more, for the ghosts press against me too much there, but it was the haunt of my occasional drinking partner Jeffrey Bernard, the writer of the Spectator’s “Low Life” column, not a million miles away from this one in tone and subject matter.

There is a part of me, though, that wonders whether I do not open too much of my heart to the past. I bemoaned, in these pages a couple of weeks ago, the loss of the watchmakers in Goldhawk Road. Do I want to become one of those people whose conversational topics are gradually whittled away, leaving only “things used to be much better when I was younger”? Doubtless there is some brave contrarian at Spiked online, the magazine for ghastly attention-seekers, writing a piece whose subheading is “why keeping pubs the way they are is the true betrayal of the working class”, etc. I must be brave and look to the future.

Actually, balls to the future. Right now it is beginning to look as though the future holds the prospect of Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson (enough of this “Boris” malarkey) as prime minister, followed by a rapid economic collapse, Nigel Farage’s fugly face EVERYWHERE, then complete climatic breakdown, and Lord knows what kind of fun and games in between.

I stop my reverie and look back at the Fuller’s Father’s Day leaflet. On the back are some perhaps made-up testimonials from sons. “He has made me the man I am today. A great father, granddad and top bloke.” Aw, that seems nice. “Dad’s a grumpy old git but he loves us all really.” It would appear they’re not setting the bar too high, then. This is encouraging. “My father is the kindest man. He would best describe a pub as the jewel of socialism.”

You know what? I really like that one. Although perhaps it doesn’t bear too much scrutiny. Most of the boozers at the bar of the Coach & Horses were alarmingly right-wing, and old frog-face himself likes nothing better than to be photographed in a pub, holding up a foaming pint and looking like a ****.

Later on I chat on the phone to my friend S— about the Father’s Day promotion.

 “I wonder what I would say about my father in order to win the competition,” she says. “I suppose it would be something along the lines of, ‘Everyone thinks my father assassinated the Swedish prime minister, and he didn’t, and it makes him sad.’” Which just goes to show that there’s always someone with a better story than you. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 07 June 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump alliance