Time, you miserable lot

A Yorkshire landlord has made a hit list of abstemious locals. They have been warned. By Mary Braid
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BOB MEDD, landlord of the 19th-century Black Bull pub in the little village of Thormanby, near Thirsk, today appears before his local council to ask permission to change his pub back into a house. He comes armed with an extraordinary, "shameful" register of attendance.

Angered by the parish council's attempts to keep the Black Bull open - the parish argues that the Bull is the focal point of the 100-strong Yorkshire village - Mr Medd has recorded the drinking habits of locals, and submitted them to Hambleton District Council.

To struggling pub owners everywhere, his list makes pitiful reading. And, to landlords keen to get out from behind the bar, it is proof that while the locals may campaign to keep the local watering-hole open, they do not value it enough to pop in regularly and spend some ready cash.

According to Mr Medd, most nights the Black Bull resembles a morgue. In fact, the way he tells it, morgues may find that comparison insulting. Some nights, he stands behind the bar with only himself for company. There are no punters to bore with his worldly wisdom, and no stragglers to throw out when he calls time.

There can be no doubt where he lays much of the blame. His attendance list runs through the 100-strong settlement, jabbing its finger at particular homes. How often do the Joneses visit to the Black Bull? Never. The Benns? Never. The Flemings - an amazing once every three weeks. And so the list continues. Thirty-seven households are named. Two-thirds, it transpires, never grace the local pub with their presence, though it is the only one in the village - and most of the remainder only do so once a year.

"I drew up the list to help show what a miserable lot the villagers are," says an unrepentant Mr Medd, who clearly does not believe that the locals deserve him or his pub. He says that he does not make a loss, but nor does he make a profit. He just gets by. The Bull's average sale is 16 pints a day, the equivalent of half a barrel of beer a week. After a depressing 14 years, the last two years of which Mr Medd has spent trying to sell the Bull, he wants to throw in the bar towel.

Given the level of local custom, he is surprised that the locals can work up enough steam to protest. Though perhaps a pub, however empty and ignored it is, provides a semblance of a sense of community to a village which can no longer even boast a post office - it closed down a decade ago - or a local shop (residents have to make do with a mobile van). Since the village hall burned down in the Twenties, the Bull has become the only meeting place for the parish council and the local committee of Neighbourhood Watch.

Whatever the reasons, the proposed closure has caused a local storm. There are dark mutterings that the landlord himself and the outdated, shabby decor (even the hanging sign, they say, has fallen down), are the problem, not the pub or the reluctant punters. Barry Dodd, a successful local businessman, and chairman of the parish council, insists: "What we need is not a change of use but a change of landlord."

Relations between him and Mr Medd seem a mite strained. On Mr Medd's list, the Dodd household's attendance record includes a little extra detail. Mr Dodd, the list claims, comes in twice a year and even then drinks only two halves of bitter. Mr Medd, it is clear, believes that Mr Dodd is guilty of hypocrisy. "Mr Dodd is a self-made millionaire who thinks he owns this village," says Mr Medd. "He acts like the local squire."

It is forthright comments like that which have annoyed some of the local residents. "How could he say there is no real community here?" asks one resident. In his submission to the council, Mr Medd asked how a pub could be a focal point for community, when there is no community spirit in the first place. "Not one person in this village is friendly with another," he says. "No one has any social contact with another, not even a coffee morning, never mind `Are you going for a pint?'"

He insists that he has done his best to forge some common spirit down the local, but the darts and pool leagues have failed to pull them in.

Other are amused by the publican's register. "He really should not have named everyone," says Mrs Anne Green, the Bull's previous landlady. "But it is funny.

"And he definitely misquoted us. He was wrong to tell the council that we warned him that the `villagers were a waste of time'." Her husband, Ken, says that they merely warned Mr Medd that, to survive, the business could not just depend on a "blink-and-miss" village of 100 people.

The Greens ran the pub "very successfully" for six years in the early Eighties. They relied on their reputation for good food to bring in tourists and people from surrounding towns. "But it's difficult for many country pubs," says Mr Green. "I can appreciate Mr Medd's problems." The couple say that many of the villagers they knew have died, and that the village, like many others, is increasingly populated with newcomers and commuters.

Mr Medd, who is 60, is a little bitter at the opposition. His wife is in ill health, and they are tired of struggling to get by. Competition has increased since he took the pub over. "Now everyone is doing food," he says, "and doing it quite well."

There is a good chance that Mr Medd will win today. The report to the council on his request for a "change of use" includes a recommendation in his favour. "A lot of people round here just don't drink," he says dolefully. "Many residents are old, and some ill."

Then he puts what appears to be the final nail in the Bull's coffin. Even he does not drink in his local. "I can't," he reveals. "I have diabetes."

Legendary Landlords with a Pint and a Welcoming Snarl

Norman Balon, famously London's rudest landlord, greets regulars at the Coach and Horses in Soho with a glowering "You're banned." Balon has run the pub for 53 years, and 80 per cent of his customers are regulars. Punters used to play up to his reputation, but he claims that his abrasive style has "cured all that". In any case, he doesn't care if his customers are abusive. "Call me what you like - as long as you spend money," he says.

Kim de la Taste Tickell - the late landlord of the Tickell Arms at Whittlesford, near Cambridge - used to terrify customers who didn't meet his approval, as they walked through the door. "I'm not having south London garage proprietors and their tarts in here," he would scream. "Out, out, out!" His "insufferables" were left-wingers, black people and "modern" women. Anyone wearing a CND badge was immediately banned.

The deceased Borders hotelier Albert McKessack once refused to serve the Rolling Stones in the 1960s, because their hair was too long. He banned jeans from the Fleece Hotel in Selkirk, and implemented a strict no-swearing rule. Male customers had to wear ties in the dining-room and men had to order drinks for the women drinking with them. He believed that pints were unsuitable for women and, if pressed, would serve up two half pints instead.

Ian Board took up his position perched on a stool at the bar of Soho's tiny, members-only Colony Room after the death of founder Muriel Belcher, where he observed the drunks through tinted glasses and his beacon of a nose grew ever more resplendent. He insulted regulars, who included Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, and frightened strangers with his caustic wit, but never exceeded Muriel in this regard, whose pet name for him was unprintable.