Obituary: Ian Board

Ian David Archibald Board, club owner: born 16 December 1929; proprietor, Colony Room Club 1981-94; died London 26 June 1994.

IAN BOARD, the successor to Muriel Belcher as the proprietor of the Colony Room Club, in Soho, was distinguished as much by the peculiarities of his appearance as by the pungency of his speech.

Muriel Belcher, who founded the Colony Room, in Dean Street, in 1948, was famous for the foul- mouthed greeting she gave to visitors to her afternoon drinking club. Board's line in talk was no less obscene, but tended towards a sustained stream of enraged invective, usually directed towards a stranger or someone who exhibited signs of weakness, such as drunkenness. 'Look at you, you great lump,' he would shout at some unsuspecting woman. 'Just take a look at yourself. You're a sad and pathetic sight. For fuck's sake pull yourself together . . .' - and so on, in great sweeping periods of abuse.

By his mid-fifties Board's nose had swollen under the influence of brandy to a great red pitted ball, like a giant strawberry. He would dress in a bright green floppy cap and green tracksuit, and outside would often carry a stick, since he had hurt a leg and his back in falls.

The club is housed in a small, dark upstairs room, painted racing green, and heavily hung with pictures, photographs and mirrors, a survival from the Fifties. Until the change in the licensing laws in 1988, 'Muriel's' was particularly popular between 3pm and 5.30pm, with Thursday afternoon the busiest time before the grander members left for the country the succeeding day. Board would perch on the high stool at one corner of the bar, on the customers' side, where Muriel had always sat. Her capacious handbag hung from the ceiling near one window, and on her birthday he would buy drinks in her memory.

Ian David Archibald Board, whom only his closest associates dared call by his nickname 'Ida', came from a poor family in Exeter. His mother died before he was five. He cared neither for his father nor for his stepmother. Escaping to London as a teenager, he went straight to Speakers' Corner and picked up a man, with whom he lived for some weeks. After a time he became a commis waiter at a restaurant in Greek Street, Soho. He retained something of his Devon accent, and in the style of his region put the letter 'l' at the end of words ending in a vowel: tomorrowl, dildol.

For all his crude talk, Board could sometimes display, and certainly appreciated, verbal wit. Woe betide anyone who tried to tell a formal joke. 'I can't stand jokes]' he would yell. 'Shut your cakehole, you boring dreary fart.'

Board's continued survival under the assaults of drink was a source of wonder. He would go without food for days, then eat a cold tin of ravioli in the small hours of the morning. In his 60th year he gave up drinking brandy for breakfast. He drank vodka in the morning at home and from noon to 11pm more vodka and brandy at the club.

Board treasured the patronage of famous artists - Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Barry Flanagan - though in truth their visits became rarer or stopped. One night he bundled Francis Bacon, then nearly 80, out of the door, shouting, 'Get out] Call yourself a painter. You can't fucking paint. Take your boring friends with you and don't bother coming back.' But he did.

Board was attracted by success. He was delighted to find that the girl who had taken to drinking in the Colony on her visits to London was the singer Lisa Stansfield, and went to visit her in her home in Rochdale. The return train journey was enlivened by a mother with a baby that kept on crying. Board, infuriated by the noise, and by the strong drink he had taken that morning, asked the woman why she did not chuck the 'thing' out of the window. A policeman was on the platform to meet him on his arrival in London.

In 1991 the Colony's existence was threatened by a planning application from its landlord to turn it into offices. Hundreds of objections were sent to Westminster Council, largely through the organisational efforts of Michael Wojas, Board's loyal barman. The planning meeting was swamped by dozens of Colony Room Club members looking strangely pale in the unaccustomed daylight. The application was refused.

It is odd that despite Board's personal unattractiveness the club inspired such widespread affection. But it was certainly a backwater of a disappearing Soho, where men and women from all social backgrounds (there were a couple of dukes and a couple of stagehands who turned up regularly) could talk and drink and laugh. With the death of Ian Board that world has shrunk a little more.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot