Obituary: Ian Board
Tuesday 28 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.
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