Pub landlord bankrupt but philosophical

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The Independent Online
NOEL REILLY was the Swindon pub landlord who loved culture. He is the landlord who hired Britain's first pub philosopher, a Czechoslovakian academic, to deliver lectures to the regulars. He organised pub outings to art exhibitions, trips to London galleries, and got the Swindon Choral Society to perform Handel's Messiah in the bar.

Alas, culture is not enough. Mr Reilly has just been declared bankrupt in the face of a pounds 27,000 VAT demand.

Mr Reilly, a former Irish army officer who comes from Limerick, loves art for art's sake. But while he was dishing out art and philosophy in the bar at The Beehive, he had been ignoring his books. He finds accounting tedious. 'I've been negligent over the years. I have a phobia about book- keeping,' he said.

Mr Reilly is the sort of character who prefers to tell you his home town is famous for producing Richard Harris rather than Terry Wogan. 'I tend to forget Wogan,' he said. He went to university, somewhat briefly, in Galway, where he dedicated himself to drinking and mixing with artists and poets rather than formal study.

During 10 years at The Beehive, Mr Reilly, 46, who is divorced with a teenage son, has made it an oasis of art appreciation in a town not noted for its culture. Some ventures have been successful; others, such as poetry reading, less so. 'We had people reading their own work, and frankly, they weren't very good,' he said.

His most celebrated enterprise, in October 1988, was to engage the dissident Czechoslovakian academic Dr Julius Tomin, who had been refused an academic post at Oxford University, to deliver nine half-hour lectures. Mr Reilly offered him pounds 5,000. But Dr Tomin did not last the course and delivered only four. 'He was a very nervous man. I think the hurly-burly of the public house upset him. We had about 10 people coming,' said Mr Reilly.

'I've not been in touch with him since. I know he want back to Czechoslovakia and I've heard since he's been trying to get into Oxford as an undergraduate. His great interest was Plato though he disagreed with his fellow philosophers about the chronological sequence of Plato's works.'

Mr Reilly's efforts at bringing the arts to Swindon have not come cheap. 'I suppose I shouldn't say this but I have been funding things out of my own pocket,' he said. His programme has entailed organising two trips to London art galleries - the coaches were full both times - and a series of 10 art lectures.

The VAT officer descended on him out of the blue. 'I closed in the afternoon. The receiver came and I had my accountant and solicitor here. Everyone has been very kind and when the receiver had done her business, I reopened the pub in the name of the brewery,' he said.

The Beehive is owned by the Oxford- based brewer Morrells. Mr Reilly says he doesn't know what the future holds. 'My prime concern is for the pub, as I have set it up as a place of culture. Whether I will continue to be associated with it isn't entirely in my own hands.'

(Photograph omitted)