Saturday 16 February 2013
Rebecca Tyrrel: JD Wetherspoon is named after a teetotal geography teacher from New Zealand
Who knew that one of George Orwell's legacies to British culture is the JD Wetherspoon pub chain? Among the countless millions inspired by his work was Tim Martin, who was a young entrepreneur in 1976 when he read an Orwell article in the Evening Standard from 40 years earlier describing his perfect pub – free of music so that the customers could talk freely, selling cheap and nutritious food, serving its draught beer in pewter tankards, and where the friendly barmaids know your name (and they're always glad you came).
Orwell called his utopian boozer The Moon Under Water, and Martin was inspired to name and style his first establishments after George's dream. There are still 14 Moons, but the vast majority of Tim's pubs owe their names to a hybrid of homage and vengeance.
The JD bit is taken from JD 'Boss' Hogg – not one of the pigs in Animal Farm, but the sheriff in the US TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. Wetherspoon was the surname of a geography teacher Martin encountered at a New Zealand school, who not only assured the boy Martin that he would never amount to anything in business, but was a teetotaller.
Sadly, there is no record of any attempted rapprochement between the two. This was not the case with Leonard Skinner, the Florida high-school gym teacher who repeatedly sent a group of lads to the principal's office for having long hair. They went on to grow their hair even longer and named their rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd in a sarcastic tribute to Leonard, who later opened bars in Jacksonville, Florida and invited the group to come play for him. Who knows, if three of the Skynyrds hadn't died in a plane crash in 1977, maybe they would have nipped to the barber by now and the now late Leonard himself would have died happy.
The New York Times obituary described Mr Skinner as "arguably the most influential high-school gym teacher in American popular culture". If Mr Wetherspoon, his New Zealand equivalent, is still with us, he can look forward to something similar, though whether any geography teacher, let alone a teetotal one, could enjoy being publicly mocked seems unlikely. Somehow, one suspects, having his name on the signs above all those pubs with beer-swilling binge drinkers rolling round in the gutter outside them would be Mr Wetherspoon's Room 101, or at the very least, 'doubleplusungood'.
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