Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Last Orders …

The last pint has been poured, the final shot has been measured and all the glasses now rinsed and stacked away on the shelves. Soho’s infamous Coach and Horses pub has been sold and the rudest landlord in the UK, Norman Balon, has finally retired.

For 62 years, Norman travelled from his home in Golders Green, to work in his Greek Street pub. Yesterday, Monday 22nd May, he handed over the keys and walked away.

He blames his age and Westminster Council policy for his decision to turn of the taps. Norman first arrived at the pub on February 1 1943, aged 16 and began by helping his parents Jack and Annie run the business. It's the only job he has ever had.

The Coach and Horses, in London’s Greek Street, is notable for its association with the columnist Jeffrey Bernard, the staff of Private Eye magazine, other journalists and as a haunt for Soho personalities. Landlord Norman has become famous too, presumably because of his proximity to writers who document his actions and anecdotes. The interior of the pub was recreated on stage for the biographical play about Bernard's life ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’. Norman, himself was immortalised in the play when the eponymous writer and regular of the Coach and Horses finds himself locked in the pub for a night after falling asleep.

78 yr old Norman once said: “A pub is a reflection of a landlord’s personality. I believe that by and large you should have people in there that you could talk to at home. So I can’t stand bores. I can’t stand people who annoy me.”

He added: “I have a great diversity of customers, from street-sweepers and shoplifters to some of the highest people in the land. They all seem to blend and mix in very well.”

During his time he has hosted the Private Eye lunches every other Wednesday for more than 40 years. “I am getting too old. Everything in life has a season, I have had a fantastic life from it”, he growls.

As an 18yr old making his way in the big bad world, I worked just around the corner from the Coach and Horses. I first popped in to the pub with my workmates, just to see who this ‘rude man’ was. We went back many times. It was close to work, convenient and the only thing Norman had was a gruff exterior: you piss him off and he’d tell you. That’s not a crime, is it?

You’re barred, you bastards!

God bless him and may a gentle froth be ever settling on his retirement.



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