Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The end of an era

Norman Balon, landlord of the infamous Coach & Horses in Soho, has retired.

Shame. Shame, I say. For those unfamiliar:

“Mr Balon, 79, has told more people to drink up and leave than Jeffrey Bernard drank large vodka-ice-and-sodas at his barside during the decades he wrote Low Life, his celebrated Spectator column… [Bernard] had to compete in conversation with, among others, the unshameable Daniel Farson; Tom Baker, popping in from a voice-over; Conan Nicholas, the man who invented cat-racing; or with David Wright, the poet…”Norman Balon was really invented by Richard Ingrams, when editor of Private Eye, from which William Rushton and Peter Cook and the rest came over the road for lunch each day… For 40 years, Private Eye has held its fortnightly lunches for informants and prominent people in a chill room upstairs… Immortality came in 1989 with Keith Waterhouse‘s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, a sell-out with Peter O’Toole in title role and the pub interior as the set.”

The Coach has been the hub of some of the most fascinating fringe characters of journalism and the arts for decades – there can be few who have aspired to a bohemian lifestyle who have not drunk there during Norman’s tenure. Me? Yep, I aspired. I went for a job there once while I was a student – was offered a pint during the interview with Norman, but nerves were such that I spilled it all over his suit. He was, shall we say, unimpressed. I left forthwith, and didn’t dare return for three years…