Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell revisited

Pub where play was set will present immersive version

The Soho pub immortalised in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell will be presenting an immersive version of the play next month.

The leaseholder and landlord of the Coach & Horses pub is bidding to stop owners – Fullers – taking control back. The staging of the play starts on May 7 and will run until the end of the month when the pub is currently earmarked to revert to the control of the brewers.

Landlord Alastair Choat is a collaborator on the play. He and operations manager, his daughter Hollie, have organised a petition to try to stop the switch back to Fullers, fearing the pub will lose its personality.

At present, close to 8,000 people have signed the online version. If you want to know more about the campaign and/or are interested in supporting them click here . Many more have signed the in-pub written petition. The combined figure is around the 9,000 mark and they hope to get 10,000.

Hollie told London Inspire: “We haven’t given up and we won’t give up until Fullers walk in on the 23rd with a new team and a huge bag of ‘no atmosphere’ … we will stand strong with our loyal customers and everyone who has supported through this.”

Will their efforts be successful? Well, let’s wait and see. The clock is definitely ticking.

In the meantime, there is the play to enjoy. For the uninitiated, Jeffrey Bernard wrote a Low Life column in the Spectator before the turn of the millennium.

He described the Coach & Horses as his “office”. To say Bernard liked a drink is something of an understatement and, on occasion, he would completely miss sending in his column. When this happened, the magazine would print the explanation … Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell which gave author/journalist/playwright Keith Waterhouse the title for his play. We say more about Waterhouse in our Shame What Happened to the Street of Shame article.

In familiar pose – Jeffrey Bernard (left) with the man who played him, Peter O’Toole

When it was staged in the West End the title role was played by Peter O’Toole. O’Toole won a Laurence Olivier Award for his portrayal of the journalist who died in 1997 of renal failure.

Tickets for the pub production range from £20-£45.

Other than its “role” in the play, the Greek Street hostelry has other claims to fame. It is often referred to as Norman’s Coach & Horses after Alastair Choat’s predecessor, Norman Balon, who had been dubbed “London’s Rudest Landlord”. Balon ran the pub for more than 60 years.

Choat took over in 2006 and quickly established his own personality by, among other things, turning it into the capital’s first vegan and vegetarian pub.

In addition, it is said that the Coach & Horses has become the first pub in London to be granted a nudist licence. Patrons can, should they wish, quaff in the buff. The staff can also bare all if the mood takes them.

We have no way of proving (or disproving) what struck us as a bizarre-sounding claim, but our feeling is: Why would you make it up?

The bare necessities – picture from the Coach & Horses calendar. Email for a copy

As part of the above some regulars stripped off to make a 16-month calendar called Beauty and the Beasts of Soho. Proceeds will help local charities and the fighting fund to preserve the pub’s current style of management.

Come back to us in June when we hope to know the outcome of the landlord’s efforts.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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