Here we are going on about Minder again – that wonderful record of the pubs of London in the 1980s. This time, what grabbed our attention was the appearance of an Irish theme pub too early in the timestream.
In the twelfth episode of series four, originally broadcast on ITV on 24 March 1984, one of the two intertwined plots involves Terry McCann (Dennis Waterman) working as a bouncer at a pub called The Blarney Stone, in Kilburn, North London.
We’re introduced to the pub when Terry’s friend Kevin O’Hara (Gerard Murphy) calls Terry to discuss the job mid-refurb. “Mind them harps – they’re only polystyrene!” he yells at a workman, and then, “Oh, no, not plastic leprechauns…”
So what? you might ask but here’s why we sat up and took notice: in our book 20th Century Pub, after much research and inquiry, we declared Flanagan’s Apple in Liverpool to be the first Irish theme pub in the UK. It opened in 1984.
To clarify, there are Irish pubs (pubs in Ireland) and Irish pubs (pubs in other countries frequented by Irish people) but we’re talking about (fiddle music plays, party poppers go off) Irish Pubs, providing a kind of Disneyland Irish experience.
Now, The Blarney Stone is fictional, but why would the writers make this joke if Irish theme pub makeovers weren’t something in the popular imagination, that ITV viewers might recognise as ‘a thing’?
We began to worry, in short, that we’d got it wrong – a perennial problem when you come off the fence and state what you are 99% confident is a fact in print.
As the episode winds on, the politics of this particular pub are explored in a little more detail: Kevin tells Terry that the makeover has been imposed by the brewery that owns the pub.
“Forget the spit and sawdust days, all this is going to be a bit choice, nobody gets in without a collar and tie.. The brewers make me smile. They’ve got about as much idea of Irishmen as you have. Not content with outing the disco, and stacking the jukebox with Jim Reeves records, they have to bring this lot in for opening night.”
“Who are they?”
“Most of the punters in here are Irish anyway, aren’t they?”
“That’s right, and they’re not amused.”
When some burly Irish labourers turn up and start a fight any pretence at gentility is forgotten, and the polystyrene harps are indeed smashed to pieces.
By the end of the episode, we felt reassured: this wasn’t a portrait of the emerging Irish theme pub, it was an attempt to lampoon the theme pub trend more generally, then at the tail-end of a three-decade history.
The joke is that the brewery, recognising this Kilburn pub’s Irish clientele, imposed an insensitive makeover intended to pander to them, just as it might have painted scenes of cotton mill life on the wall of a pub in Lancashire, or covered a pub in Scotland in tartan.
But if you know otherwise – if you recall Irish Pubs as we know them now emerging before 1984 – we’d like to know more.