Norwich, GB 5 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

PAM HARRIS, aged 88


Born and raised in Birmingham, her parents both worked in the Ford Dunlop factory. Her father Frank worked on the factory floor, making tyres for aeroplanes and her mother, Joan, was a wages clerk. Frank was an accomplished painter and a wordsmith, encouraging Pam in her love of theatre.

After leaving school, Pam went to work in the Rainbow Club in Coventry, realising she liked working in hospitality.

From there she briefly went to work at the riverside pub, the ‘Black Swan’ in Stratford-upon-Avon. This was the actor’s favourite drinking haunt and was nicknamed ‘The Dirty Duck.

Pam with David Bedford
Pam with David Bedford (courtesy Stratford Herald)

She got to manage her own pub, the ‘Golden Hinde’ in Lutterworth. Her younger brother Bob, by now a sports journalist, used to drink there. One day he brought in a young athlete, a middle-distance runner called David Bedford. David and Pam became friends for life.

In 1977, the opportunity came up to return to Stratford as Ben Sheppard gave up the licence. Pam took it on, living upstairs in the pub, which was now formally called ‘The Dirty Duck’. She ran it for 20 years.

She was a larger-than-life character and the actors likened her to Mistress Quickly, who runs the ‘Boar’s Head’ in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ (and Henry 4th parts 1 & 2 and Henry 5th).

She wore flowing long dresses, smoked a constant stream of cigarettes, drank copious amounts of brandy and was followed around the pub by a long-eared shaggy black dog known as ‘Fat Lump’.

She had strong rules. This is what got you banned;
1) Behaving badly
2) Insulting the staff
3) Refusing to mix with the enemy i.e., critics and actors

She had many friends who were critics and classed Diana Rigg, Antony Sher, Judi Dench and John Warnaby as her favourite actors – and close friends. Warnaby gave up the stage to become a Catholic priest.

Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly
Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly (courtesy Zuleika Henry)

She was thrilled when Judi Dench played Mistress Quickly at Stratford. She bought her a drink – “on the house.”

She also reckoned if Helen Mirren and Sinead Cusack got together they could drink the pub dry. Ian McKellen was also a regular.

She once slapped the very drunken Irish actor Richard Harris.

One of her favourite stories concerned the actor Pete Postlethwaite. Appearing in Henry 5th, he was delighted with himself for giving a difficult speech. “I smashed that speech, absolutely smashed it.” He awarded himself a celebratory pint afterwards – only to be told (to his horror) that the speech he had given was from Richard 3rd.

In the days of strict licensing laws, if her favourite actors were in town, she would have a lock-in until 3 or 4am. The police knew never to raid the pub.

One night in 1982, Michael Gambon was in the pub with his acting colleagues. Pam got down special glasses with which to toast them. The actor carrying the tray of drinks tripped and glasses and drink went everywhere – most of it landing in Gambon’s lap. He immediately shouted, “Same again my hostess in the garters”, a quote from the Merry Wives.

Anyone who needed to be removed from the pub was thrown out personally by Pam, and when the Hells Angels came to Stratford on bank holidays, she stood on the front step with her arms folded, shaking her head if one of them came near.

Her brother Bob became a noted journalist, working for the Daily Mirror, The Sun and the News of the World, amongst others.

Pam Harris
Pam Harris (courtesy Stratford Herald)

Pam retired in 1997 and moved to an idyllic cottage in the centre of Stratford. She made sure her assistant manager Sam Jackson was given the opportunity to take up the license. The ‘Dirty Duck’ has only had three landlords since 1950.

Asked about her favourite night she recounted a wild party with Charles Dance and Kenneth Branagh, with Alun Armstrong playing guitar. The actor Derek Jacobi refused to join them and sat alone in the restaurant opposite, sipping a glass of wine, reading a script and occasionally waving.

It was considered a badge of honour for the youth of Stratford to have been banned from Pam’s pub.

In her last few days in the Stratford Bentley nursing home, right next to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried, it was Father John Warnaby who came to comfort her.

She was remembered locally for her, “strict ways and warm heart.”

RIP – Respected Intimidating Publican

Next Article


You might be interested in …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *