OF all the words I would associate with the top bar of the Harrow, charm would not be one of them. Reached by a flight of stairs to the rear of the pub, off Fleet Street, it was ruled with a rod of iron by a battleaxe called Jean.
She was rude to almost everyone, moved under a personal black cloud and her draught ale was undrinkable – leading most customers to opt for spirits or Steinlager bottled beer from New Zealand.
But, crucially, she was open until 2am or even later – the flouting of the licensing laws reputedly overlooked by the City of London Police because the landlord was a freemason. Thus the Harrow Top was the destination for thirsty journalists not just from the Daily Mail, in the building opposite, but from most national newspapers.
The public were unaware of the bar, and certainly would have been made unwelcome, leading to it becoming a sort of alternative Press Club and employment exchange.
Many was the time when a disgruntled sub-editor or reporter slunk in after a bollocking only to leave a couple of hours later with a job offer from another paper.
Above the bar was inscribed Mr Micawber’s advice in David Copperfield: ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds nought and six, result misery.’
Barmaid Jean was not universally unpopular. Our friend and former sub-editing colleague Irene Mulley recalls a time in the late 1970s when, after finishing her shift on the Mail, she would travel by train to Manchester, where her future husband Graham had been posted to the Mail’s northern HQ as deputy editor. ‘Jean would pack me up a picnic to take on the train in the middle of the night from Euston. Perfectly packed, accompanied by a napkin, would be Stilton laced with port, little biscuits, celery, radishes and grapes. She could be very kind.’
The Harrow, a Fuller’s house at the junction of Whitefriars Street and Tudor Street, EC4, has been there for more than 200 years. It is more than 30 years since I last set foot in there, before the Mail moved offices to Kensington, so I’ll refer you, m’lud, to the website citypubs.co.uk. ‘The main bar is accessed on the Whitefriars Street entrance, there is a much smaller saloon bar at the back, which can be accessed from Primrose Hill. Both bars offer traditional beer-drinking surroundings and the delight of London Pride – what more could you want from a City of London pub?
‘The saloon bar at the back is reached from the main bar via some very steep stairs and was originally a tailor’s shop, but as business grew with the expansion of Fleet Street the Harrow was extended and knocked through to make the saloon bar, which must be the shortest bar in the City.
‘In the Seventies the Harrow had an outside gents’ in what used to be Hanging Sword Alley. The name was apparently a hangover from the days when Cavaliers were obliged to hang up their swords on entering a public house as a guarantee that they would not cause trouble.’
What the site does not mention is a snug named after the legendary Daily Mail writer Vincent Mulchrone, who would repair there every weekday morning for half a bottle of champagne. Mulchrone is remembered chiefly for his words following the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965: ‘Two rivers run silently through London tonight and one is made of people. Dark and quiet as the night-time Thames itself, it flows through Westminster Hall, eddying about the foot of the rock called Churchill.’
Can you imagine any of today’s propaganda-regurgitating no-hopers in the mainstream media coming up with anything so beautiful and majestic? The BBC’s odious Nick Robinson was forced to apologise last year after ripping off Mulchrone’s ‘two rivers’ metaphor to describe the queue waiting to see the late Queen. He claimed to be unaware of its origins. If so, he should be bloody well ashamed of himself. Here is the full version of the 1965 piece. Mulchrone was twice named Descriptive Writer of the Year, once sharing the award with Keith Waterhouse.
I never met Mulchrone, who was only 54 when he died of leukaemia in 1977, the year before I joined the Mail, but I do know his son Paddy, also a journalist, whom I last saw at the funeral of the great Peter Storah.
The current manager of the Harrow assures me that the Vincent Mulchrone room is still in place, although its website disgracefully refers to him as Mulchrome. The top bar is now a restaurant. When it comes to closing time, I very much doubt if customers hear a repeat of Jean’s cry: ‘Come on, you c**ts, ain’t you got no ’omes to go to?’
Old jokes’ home
A football fan with a ticket for the FA Cup Final finds his front-row seat at Wembley and notices an empty space next to him. He asks his neighbour if someone will be sitting there. ‘No,’ says the neighbour. ‘The seat is empty.’ ‘That’s incredible,’ says the other chap. ‘Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Final and not use it?’ The neighbour says: ‘Well actually the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she died. This is the first Cup Final we haven’t attended together since we got married.’ ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s terrible. But couldn’t you find someone else, a friend, relative or even a neighbour to take her seat?’ The man shakes his head. ‘No,’ he says. ‘They’re all at the funeral.’
A PS from PG
My nephew George (said Mr Mulliner) was as nice a young fellow as you would ever wish to meet, but from childhood up he had been cursed with a terrible stammer. If he had had to earn his living, he would undoubtedly have found this affliction a great handicap, but fortunately his father had left him a comfortable income; and George spent a not unhappy life, residing in the village where he had been born and passing his days in the usual country sports and his evenings in doing cross-word puzzles. By the time he was thirty he knew more about Eli, the prophet, Ra, the Sun God, and the bird Emu than anybody else in the county except Susan Blake, the vicar’s daughter, who had also taken up the solving of cross-word puzzles and was the first girl in Worcestershire to find out the meaning of ‘stearine’ and ‘crepuscular’.
PG Wodehouse: Meet Mr Mulliner