Before I dig into the subject matter at hand let me make clear that I do not believe that there was ‘a golden age’ that happened in Stratford upon Avon, a time when everything was, better, The things I write about in Past delights are just my happiest (ish) memories and I do not yearn for their return. The point is, these happenings, these things existed because they were ‘of the time’. Past Delights I: Lock-in at The Dirty Duck (circa 1970’s) was of its time. Such a thing could not exist in present day. The atmosphere provoked is long gone because whatever the main ingredient was then, is no longer with us. Or if it is, has changed beyond recognition, like all things do.
Also, I am an old fart who has nothing better to do than reminisce, Anyway, for Past Delights 1, I choose as its subject…
Lock-ins at The Dirty Duck
It is quite impossible now to capture the essence, the experience of drinking after hours at The Dirty Duck because its heartbeat, the blood pumping around its illegal body is no longer Landlady.
I refer of course to SHE that shall be known as PAM.
Pam ruled Ben Shepard’s The Dirty Duck / The Black Swan with an iron hand. She was (still is) a legend. Tales abound of her reign (some might say ‘of terror’) even after 40 years (?) of her retirement. The one that always stuck with me was of her chucking out of Rudolph Nureyev apparently with a ‘silly little man’ flourish at the end. Whether true or false, (unfortunately I wasn’t present) such tales only add to her legend. But I digress.
Every now and then (70’S) there would be a lock-in at The Dirty Duck. (I actually seem to remember every weekend but that might be a befuddled memory on my part). Basically, at the allotted 10.30 by law (or was it 11.00 on weekends?) the pub was closed but only to fresh customers. New customers were kept out and present drinkers, stayed where they were and carried on as if nothing had happened. In short, the bar stayed open.
This lock-in would last until the early hours, and although against the licensing hours of the day was as far as I remember never bothered by the local Constabulary.
To be invited to partake of lock-in you had to be what I would call, *Stratford Royalty and even then, personally invited with a nod and a wink from She who must be Obeyed.
*Stratford Royalty were actors and staff from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company. Friends of actors and staff of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Past and Present. Friends of Pam, and any other waifs and strays that Pam who had taken a shine to.
I should also say that the RSC worked differently in those days. The Theatre Company (RSC) worked one long season and were actually residents of Stratford upon Avon for as long as that season lasted. They became, familiar faces, sometimes friends. It made complete sense that what with long hours spent rehearsing and performing their work and always finishing after normal and law-biding pubs closed, that The Dirty Duck by necessity, became their local. They had a much needed space to wind-down, socialise and relax after the curtain came down.
However, the over-riding factor was that no matter who you were you were only allowed to stay, if you were in Pam’s good books. If to put it crudely, you had a black mark against your name (for instance; I once got into trouble for burping loudly at the bar), you were put out immediately the lock-in came into effect.
I was privileged enough to have been present at one or two lock-ins.
And that was only because I had met one of the actors previously. We had got on and wanted to continue our drunken conversations so what better than a scheduled lock-in?
It should be pointed out that although I was a regular (in legal hours) it made no difference, I hadn’t been ‘chosen’ for ‘special duties’ (lock-in) and was seen as just a run-of-the-mill customer. Like many important things in life invitation to the ball (lock-in) relied very much on who you knew.
My memory of lock-in was nothing sinister. Much the same behaviour as legal opening hours, (maybe a little louder-with songs) with an added sense of relief on the actor’s part because the audience had clapped and cheered as expected and no-one had forgotten their lines, lock-in was great fun albeit a little tiring.
So, all in all, a wonderful experience exclusively enjoyed by ‘The Chosen Few’.