My thanks to Tony Alltoft for kindly allowing me to post a chapter from his book, A Lifetime Behind Bars, here. Tony spent a few of his younger years living above the Waterman’s Arms, a pub that his parents were managing for Dan Farson in the 1960s. Tony has accumulated a large number of photos and clippings from that period, some of which he has permitted me to use in blog articles, or to upload to the Facebook group, ‘Isle of Dogs – Then & Now’.
He has of course also gathered a lot of memories and stories from the period, which he has endeavoured to capture in his book. This guest article includes the book cover, table of contents and preface – to provide some context – followed by the chapter describing the Alltoft family’s time in the Waterman’s Arms.
Thanks again, Tony.
The start of this book is different from most books in that it was an accident!
In the many house moves that I have experienced in my early life, a heavy duty tin storage box containing my father’s business documents accompanied me. Its contents were never questioned and it wasn’t until some years after my father’s death in 1968 that I decided to use the box as storage for the archiving of household paperwork. However, the box was secured with a hefty padlock for which I did not have a key and therefore, a great deal of force was needed to open it. Having managed to prize open one corner of the box, a small bunch of keys fell out onto the floor. Fortunately, one of the keys on the bunch was the spare key to the padlock. Once opened, the box revealed several financial stock and inventory sheets relating to my father’s public houses that he had managed over the years. Whilst of no great value, my senti- mentality would not allow me to destroy them and they remain with me to this day.
In the process of sifting through the documents, I came across a note book which contained writing upon several of its pages accompanied by a selection of ‘scrappy notes’ and figures. Upon closer inspection it became apparent that my father had started to write a book about my parent’s time as publicans in the United Kingdom. Whilst I had an instant idea to complete his workings, I was of an age where I believed authors were born and not made and therefore felt to embark on such a venture was ridiculous and I simply replaced the note book into the box as a memory of my father.
Some years later and with the tin box still following me around the country, I had decided to undertake some genealogy work on the Alltoft family. This was not as a result of finding the note book in the tin box but, due mainly to a work colleague who was heavily involved in genealogy and the subject interested me especially with a surname such as mine. With a lot of hard work and time at the census office and St Catherine’s House during lunch breaks and after work, I managed to trace my father’s family back to the 1700’s and, as always, a selection of romantic stories emerged from the aunts and uncles most of which required additional validation. However, my grandfather’s records did raise a big question mark on the family history and moved me to try and discover more about the individuals of the family as opposed to simply compiling a large family tree ‘picture’.
In the early part of my father’s notes, questions still remain unanswered about my grandfather. He relates to him being a spy for England during WWII and, as records of a spy are unobtainable, the questions will probably never be answered. However, as the Alltoft family is a relatively small family, I felt compelled to keep going with the individual history if only for personal satisfaction. However, points of reference are few and far between and, coupled with the romantic stories which may at time take some believing, the task of compiling the facts has not been an easy one.
Following a further year’s analysis on my personal family history, the enthusiasm of those contacted waned and some became reluctant to talk about the family at all. Coupled with my own marriage, moving house several times and the birth of my two sons, (Graham and Philip), I lost momentum. In another move, the now essential tin box kept ‘nagging’ at me and, with one of its regular ‘sort outs’, the note book came to the fore. This time I took the trouble to read it with greater interest and I was delighted to find that some of the gaps which begged questions were answered from the genealogy I had undertaken. However, it also created many more questions!
Being a person who is more relaxed doing something than actually relaxing, my mind switched-on and a great urge to complete the book ensued. Although ‘switched-on’, I still felt it ridiculous in starting such a venture and found it difficult to know just where to start. Coupled with my original thought about what makes a successful author, I very nearly returned the book to the tin box.
In 1981 I commenced the work by rewriting the first chapter in my own handwriting so that I could get a feel for the subject and the style in which my father was trying to write the book. (I also have to note that home computers in the early 80’s were not the norm and I initially typed the fist three chapters on a typewriter!!). I then compiled a history of my parent’s movements during their time in the public house trade. At that point I discovered that there were obvious gaps which, as they happened before my birth, I felt it impossible to continue. I looked again at the tin box.
My line of work at the start of writing the book was a Computer Systems Analyst and I was fortunate to work in an office with a person who had written a book and subsequently had it published. To this day I must thank him for giving me the enthusiasm to continue. Although ‘embarrassed’ at being asked by him to submit the first chapter and a brief description of the others, his response was one that finally convinced me to complete the work.
Being biased towards my father’s text on the subject, I feel duty bound on occasions to quote those words which are written in the notebook. So, to start off, the following is the very first paragraph …..
It reads …..
Many books and novels have been written on the subject of pubs etc. but we felt that to share our twenty years experience in both the licensed and catering trades will provide some light reading and, we hope, pleasure for the people who bother to buy and read it. So, if you get this far, please don’t put it down with some disparaging remark, plod on and you won’t regret it.
Clearly his intention was to write a book for publication which, although he remarks that “many books and novels have been written on the subject of pubs etc.”, I believe he felt that writing at a working level would be different and more entertaining.
He also goes on to say ….
In the eyes of many people public houses are the root of all their problems especially in the eyes of the wives whose husbands spend the greater portion f their housekeeping in them. My story is not one of what is right or wrong with public houses, nor a history of them, but what it is really like running, (managing), some of the varied houses around the country from as centrally as Soho in London to as far a field as Devon. My stories cover the worries, fears, problems and of course, for the greater part of the time, the enjoyment of being the landlord behind the bar.
Throughout the book true aspects of the licensing trade emerge and all are true with as much detail as his notes and my memory will allow. I tend to use the first letter of the surname when writing about a specific person. This is because I am unable to contact them for their permission to publish or, in some cases I have not wanted to print their names because of repercussions.
The book takes us from the relative naïve days of training and running their first pub in London to a time when he was running a public house for a television celebrity in London where, due to its success, caused the Protection Rackets to ‘move in’ and ply their trade.
I should note here that it is now 2015, 33 years ago since I started this venture. Not that I have been working on it for all that time but, the paperwork did end up back in the box around 1982 until this moment in time.
Let’s get started.
Chapter 5 – The Waterman’s Arms
The above article appeared in the London evening news on March 22nd 1963 and reads ….
Hundreds of hopefuls applied to television personality Dan Farson for the job of manager of his pub, the Waterman’s Arms, on the Isle of Dogs. But the post has gone to Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Alltoft who for three years have been steward and stewardess of the Streatham Conservative Club in Blegborough Road. In a few months this East End pub has become famous. Dan Farson featured it in a television program about the origin of music hall and he told me this week: “When I bought the place in September it was derelict and was known as ‘the pub with no beer’. But I have made a terrific number of improvements and have engaged many of the entertainers who have appeared in my programme. Among them are the remarkable ‘Tommy Pudding’ and the waterfront singer Kim Cordell” Of Gordon and Doreen Alltoft he said “of all the people that wanted to take the Waterman’s Arms, they were the only ones with the qualifications I was looking for”. Before they came to Streatham, the Alltofts, who have one son, were at the British Legion Club in Chessington. Forty one year old Gordon was Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.
It was clear from the moment that they stepped through the front door that this was not going to be any ordinary boozer simply requiring supervision of the permitted hours of trading. The pub was already trading under a temporary management and had a contingent of staff. An extra dimension to the place was the entertainment factor about which Dan Farson was very passionate and made it clear would be the unique selling point of the pub. And of course, it was.
The first thing that my Father had to do was talk with each member of staff to get to know them and discover their skills etc. One piece of advice my Father was given is that people in the East end on London tend to be very close and ‘look after their own’. This was to be probably one of the best pieces of advice given. Most of the bar staff worked in the evenings when the pub was busy and needed more staff. However, Harry Pocock appeared to be the only full time member of staff and so my Father spoke with him first. His job there was mainly the Pot Man, (collector of glasses during the busy times), and general help during the day shifts. A really personable chap with no real qualifications in the trade and, probably the best way to describe him is very much like Billy Mitchell in East Enders; always wanting to please. However, unlike Billy Mitchell, Harry did actually do a good job. My Father also committed to him that he would get him more responsibilities in the fullness of time.
The remainder of the staff consisted of two brothers and two sisters, three of whom shared the same surname of ‘Whitear’. The two brothers were Johnny and Bobby and the wife of Bobby, Mary Whitear (nee Jones) and her sister Pat Pegg (nee Jones). They all had a brief meeting with my parents, (mainly my Dad) and, to cut a long story short, they all turned out to be excellent people with good bar skills. Johnny ended up being a very good friend of my Father’s and often deputised for him when having a day off or on holiday.
My Father was so fortunate to have inherited such a great bunch of staff that, not only got on well together, (just as well given that they were related), but were also as honest as the day is long.
The picture below, (not the greatest exposure), is of staff having a drink after closing time with my Father. From left to right: Harry Pocock, Johnny Whitear, unknown barman and my Father.
One story supplied by Mary Whitear was of the time when having their usual after session drink; Dan Farson showed his disapproval of such practice and tried to order the staff to go home. This was met with the annoyance of everyone after working so hard that evening and saw Bobby Whitear jump the bar with the look on his face that told Dan Farson to make a hasty exit. Bobby gave chase but luckily for Dan he didn’t catch him. I think Dan Farson learned a lesson that evening as he never approached the topic with my Father again. The practice remained.
The Waterman’s Arms, (formerly The Newcastle Arms and now called The Great Eastern), is situated on the Isle of Dogs, Millwall in the East End of London. When we were there its address was 1 Glengarnock Avenue and now even the road name has changed to 1 Glenaffric Avenue. Without this knowledge one could not now find the pub.
Daniel Farson was known as a TV presenter in the late 50’s and 60’s hosting his own chat show and producing a number of well received programs on the fledgling commercial network. Latterly he was also a respected writer, publishing in excess of 20 books.
He decided he needed a change and moved to the East End of London, living in Limehouse, (92 Narrow Street), for some time before buying The Waterman Arms in 1962, because he thought it might be “fun to run a pub”. Having fallen in love with the local area and all its characters (so much so that he made a one hour TV special about East End pubs called ‘Time Gentlemen Please’) he decided he was going to indulge his love of Music Hall and create his own Variety venue on the banks of the River Thames.
The above picture shows a relatively busy night with Kim Cordell singing. My Father can be seen serving in the foreground. (The picture was actually found in a photographic magazine in an article on Ambient Lighting).
Despite its many critics, the pub was very successful partly due to the television show which many thought was filmed at The Waterman’s, which of course it wasn’t, and partly due to the variety of entertainment in the evenings which of course were named artists and it was free to enter and plenty of free street parking.
Dan Farson visited the Waterman’s quite often but never got in the way of my Father’s management of the pub. The picture [below] is probably a rare picture of Dan Farson behind the bar talking to customers.
In the foreground on the right of the picture is Johny Whitear.
Every opportunity was taken to promote the pub’s success with the Old Time Music Hall theme. From the artists performing at the pub, at least two long playing records were produced and many articles written in national and local papers.
As well as Old Time Music Hall acts there were musical bands and an element of variety acts such as Mrs Shufflewick (comedian) and Bob Blackman aka ‘Bob the Tray’ who was famous for his rendition of the song Mule Train whilst smacking himself on the head with a metal drinks tray.
Of course one of the biggest stars ever to have performed at the Waterman’s was Shirley Bassey. At the time, she was six months pregnant and didn’t want to go on stage. However, Dan Farson seemed to have a way of never accepting “no” for an answer.
Many other celebrities visited the pub as can be seen from the picture below of Johnny and Bobby Whitear with Annie Ross and Tony Bennett. One particular evening Judy Garland came to the pub and although she wouldn’t sing on stage in front of the customers, she sang after closing to the staff.
Amidst all the entertainment etc. there was a small local trade that came to the pub mainly during the day time when the customers could sit quietly and sup their beer and put the world to rights.
The pub simply went from strength to strength and entertainment was put on virtually every night. Naturally all this activity came at a cost and I remember my Father telling me of one such issue. As the pub was so successful, customers would take the drinking glasses as souvenirs and, with the nightly breakages, the monthly bill to replace them was quite considerable naturally impacting the profitability of the business. One never knew why the drinking glasses were taken as souvenirs as there were no markings etc. to indicate from where they came.
It was clear that my Father had made the correct choice with this pub and my parent’s financial status had never been so good. In addition, he had free reign to make decisions about the running of the place autonomously and merely informed Dan Farson of what was going on when he visited; (although Dan Farson did tend to take the lead in respect of the entertainment). In fact, as time went on, Dan visited the pub less and less and communications between him and my Father were often by phone and even letter. (See below).
In fact, the pub ran so well that my parents started to have a regular weekly day-off and often went to Brighton to get away from it all. In addition whenever we went on holiday, usually to Devon, Johnny Whitear drove us there and back and we used taxis to get around during the holiday. So, a driving test was the next priority.
My Father passed his driving test in 1964 and had a new found love of cars. His first car was a Mk IX Jaguar, (nothing like starting off small when you’re a new driver), followed by a couple of other Jaguars 2.4, 3.4 models. He then decided to buy a new car a Mk3 Ford Zodiac (white) which, for its time, was impressive. It was all rather strange really because he had very little time off in which to drive them. However, I later learned that with some clever accounting with a local car dealer, (Chris Steel Cars), he rarely paid for any on them, hence the regular changing of cars. His final car at the Waterman’s was a Mk 10 Jaguar in which we travelled to Portugal.
Another perk of the job was that Dan Farson had his family home in Devon and would allow my parents to use it and, you know how much they loved Devon. I’m not too sure if he charged for its use or just let them use it as it was empty for most of the time due to him living in London. Anyway, my parents allowed me to take one or two friends with us when we went there and we had a great time.
Johnny Whitear pictured above as he had driven us to the house prior to my Father passing his driving test.
As well as my parent’s lot being greatly improved by the move to the Waterman’s Arms, so was mine. I started the part time ‘job’ of ‘looking after customer’s cars’ when they attended the premises of an evening. I think the customers only coughed up money for fear that I might damage their car if they didn’t, (as if). Along with the pocket money I received from my Father for helping at the pub, I felt very well off.
The biggest bonus for me living at the Waterman’s Arms was that I found a direction in life. Being grounded by my Father for getting into trouble with a group of ‘friends’ on the streets, I saw that playing in bands might be more constructive. (I have written about this aspect of my life in another document). Meanwhile, back to my parent’s story.
Dan Farson pushed all boundaries in respect of entertainment at the Waterman’s Arms and one aspect was to put on ‘Art Shows’. One such exhibition was the portrait paintings of Dr. Stephen Ward. Stephen Thomas Ward (19 October 1912 – 3 August 1963) was an English osteopath and artist who was one of the central figures in the 1963 Profumo affair, a British political scandal which brought about the resignation of John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War and, contributed to the defeat of the Conservative government a year later. Other names perhaps more familiar to people will be Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler who were at the heart of the scandal becoming involved with Stephen Ward and a Soviet Diplomat at the height of the Cold War and threatened national security. It became known as the Profumo Affair.
Dan Farson seized the opportunity to ride on the back of the publicity and held an art show of Ward’s paintings. The article below appeared in the East London Advertiser on September 6th 1963.
Needless to say, the exhibition was a great success and brought many customers to the pub.
Continuing the art theme, Dan Farson introduced a local Rigger and Painter – Dick Whyte.
Daniel Farson says in his book, Limehouse Days, that it was he who ‘discovered’ (Farson’s own quotation marks) the Poplar-born painter, Dick Whyte, who at the time worked as a rigger in the West India Docks. Dick started painting in 1959 by accident, when his father who made model boats as a hobby had some paint to spare and Dick experimented with a picture. Dan saw it and a couple of others in the Gun on the Isle of Dogs and asked if he could meet him.
Dan Farson had just purchased the Waterman’s Arms. As part of his plans to provide old-style music hall entertainment, the pub was to be extensively redecorated, and Farson wanted Whyte to paint a mural behind the stage showing the view of Greenwich Naval College from the Island, (See left hand picture below). Whyte wasn’t keen. He didn’t think he had the experience or the skills for the job. Besides, he had only painted boats, cranes and similar; he had never painted grand architectural
He also produced the painting below which is more his style and shows The Waterman’s Arms in the background. I have to say that this picture is very accurate in detail as it was at that time in 1963.
An exhibition of his work was staged at the pub.
The following paragraphs were created by Mick Lemmerman, (a former resident of the Isle of Dogs and historian of all things from there), and placed on the Internet ….
I think it is a shame that I can find no more information about Dick Whyte and his work. All I have written here is taken from Daniel Farson’s book. There have not been that many ‘proper East End painters’, and he had a bit of a name in the 1960s, yet I can find no examples of Dick Whyte’s work on the Internet, no information about him at all.
What happened to Dick Whyte and his family? Did they carry on living as normal in their Poplar flat? And what about all his works? I asked Tony Alltoft if he knew anything about this (Tony lived above the pub at the time of Farson, being the young son of the pub manager Gordon Alltoft). He replied that his family had one of Whyte’s paintings, but it was stolen during a break-in…most likely by thieves who had no idea about what they were stealing.
I can confirm the above statement about one of Dick Whyte’s pictures being stolen from me.
I would like to take this opportunity to state that Harry Pocock did remain working for my Father at the Waterman’s and achieved the necessary skills to be an excellent barman and cellar man.
Apart from losing our dog, (a wire-haired terrier named Mickey), who ran off shortly after we moved to the Waterman’s, there were no real disasters. However, there was a feeling that the premises would benefit from having a couple of ‘guard dogs’ to alert us of any problems when they had the run of the pub after it was shut. Enter a German Shepherd and a Boxer / Labrador cross who were aptly named Bosun and Skipper.
Their arrival was welcomed by all, and especially by me. However, Pat the barmaid may well have had a different view. One evening she went to the toilet on the first floor of the pub and unbeknown to her the two dogs were loose on the upper floors. They actually chased her into the toilet and she just made it before the dogs did and managed to shut the door. The dogs remained outside of the toilet barking like crazy and Pat was naturally screaming for help but, with the loud music playing in the bar at the time, no one could hear her. As luck would have it a caretaker in a warehouse opposite the pub heard her screaming and phoned the pub and my Father was able to rescue her. Although not funny at the time, everyone later saw the funny side.
Our time at the Waterman’s, as you can probably tell, was a complete success and one that must have lifted my parents self esteem to great heights. However, the pub was to become the victim of its own success.
One particular evening my Father was called to the bar by a chap who looked rather menacing and who proceeded to demand a case of whiskey in payment for protecting the pub from other protection gangs. Noticing a large sharp object beneath the chap’s jacket he was taken aback and thought better than to argue with him. He agreed to meet him around the back of the pub and hand him the case of whiskey.
Naturally he was frightened for his family as the chap had suggested that he would harm his wife and child if he ever declined their demands which obviously suggested that they would be back for more ‘payments’.
The matter of protection rackets was well known in the London area especially involving public houses. My Father discussed the matter with Johnny and they both called Dan Farson the next day and explained what had happened.
Fortunately for my parents, Dan Farson was friends with one of the most notorious criminal gangs in London; the Kray Twins, (Ronnie and Reggie). It only took a word from Dan for the twins to put things in place for when the pub was approached again.
Approximately two days later the pub was approached again for ‘payment protection money’ but, this time, some rather heavy looking associates of the Kray gang were strategically placed around the pub waiting. The three men that approached my Father requesting payment were calmly and quickly removed from the pub and literally thrown into the river. Prior to their dunking they were given a few ‘gentle slaps’ and warned not to return for fear of worse to come.
A contingent of the gang remained at the pub for several evenings to tackle any further approaches. This approach protected the pub from here on out and, as my Father put it, “if you have to pay protection money, better pay it to the best ‘company’”.
This incident gave my parents much to consider and, with a lot of talk about this type of activity in London, they felt it was time to move on. They felt it was time to try and achieve their dream of owning a hotel in Devon and, with that, started the search for hotels in that area. From what I can gauge, although they had a good personal bank balance, it was a little too early to make this move. However, the search was on.
As luck would have it, a small hotel became available in Teignmouth which appeared to suit their requirements. Also, it was only a few miles away from their friends Annie and Wilf in Dawlish.
It all happened very quickly and in the October of 1965 we found ourselves moving to Devon to fulfil my parents dream. Naturally Dan Farson was upset at losing them but fully understood their reasoning. A new couple was quickly found to manage the Waterman’s and we simply moved out and off to Devon.
My parents kept in touch with certain people from the pub and heard that the new couple didn’t stay for long and, shortly after my parent’s departure; Dan Farson gave up the pub and retreated to his house in Devon to continue his writing.