The funny, bitter, heartwarming tale of six men who came together to work on a London pub and found themselves transformed into a band of brothers …
The present day. We are at a handover ceremony to celebrate the completion of a large office development. The job has obviously gone pretty well, because there is much backslapping among those invited: the contractor’s management, the client’s representatives and the professionals. The author is also present, sipping a light ale, with a strange, far-away look in his eyes.
Cut to the south London offices of a famous labour agency; a sunny morning in the early 1970s. They are decorated in a pioneering crack-house chic – all the windows are boarded up, the front door is covered in plywood and the plywood is decorated by graffiti drawing attention to the firm’s moral and sexual failings. Inside is a second door, also covered by plywood, through which a hatch has been roughly sawn.
Two men approach: the author and a stocky Welsh carpenter known as the Glyndwr. They are unfazed by their surroundings: our hero has a black belt in karate and the Welshman has recently had a fragment of broken tooth surgically removed from his thumb. A muttered conversation; we hear the words “no problem” and “bang on time, mate, honest”.
It seems they are being sent to work on a huge pub–restaurant that is being built out of some shops in Earl’s Court, because that’s where we go next. A swift montage to establish the team.
They are an astonishing range of characters. The foreman is Evan Help Us, another son of the Taff; he flew Mark VIII Spitfires over the Italy during the war. Arthur is a Scots labourer. “I may be a Scottish pig but that means I’m best bacon,” he says. Another labourer is a local Australian called Queensbrough. He instantly picks up the nickname of “Queenie”. The plasterer is an Irishman called old Eddie; he is an obvious nutter.
The job starts, and it’s quickly apparent that it’s going to go well because everyone is getting on famously; our hero starts turning up to work early because he’s having such a good time. A Monopoly league is formed and the men play at each other’s homes in the evenings while trying to drink their own weight in lager and cider.
Time-lapse sequence showing the job progressing in no time, until a pub sign is attached: “The Duke of Twickenham”. In fact, the whole thing’s nearly finished … enter Jack-the-lad pub manager with chain-store-trendy wife carrying what appears to be a small hairless dog. We zoom in on it. It is a small hairless dog. The workmen watch longingly as the pub’s stock of booze is moved into the cellar … followed by two large alsatians. A chill is felt in relations between management and worker. Shot of worker whimpering in fear as he makes his way through the bar with an alsatian attached to his calf. Glyndwr notes that if they try that with him, he’ll kill and eat them. “Like a second Assyrian, the rod of God’s anger, Glyndwr did deeds of unheard-of cruelty,” he says, quoting Adam of Usk.
Before the pub opens the client throws a party. The job has obviously gone pretty well, because there is much backslapping among those invited … a handheld camera tracks through the contractor’s management, the client’s representatives, the professionals and, to add some agreeable female company, the girls from the Barclays down the road.
The next morning, our hero, Glyndwr, Evan, Arthur, Eddie and Queenie stare in amazement as sack after sack of spent Veuve Clicquot bottles are thrown out. Long close-ups of eyes in the style of Sergio Leone. Our hero is delegated to ask the main contractor for a few cans so that the men can celebrate in their own humble way, but returns empty-handed. For the first time, all grasp their place in the grand scheme of things …
Without a word being said, the team decide to begin a project of their own. The architect has provided unworkable drawings for the shutters over the bar, and Glyndwr takes flagrant delight in cutting all the wood to the wrong sizes. Arthur whistles as he stacks slabs of polished mahogany for the bar under a broken rainwater pipe. Special fittings mysteriously vanish … all instructions are interpreted literally …
Once progress on the job has come to a satisfactory halt, the workers turn their attention to the pub’s stock of booze. We see workers leave the pub bundled up in bulky overcoats against the bitter winds of late August, carrying four shopping bags of what appears to be laundry.
Cut to Jack-the-lad pub manager staring in disbelief at the results of his stock-take.
Enter large bouncer to supplement alsatians. Cut to Evan, who is in the middle of an intense conversation with bouncer about latter’s racing pigeons while Queenie passes by in medium shot pushing a porter’s trolly loaded with bar towels. Two weeks later, Evan leaves the pub with his last wage packet in his hand, followed a week later by everyone else …
Dissolve to office development, present day; author regards sack of empty bottles, his eyes narrowed to mere slits. At last he pulls out mobile phone, punches out long sequence of numbers. Pause.
“Get me Pacino,” he says at last, “I’ve got something for him …”
John Smith is a clerk of works