By ALASTAIR McINTYRE
IT was difficult to be thrown out of a pub in Fleet Street. Toleration of the clientele was very much the spirit of the day for landlords and landladies in the heyday of the Street of Shame.
But there was one bar where it was often impossible to enter, let alone get thrown out. I speak of the Falstaff Dive Bar, which was ruled by the fearsome Mrs Moon.
After a career spent drinking in more waterholes than I care to remember, I have never been thrown out of a pub (although I have been politely requested never to return to an establishment after I have finished my drink, but that is another story).
But I, along with many others, have been refused entry to the Dive Bar.
It was one summer evening, about 9.15pm when I nipped across the street for a drink during a shift on the stone, supervising the printers as they prepared the first edition of the Daily Express.
Barely had I put a foot on the top stair to descend to the Falstaff than Mrs Moon appeared from the depths, blinking testily through her horn-rimmed glasses. 'Go away,' she shouted, 'you are barred!'
I asked why but she gave no reason, it was puzzling because I doubt if she had ever seen me before. None of the bar's regulars could help with a reason either and my colleague Kipper Keeling, of blessed memory, who was in the pub at the time, could only come up with two explanations.
The most likely was that Mrs Moon, pictured right, assumed I had just left the Cheshire Cheese pub opposite, which in those days closed at 9pm. She was paranoid about entertaining the Cheese's cast-offs for reasons best known to herself.
The second reason was that I was wearing a tie – the pub was frequented by printers who seldom bothered with neckwear.
Oddly enough, the next time I visited the Falstaff, Joan Moon did admit me and graciously allowed me to purchase refreshment – a pint of Young's Ordinary Bitter. Despite the difficulty of actually gaining admission you couldn't help liking the eccentric old girl.
Roger Watkins, who assures me that he was never a victim of the redoubtable lady, recalls that one chap was barred for holding up his first drink and murmuring: 'My God, that's a lovely pint.' Apparently one had to assume that every pint served there would be impeccable and that to comment thus would cast doubt upon this absolute.
The landlady's fame spread far and wide and she even made it into Private Eye magazine in December 1977. The Eye reported:
One pub landlady has permanently solved the problem of Fleet Street's notorious industrial hacks who cause terror and destruction wherever they go.
She runs the Falstaff Dive Bar, a tavern near the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street (and owned by the Daily Mail).
She throws them out as soon as they set foot on her threshold.
Topping the banned list (surprise, surprise) is budgerigar-sized Paul Routledge of The Times, famous for his knowledge of Russian geography.
Next is his able drinking lieutenant Robert Porter, Industrial Correspondent of the Daily Mail.
Both men were so incensed by the ban that they led a commando-style raid on the pub, singing German and Russian songs as they goose-stepped through the bar.
Porter, an immense, haystack-sized lout, has been boasting to Mail colleagues in recent weeks that the Eye has not managed to discover his own contributions to the hacks' appalling behaviour.
The Eye would like to place on record that we do not believe allegations by Porter's colleagues that he is the most unbelievably emotional hack of them all.
Nor do we believe the allegations that he has figured prominently in every one of the hacks' fracas so far.
So there you have it. Another Fleet Street legend. I would go so far as to say that you never really found fame in Fleet Street until you had been barred by Mrs Moon.
Remind me to tell you how I upset the landlord of the Punch Tavern one drunken evening.