Classical music, generally Wagner, blared out but both the interior and garden were entirely charming (as they still are). The real ale, served from unmarked porcelain pumps, was Adnams Bitter, mostly warm and with bits in. The food tended to excellence so long as, for instance, you didn't mind finding pieces of shot in your pheasant.
After the Squire's death, the pub was run for a while by his German boyfriend but was never the same. Replacing the handwritten rules with a typed version said it all.
Many ALE readers will fondly remember Terry Kavanagh who had the St Radegund in King Street Cambridge from 1992 until his retirment in 2009. “Bunter” compensated for the smallness of his pub with the size of his character; it still bears many of his hallmarks, now being in the hands of James Hoskins who worked for Terry for many years. Among Terry's innovations were the Veil Ale (which involved taking bottles of beer all over the world), the Vera Lynn Appreciation Society (huge G&Ts on a Friday night to the accompaniment of the wartime sweetheart), the Rain Check Tree (which enabled you to buy a pint for a friend to sup next time they came in) and the ceiling adorned with Eagle-style signatures. Terry himself was a great traveller (partly through his association with the Hash House Harriers) and loved nothing more than sharing memories of far-flung places with customers. I was there once when a chap came in and answered Terry's usual “where are you from?” question with “the Falklands”. Turned out Terry had spent time there so dissolve to tales of penguins, sheep, Port Stanley....
Then there's Liz Nicholls who ran the Royal Oak Barrington and also the King William IV Heydon (where she may well still be landlady – long time since I visited). Her trademark was very strong, dark make-up which led to her being referred to, entirely fondly, as “the Witch”. The resemblance to Morticia from the Addams Family was certainly striking.
The Royal Oak, Commercial End, Swaffham Bulbeck closed in 1989 but I was fortunate enough to visit whilst it was still in the hands of Bob Scrutton, known to all as Blind Bob. He lost his sight two years after taking on the pub and ran it for another 20 years. When you ordered a pint from Bob, he would take a glass to the barrel (the beer was served by gravity), pour it precisely to the rim and place it on the bar with not a drop spilt. It's said that he knew his regulars by their footsteps and would have their favoured tipple on the bar for them by the time they reached it. A remarkable chap.
A handful of simple rural pubs remains in the UK where you feel like you're sitting in someone's front room. The last two in our area were the Harvest Home, Fen Ditton and the Exhibition, Over, both of which closed around 1980 (though the Exhibition later reopened in much expanded form). I didn't get to visit either but when I moved to Over in 1985, people still talked about Mrs Bullen, who ruled over the Exhibition for 44 years. The pub had one room with two tables, some chairs and a couple of pews. Mrs Bullen fetched your beer from a barrel stillaged in her kitchen. The pub was part of the Tolly estate but until near the end of her tenure they still had a brewery (the Star) in Cambridge. Because Mrs Bullen didn't trust the post, she did all her business with them in person, riding her “sit up and beg” bicycle into Cambridge in all weathers up and down what is now the A14. She wouldn't serve spirits on a Sunday because it was the Lord's Day – though beer was for some reason permissible.
If you know of any other pub characters (licensees or otherwise) who deserve to be remembered, please contact the editor.