On the Politics Show, Sunday 13 July 2008, Susanna Reid interviewed Antony Worrall Thompson
SUSANNA REID: So what does the future hold for British pubs.
I went to Henley to meet chef and pub owner, Antony Worrall Thompson, once tipped as a potential Conservative replacement for Boris Johnson there.
I asked him what a good pub can do that a nice café or bar can't.
Worrall Thompson: British pub is is about heritage
ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON: Well, I think the British pub is, is about heritage. It is the heart often a local community, together with the Post Office, which are also in trouble and the local shop.
I, I personally think it, it's a different environment; so many pubs during the '80s and '90s tried to become more sort of modern and it didn't work at all - so many failed. And what's good about the old traditional pub, it's got that character, slightly seedy if we can put it like that, without being you know, grim. I mean there are a few grim pubs, don't get me wrong, but they're hitting the wall.
To me it's a place for adult entertainment. I never actually agreed with them when they said children could be allowed in you know, as long as they weren't drinking alcohol. I don't necessarily think that's the right way for pubs to have gone.
SUSANNA REID: What, in your opinion, do you think is the biggest threats to pubs. We hear a lot of people talking about duty on alcohol, smoking ban, credit crunch at the moment. What's the biggest threat though.
ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON: I think the biggest threat is, is actually a combination of factors. I think we've got the drink and drive, which has been around for a long time, but it's being taken even more seriously, which, quite rightly, it should be. It's the smoking. I do think the classic wet-led pub, the drinking pub attracted a lot of smokers, not so much the restaurants.
I wouldn't have minded a ban in restaurants, but I think for the pub, where you've got sometimes, a little man, a little old lady, who likes to come out for a pint and nurses that pint for a couple of hours, having a couple of cigarettes, chatting to their mates, it's a very sociable thing to do. And I think now we've driven those people home, where in normal respects, that's more dangerous; the windows are closed, there's no air conditioning, there's no smoke extraction.
SUSANNA REID: Some might argue it's not such a shame that so many pubs are closing. The connection between alcohol and binge drinking, anti-social behaviour and some violent crime.
ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON: Yeah, I'm not so worried really about big town centre pubs where it seems to be a Friday, Saturday Night sport to go and get hammered and then trash the town.
You know people - we don't want that. But what we do want is a little pub like this in the local communities. There's going to be some nice small pubs with lovely gardens in towns, don't get me wrong, but it's the ones that are selling alcopops that are doing two for one offers, they've got cocktail hour; this is encouraging the wrong sort of drinkers.
And I wouldn't mind losing those - I mean personally, I think the police have got to get a lot tougher. Take away their licenses. If it's not working, if you're the centre of trouble, remove them, get rid of them. They're like a blot on society.
SUSANNA REID: What then would be the way to preserve pubs which are under threat. We heard in the report, the suggestion of a subsidy, maybe in the form of rate relief. Is that something you'd support.
ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON: I think so, I mean I think rate relief is, is - nobody is going to kick it out, don't get us wrong. I mean it will help. Pubs under threat, 37 or so closing down every week. But I do think a lot of it is to be blamed by the breweries.
A lot of breweries have lost interest and they're property dealers now. They've dropped the beer making and I think the managed houses, it's not like it used to be, where it used to be - there was a sort of career as a managed publican.
Now, there's a lack of interest there. You know, they're being driven very hard by the breweries and I think you have to be a lease holder now, so at least you've got something to sell at the end of it, if you want to get out of the pub industry, you've got a little bit to sell. And if it's your money you're earning, rather than the brewery's money, you're going to put more passion in to it. You're going to be that classic host, that managed people aren't. They're not great hosts, you get the occasional ones, of course you do, but to actually own something is what it's all about.
SUSANNA REID: Do you think also, we also heard suggestions that pubs need to radically re-think what they offer, so that they can be at the centre of their community. Putting Post Offices in to pubs, using pubs facilities as public toilets. Do you think it is time for a re-think of what the pub does.
ANTONY WORRALL THOMPSON: Yeah, well, if we look at the local butcher, who's now become a fishmonger, who's become a cheese-seller, who's become - selling chick, pickles and chutneys and things like that, yes, there's a great reason. I don't think necessarily it should be maybe the local toilet, personally because you get an awful lot of people, especially in a major town, who'd be just popping in and it wouldn't be very good at all.
But I do think what you're saying, the Post Office, you know, they're trying to get rid of the Post Office, I think even the little farmers markets in pubs. We were talking about - with another local pub, having one here, farmers market. Just some add-ons you know. We've got lots of walkers here. It's attracting people for one reason or another.
But you've got to know your public. I mean we've played around with this pub a little bit. We've got barbeque, we've had some food, but we're now actually going back to a pub. We're going to put more sandwiches on, we're going to put the old Scotch eggs back, the sausage rolls, which actually an awful lot of people miss.
SUSANNA REID: Antony Worrall Thompson, thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW
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The Politics Show Sunday 13 July 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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