Last Night’s TV – Cutting Edge: The Red Lion

by Lynn Connolly

red lion

Award winning filmmaker Sue Bourne set off on a 3,000-mile pub crawl to some of the country’s 600 Red Lions. It’s the most common pub name in the UK and while each one is different, they have one fundamental commonality, that is, everyone who frequents them has a story to tell.

And fortunately for us, many of them did just that for last night’s documentary, and what transpired was a collection of moving, funny, sad and quirky tales from Red Lions everywhere. Well, nearly everywhere anyway.

Sue Bourne said of her film, “I wanted to find out why we’re a nation of drinkers despite all the warnings, and why the pub is so central to British society and culture…

“But with more pubs closing than ever before, I also wanted to see if we are in danger of losing something unique.”

And the fact is, we are. This, we heard, is in part because of the smoking ban which has made thousands of boozers prefer to stay at home than go to the pub where they’re forced to go outside to smoke. Not such a big problem in the warmer months but the coming winter could well see thousands more not wanting to freeze their baguettes off just to go and do their drinking in a pub. As a result, yet more pubs will close, much like the Red Lion in Longdon Common…

This was once the hub of this small community and everyone, but everyone, went there on a Saturday night to catch up with their neighbours and have a laugh, but now it’s closed, everyone stays in to watch telly instead. It was really rather sad.

But there were infinitely less sad moments in this film too, and many that bordered on hilarious, but what all the Red Lions Sue visited offered was a snapshot that backed up the notion us Brits are all eccentric head cases.

In one Red Lion, the Newport University Netball team play ‘Pub Golf’ which involves them visiting nine pubs and in each, the girls sink a pint of Guinness before moving onto the next ‘hole’. This happens every Wednesday, as sure as night follows day, and the ladies aren’t in the least bit concerned about units of alcohol or dire warnings regarding the potential affects on their health.

Indeed, few Red Lion patrons are worried about what alcohol might be doing to them, and for many, booze is the catalyst to forgetting their woes and when imbibed in pubs, they have the companionship of fellow drinkers and for some, that’s their only companionship.

One such Red Lion patron is Reg the Hedge in Histon for whom the pub is the place he can get help from Mark the landlord in writing to his lady friend in America. And as he lives alone, it’s one of the few places he can go for some company. He’s called Reg the Hedge we heard because he often gets so ‘merry’, he doesn’t make it home and therefore can be found in a hedge somewhere on those occasions. He’s hoping that one day he’ll have someone waiting for him at home, and I hope he does too. Fingers crossed Reg!

It’s hard to imagine quite what people like Reg would do with themselves if their Red Lion closed down, which is what made Sue Bourne’s film effective on many levels. She revealed the human stories that inevitably go with any business, but in a pub, where a nice crowd and a good time are for many the only place they can have those things, the very real cost of the recession and the smoking ban hit home.

People like Reg would be so much more isolated and for ladies like the very charming Joan and Irene in Billericay who meet every lunchtime since they both became widows, their pub is an integral part of their lives, and the loss of it would be hard on them.

Likewise for retired Wilf in Wisbech whose trips to the Red Lion every other day form part of the fabric of his life. And Bev the barmaid understands exactly what he’s ordering when he asks for a George Melly, a Mr Blue, or a Number One; no, he doesn’t need directions to the loo, a ‘Number One’ is his code for a Remy Martin.

The charm of this film was immense and it had the unexpected bonus of making feel quite proud of my stoic and often idiosyncratic fellow countrymen. It also had the effect of making me want to know more about the patrons we met so it’s a pity this isn’t something like The Family where we can get weekly updates on what they’re all up to in their Red Lions.

Maybe Sue Bourne will do a follow up in a year or so? Pretty please Ms Bourne?

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.