The world according to Barry
Meet the UK’s longest-serving landlord
Saturday 02 July 2022
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“If it’s just about someone having a drink, then it’s a sad old place.”
Barry Dennis is explaining his philosophy behind the Anchor, in Sevenoaks, Kent. He’s been a landlord there since 1979 – he’s surprised to discover that’s as many years as I’ve “walked the earth” and that’s not the only way our personal histories combine – and is the UK’s longest running full-time publican.
But he’s much more than a landlord. He’s a custodian. He’s a community worker. He’s a legend.
“I don’t want to sell you 10 pints of lager,” he says. “I want you to have four today, four tomorrow and four the next day. Go home a happy boy – the wife’s happy, the family’s happy. Everyone wins.”
This is the business doctrine he learned when he ran pubs before the Anchor. In the 1970s he ran the St Christopher Inn – then the Prince of Orange – in Greenwich and he calls this the ‘seven tenners’ – get £10 off seven customers so they each return happy rather than having one drinker spend big in one session.
But it’s been a long time since I’ve spent a tenner in Barry’s company – I can’t call him by his surname because the word ‘Barry’ gets etched into the minds of anyone who visits the Anchor. We work out it’s 15-odd years since I used to be a regular and he was my greatest contact at my first job working for the local paper, the Chronicle.
As well as the usual gossip that used to lead to great people-orientated stories he would rope me into his schemes. These weren’t anything criminal but unconventional ways of helping out his locals usually involving threatening to write articles about errant regulars to shock them into changing their ways. The greatest entered Anchor folklore and involved “Hurricane”, a lovelorn punter who I won’t give his full name to save his blushes.
Hurricane, who Barry ropes in to host the meat raffle and co-host a play your cards right game on Sundays, was intending to fly to Zambia to meet his ‘girlfriend’ he met online (this was 2004 and involved a chatgroup) and it was obviously a scam. Barry’s idea was to get Hurricane’s trip to Africa filmed as a documentary so that he would be safe with a crew following him around.
I tried to get it commissioned but failed. Hurricane’s finances are now a lot bleaker because of this but Barry managed to intervene so that he’s still able to survive and his money is now rationed to stop him from becoming completely broke by more tricksters. This is one of many ways Barry helps his locals including driving them home on Christmas day after the pub opens for a few hours and making sure they’re OK when they fall off the Anchor’s radar.
For me as a British-Asian, it was ensuring I had a safe space to drink in a town that had few people of colour in it. When I tell Barry that in the intervening 15 years the racism I’ve experienced in and outside of pubs has got worse he almost becomes tearful.
He need not feel sad because after all these years, the Anchor should be celebrated for what it is and what it isn’t. Like Barry, it isn’t pretentious. It’s a surprise, for example, that the pub is on social media and worse still has been targeted by trolls.
“A Facebook comment,” Barry says, “was offensive. It said: ‘It’s full of blue collar workers.’ I bet he has a blue collar worker when his toilet is blocked.”
Fuck that guy. The Anchor is a community pub and is a vestige of a type of Britishness that should be celebrated not ridiculed. On the Tuesday afternoon I visit it’s full of families eating hearty pies and enjoying Ramsgate brewery, Gadds’ No 3, a traditional bitter kept exceptionally well by Barry and his co-licensee, Phil Wheeler.
And, while the service industry has so much churn due to Covid, the Anchor has managed to somehow retain the same bar staff that served me in my junior reporter days. Between Phil, Tracey and Nigel they’ve done 100 years, claims Barry.
Minor changes have occurred though due to recent social-distancing restrictions. There’s no pool table (“we had to clean it every time it was used”), no under 21s (“the kids don’t understand social distancing”) and no bar stools although drinking there isn’t discouraged. But the famous Blues night remains and still Barry refuses to charge for entry.
The lack of tickets shows that despite being in a “posh town” the Anchor is about inclusion especially if you’re the type of drinker that likes to savour the atmosphere and enjoy the company of others.
“If you like people it’s the best job in the world,” Barry concludes.
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