Tales from The Two Puddings – pub landlord gets just desserts with photo exhibition

Bishopsgate library exhibition celebrates the life of hard nut sixties publican Eddie Johnson

Poster for ‘The Devil’s Kitchen’/Photograph: Eddie Johnson, Melissa Tricoire

Poster for ‘The Devil’s Kitchen’/Photograph: Eddie Johnson, Melissa Tricoire

Eddie Johnson, landlord of the notorious and now demolished Stratford pub The Two Puddings, has become something of an East End celebrity thanks to the publication of his memoir.

Tales from The Two Puddings is a plain-spoken, gripping and touching look back at Stratford in the sixties, a time when drinkers, paupers and crooks gathered to enjoy drinks, fights and music at Johnson’s pub.

And for those interested in finding out more about Johnson’s life as the longest-serving licensee in Stratford, Bishopsgate library, in collaboration with Fifty First State Press, have organised an exhibition of photographs from the book, accompanied by Eddie Johnson’s audio recollections.

Johnson is a convincing and entertaining story-teller whose reminiscences bubble with anecdotes and jokes about the assorted cast of local celebrities, thieves, bribers and troublemakers of sorts that made up his clientèle.

A former hoodlum, Johnson was always up for a brawl and his pub became known locally as ‘The Butcher’s Shop’ due to its cream-tiled walls and the amount of blood spilt there every night.

Johnson confesses that “my hands were always healing up, and my knuckles swollen”, from smashing glasses and fist fighting. But there is another side to Johnson’s violent persona: that of a witty and incisive philanthropist. In the seventies, he revived the pub’s tradition of baking two enormous Christmas puddings and offering them to the local poor.

Johnson was born in Limehouse in 1932 and has always deeply loved the East End. As a publican, he made it his mission to look after his local community with practical jokes, drinks and entertainment.

The exhibition photographs, mostly taken from Johnson’s personal archives, paint a picture of The Two Puddings as a family business providing customers with a jolly, sometimes relaxed but always raucous and riotous home.

As early as 1958 Eddie and wife Shirley, two rock’n’roll and pop music aficionados, organised gig nights known as The Big Beat Club and  The Devil’s Kitchen, where the likes of The Who and The Kinks performed. These gigs attracted local youngsters but also regulars who would drive all the way from the north of England to attend these increasingly popular music nights.

The Tales from The Two Puddings exhibition captures the life of Stratford in the sixties, days when jazz singer Maxine Daniels and broadcaster Daniel Farson were mixed up with local rogues, bribers and destitute youths.

It is a nostalgic tale about Stratford’s most charismatic publican, a lost world of East End colourful characters and its most notorious pub.

The exhibition will be followed by a talk with Eddie Johnson in conversation with broadcaster Robert Elms on 30 January at 7.30pm at the Bishopsgate Institute.

Tales from the Two Puddings
Until 31 March 2013
Bishopsgate Library
Bishopsgate Institute
230 Bishopsgate

This article was published in Hackney Citizen on 29 January 2013


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