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Landlord who ran the Compton Arms in Islington releases book about life ‘behind bars’

Man who ran the Compton Arms in Canonbury for seven years, spills the beans on life running a pub

04 January, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Malcolm Mant pulling pints

IT wasn’t until the chef came in asking where his brother’s ashes were that Malcolm Mant realised what he had put in the gravy.

The veteran publican, who ran the Compton Arms in Canonbury for seven years, had thought he had been putting some Bisto powder in a boiling pot. But this powder didn’t dissolve in the way that the “nation’s favourite” tends to.

The 49-year-old, who has written a book about his life behind the bar, said: “It did not mix very well, so I couldn’t exactly pour it over the sausage and mash. I couldn’t work out why it wasn’t mixing, so I had to chuck it down the sink in the end.]

“I didn’t realise what I had done until the chef came in the next day asking for his brother’s ashes.

“It’s bizarre stuff but it proves anything can happen when you’re running a pub.”

This gravy incident, which happened at the pub Malcolm ran before he came to the Compton Arms, is one of the many anecdotes that make up his new book, 30 Years Behind Bars: My Life and Times Running the British Pub.

Malcolm was parachuted in to turn around the Compton Avenue venue in 2011 by the giant pub retailer Greene King. The ancient boozer, one of three places that inspired George Orwell’s imagined perfect pub in his essay The Moon Under the Water, had fallen on hard times.

Mr Mant outside the Compton Arms

As Malcolm was a life-long Arsenal fan they thought he would be interested in a place that was a stone’s throw away from the Emirates.

Malcolm said: “I didn’t have an easy start to my time there. The Compton Arms probably has a higher average age for regulars than most other pubs. Within the first six months of me being there I had eight deaths, eight regulars. People were telling me to clean my pipes out.

“So I started a sweepstake, the next regular to die. The weird thing is, it then took a full six years before another one went.

“People were piling money on left, right and centre. There were two favourites. One was called Dave the Heart-attack, the other one was Fabian the French guy. He was drinking for France.

“It was actually Dave the Heart-attack that did it in the end.”

The book is a mixture of autobiography and Malcolm’s musings on life as a pub landlord.

The cover of the book

The father-of-three said: “You have to live and breathe the industry. It’s cost me two marriages. People think we just wake up, slide down the bannister and pour the first pint like Wallace and Gromit, but it’s a not like that. It’s tough work.

“At the same time, I miss the social side of it. The Compton Arms was like a melting pot. No matter if you were a lawyer, builder, politician, painter or anything, if you sat down at the bar your opinion was listened to.

“Except if you’re a Spurs fan, of course.”

Malcolm sold the leasehold back to Greene King and served his last pint in May 2018.

“My view of the world has been me observing how alcohol affects people,” he said. “We’re a country of drinkers. Times are changing though. Coffee shops and craft beer houses are taking over.

“I might just be a dinosaur from a past age, but what an age it was.”

To buy the book go to Amazon.co.uk and search for 30 years Behind Bars: My Life and Times Running the British Pub.

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