Putting on the Fitz

London’s Fitzroy Tavern pub is closing for refurbishment and The Guardian writes about, It doesn’t have anything to do with good old Doctor Who by any chance?
The Fitzroy Tavern is really a pub pickled in time, seemingly unaffected by the passage of time , almost a throwback to pubs of old where no comfort was catered for, beer was awful and if you wanted to get served you had to shout. The fact that since the late 1970s it had been the venue for a monthly meeting of Doctor Who fans is somehow appropriate. News that it is to close for a major refurbishment made no less than The Guardian simply because of this monthly meeting which is fairly amazing in itself. Nobody will mourn the place but what we might miss is the bonhomie, rivalry and gossip of these meetings.

The Guardian suggests that the gathering really thrived when the show was off air but I can dimly recall some packed eighties Tavern nights with people spilling outside across the pavement. It was the place to be really if you wanted a connection with fandom. At one point there were even three Tavern specific fanzines that were given out each month. Amazing. It was the place where everyone seemed to be and it was possible- though perhaps not desirable- to have two or three drinks on the go at once each located in a different part of the pub. It’s easy to idealise these sort of places of course; mostly people got horribly drunk and made arses of themselves on the Underground later. Sometimes we’d all go back to someone’s place and sleep on the floor.

To suggest we have replaced all that with online activity is not really correct. Nobody – you hope- would ever be as fantastically indiscreet or outrageous as they would sometimes be at the Tavern. Nobody would say anything they liked knowing full well people wouldn’t remember it the following day because online of course you cannot un-say something, ironically for a medium that does offer the useful Undo button.

Originally Doctor Who fans were part of a larger tv sci-fi gathering at the One Tun pub but in that way that they have always believed themselves to be a cut above fans of other programmes they split for their own place around about the later 70s. Plus the Fitzroy is devilishly easy to reach even for a London first timer. The gathering- always on the first Thursday of each month – also displays the truism of fandom which is that it is built on just as many cliques- and just as much patronage- as any other `world`. Steven Moffat rhapsodies about it but most of us never recall him being there because he spent all his time with people he knew, as did we all. That’s how it was.

Pity the unwary fan lured to the Tavern on a promise of amicable banter on the merits of Melkur who more often than not would find themselves ignored unless they were pretty. Worse than that they might be accosted by someone called Barry or Trevor (not their real names) who pootle round the pub – possibly all the time- just looking for someone to attach themselves to like a limpet with banal questions along the lines of  “what do you think of Patrick Troughton’s trousers?”

When I’ve occasionally been to a Tavern recently it has been sparse of fans but still, somehow, crowded. The pub has a literary history, the fan gathering being a conscious attempt to replicate similar gaggles of artists and writers who frequented the place in earlier decades. Delusions of grandeur of course. There are lots of pubs nearby all of them nicer to be in than the Fitzroy. And yet… it’s a place with a lot of happy and hazy memories. Or perhaps I imagined it all. I suspect that the monthly gathering will go on because for all its faults we secretly love it!
Jeremy JJJJ Bentham was here once!
The Tavern pictured on any day except the first Thursday of the month.
Don't be fooled by all the signs, they only do Sam Smith's beer and the curiously weak Alpine Lager


  1. Oh, I miss the Tav; been far too long since I've been there, and every time the first Thursday of the month comes and I'm not there I do still feel a little sad.

    I do remember the Moff being there quite often, though...

  2. So many (unprintable) memories.