Requiem for the Magdala – The Story of a Hampstead Pub.

Where Eagles Dared

The Magdala Tavern, South End Green, Hampstead

A pub grows organically from its surroundings and its customers and it is not surprising that the Magdala, emerging as it did from SEG, had its share of famous patrons. One film stands out as being THE Magdala film – ‘Where Eagles Dare’. From the acting credits it would appear that at some point a casting director had walked into the saloon bar and recruited everyone inside to join the film. Led by Richard Burton (resident at 6 Lyndhurst Rd from 1949 till 1956, and famously married to Elizabeth Taylor, born at 8 Wildwood Rd near the Spaniards Inn), the other stars included Patrick Wymark, William Squire, Peter Barkworth, and Derren Nesbit.

Wymark in particular was a devotee of the ‘Mag’ until his death aged 44 in 1970 – it became his home-from-home. He was famous for his portrayal of a devious but charismatic businessman in the hugely popular 1960s TV series ‘The Power Game’, despite being described by his wife the playwright Olwyn Wymark, as ‘the most inefficient, dreamy muddler in the world’. Olwyn used to say that she felt odd in the Mag ‘knowing that Patrick has slept with every woman in the pub’. Derren Nesbit specialised in playing ‘nasty Nazi’ parts, as he did in ‘Where Eagles Dare’ – he was lucky to survive the filming as in one scene the explosives strapped to his chest exploded upwards instead of outwards and nearly blinding him. In the 1990s he went on to run a wine bar on nearby Fleet Rd. Peter Barkworth remained a well-liked local living in Flask Walk in the Village, while William Squire has a memorial bench on the Heath.

Derren Nesbit in ‘Where Eagles Dare’

The pub also played host to actors who somehow had avoided being conscripted into ‘Where Eagles Dare’. The impeccably aristocratic James Villiers; the character actor Thomas Heathcote; Kenneth Haigh (the original ‘Jimmy Porter’ of ‘Look Back in Anger’ and ‘Joe Lambton’ in ‘Room at the Top’); Norman Rossington (who by performing in the films ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Double Trouble’ became the only actor to appear on screen with both Elvis Presley and the Beatles).

Norman Rossington

Also the major film star Bob Hoskins drank here while he rented a room on Parliament Hill in his early acting days at Unity Theatre in Camden).

Paul Whitson-Jones, actor and bon viveur

Another pub regular was the rotund actor Paul Whitsun-Jones who excelled in playing comic authority figures but also had a serious role in the excellent military film ‘Tunes of Glory’. He died in 1974, but his widow Sylvia remained in the area and became a well-known member of the saloon bar. (Danish-born, she would sometimes recall her wartime childhood. On one occasion in 1940 she was walking in the countryside and looked up to see the sky filled with German paratroopers equipped with bicycles. As they landed in the fields one soldier winked at her before cycling on to occupy her country.)

Sylvia Whitsun-Jones, Magdala regular

Ronald Fraser was a first rate actor and also a renowned frequenter of the pubs of the area. From his early days in Sir Donald Wolfit’s company, his career spanned a lifetime of films and TV (including ‘Pennies From Heaven’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’). In his last years he became involved with the TV host Chris Evans and his popular TV programme called ‘TFI Friday’. Evans based his show around a reconstruction of his genuine local, the Haverstock Arms on Haverstock Hill. Regulars were recruited as extras, the landlord was installed as ‘The Landlord’, and Ronnie Fraser became a fixture as a Falstaffian ‘Lord of Love’ despite (or because of) his advanced years and alcoholic intake. It is reported that Fraser once phoned for a taxi to take him from the Load of Hay pub to the Sir Richard Steele – a distance of roughly fifty yards.

Ronald Fraser

Maybe one of the real attractions of the Magdala was the deep-rooted democracy of the clientele. One evening a trio were spotted sitting at a table together chatting about life and the weather – Jim Broadbent, Sylvester McCoy, and Ernie. An Oscar winner, a Dr Who, and the local taxi driver.

Ernie the taxi-driver

 

To see other chapters – go to top of page and, under the main title, click on the small heading ‘Under Ken Wood’

See

Feb 28:           1 South End Green – Prologue

Mar 7:                         2 Where Eagles Dared

Mar 7:             3 Murder and the Magdala

Mar 14:           4 The Hepburns

Mar 14:           5 Private Godfrey and the Dame of Soho

Mar 21:           6 Garland and Mercer

Mar 21:           7 Laureates and Spies

Mar 21:           8 The Silver Fox

Mar 28:           9 The Hoffmeister and Kelly

April 4:           10 The Harvey Brothers

April 4:           11 The Journos

April 11:          12 Five Funerals and a Resurrection

April 18:          13 Scallawag

April 25:         14 Crime and Punishment

May 2:            15 Good Companions

May 9:            16 Sasthi Brata

May 9:            17 Bob the Bag and Cornish Pat

May 16:           18 Eddie Linden

May 16:           19 The Branch Offices

May 23:          20 The Mulls Kid

May 30:          21 The Musos

May 30:          22 Closing Time