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So Long, Eddie Johnson

June 11, 2018
by the gentle author

It is with sadness that I report the passing of Eddie Johnson, legendary publican & celebrated former landlord of the Two Puddings in Stratford, who died last week aged eighty-six

Shirley & Eddie Johnson on their first day behind the bar in 1962

Through four decades, from 1962 until 2000, Eddie Johnson was landlord of the celebrated Two Puddings in Stratford, becoming London’s longest serving licensee in the process and witnessing a transformation in the East End. When Eddie took it on, the Two Puddings was the most notorious pub in the area, known locally as the Butcher’s Shop on account of the amount of blood spilt. Yet he established the Puddings as a prime destination, opening Britain’s first disco and presenting a distinguished roll call of musicians including The Who – though the pub never quite shook off its violent notoriety.

“I’ve had a lot of blows,” Eddie confided to me with a crooked grin, his eyes glinting enigmatically. Even at eighty-six, Eddie retained a powerful and charismatic demeanour – very tall, still limber and tanned with thick white hair. Of the old East End, yet confident to carry himself in any company, Eddie admitted to me he was the first from his side of town to make it into Peter Langan’s Brasserie in Stratton St, mixing with a very different clientele from that in Stratford Broadway. It was indicative of the possibility of class mobility at the time, and there were plenty from the West End who were persuaded to take the trip east and experience the vibrant culture on offer at the Puddings.

“I came from the Old Ford Rd and I suppose you’d refer to it as a slum by today’s standards, but I never thought that because I had a happy childhood, even if we had an outside toilet and went to the bath house each week. The public library was heaven to me, all polished wood and brass, and I got a great love of schoolboys’ adventure stories which made me wish I could go to public school though, of course, I’d have hated it if I did. After I got married and had a son and then another, I had a number of dead end jobs. When I came out of the army, I became involved with a rough crowd. I worked with my brother Kenny organising dances. I was a bit of a hooligan and I got stabbed in a dance hall. But then I found a job as a Tally-clerk in the docks and became involved with the Blue Union – the skilled workers and stevedores. I was the Tally-clerk on Jack Dash’s strike committee. I loved it down there and, though I didn’t make a lot of money, I didn’t care because I loved the freedom. We could more or less do what we wanted.

The licensee of the Two Puddings got in trouble with the police, so Kenny and I bought the lease because we were frightened of losing the dance hall. Since my brother couldn’t hold the licence owing to an earlier court case, I had to take it. Now I didn’t fancy managing a pub and I had been to the Old Bailey for GBH, so I had to be upfront with the police in Stratford but they were horrible. They said,‘We’ve seen you driving around in a flash car,’ and I said, ‘I’l tell you where you can stick your licence!’ But this butcher, Eddie Downes, a huge fat man with a completely bald head who looked like a cartoon butcher, he told me not to worry.  He had a reputation as a grass and he was always boasting about his connections to the police. ‘You’ll still get your meat from me?’ he asked, and three months later we were granted a licence.

We moved into the Puddings and after the opening night, I said, ‘I can’t stand this,’ and then I stayed forty years. I used to come downstairs on a Friday night and look around hoping there weren’t going to be any fights and I’d get all tensed up, but after a few light ales I’d be happy as a sandboy. The place would be packed and we’d be serving beer in wet glasses – it was fairly clean and people didn’t mind. We sold four hundred dozen light ales in a week, nowadays a pub is lucky to sell two dozen. We worked six nights a week plus a fortnight holiday a year and, on Wednesdays, my wife and I used to go up to the West End for a night out – but after forty years, it was tough.

At the end of the sixties, they knocked down a lot of buildings and did a redevelopment in Stratford. We lost all our local trade and the immigrants that came to live there didn’t have a culture of drinking, but we still had our music crowd. It was ear-splitting music really and we were the first pub to have UV. We called the club the Devil’s Kitchen and got a licence till two in the morning, and it was ever so popular. People came from far and wide.”

At the end of the last century, changes in the law required breweries to sell off many of their pubs and the Two Puddings changed hands, resulting in a controversy over discounts offered to publicans and a court case that saw Eddie Johnson thrown out of his job. He retired to Suffolk and organised his stories of life at the Two Puddings into an eloquent memoir. It was the outcome of lifetime’s fascination with literature that began with a passion for schoolboy adventures and led Eddie to read the great novelists during his hours of employment in the London Docks. His first story was printed in The Tally-Clerk at that time, and in later years Eddie famously wrote frequent letters to The Independent. But eventually he realised his ambition to become a writer with the publication of “Tales from the Two Puddings” and I recommend it to you.

Eddie aged nine, 1941

Eddie when he worked in the docks

Early Saturday morning and preparing to open. Eddie behind the bar and George the potman to his right.

Old George the potman.

Shirley Johnson with Rose Doughty, the famous wise-cracking barmaid

Eddie’s sister Doreen (second left) and friends heading upstairs to the Devil’s Kitchen, above the Puddings (photograph by Alf Shead)

Eddie and his brother Kenny with their beloved Uncle John in the Puddings

Saturday night in the Puddings

Joe and Sue, Eddie’s father-in-law and mother-in-law, enjoying a Saturday night in the Puddings

Eddie Johnson (1932-2018)

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. Gart Westerhout permalink
    June 11, 2018

    Lovely article as usual. I looked up the book he is holding as a child , and it is the 1935 Annual of Teddy Tail, who was new to me but likely well known by many of Mr Johnson’s generation (and mine had I grown up in the UK).
    about teddy:
    a copy of the book:

  2. June 11, 2018

    Sit tibi terra levis, Eddie. I’d have loved to go and hear “loud music” at his pub.

  3. June 11, 2018

    RIP Eddie. Thanks for all the good times at TheTwo Puddings.

  4. Celia permalink
    June 11, 2018

    A lovely article and tribute. I got to know Eddie well over these last couple of years and was so terribly saddened and shocked at the news. He was such a warm, welcoming, interesting and inspiring man and I will miss him, as I know many others will too. It was a privilege to be his friend.

  5. julia harrison permalink
    June 11, 2018

    RIP Eddie. A lovely tribute and a wonderful piece of oral history in the making: I would love to have been a fly on the wall at the Broadway disco! I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties which led to his retirement in Suffolk. I hope he derived comfort from his writing and the successful publication of his memoir.

  6. Helen Breen permalink
    June 11, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for yet another life story from the East End. I was interested that Eddie Johnson wrote his memoirs in his later days as “the outcome of lifetime’s fascination with literature that began with a passion for schoolboy adventures and led Eddie to read the great novelists during his hours of employment in the London Docks.”

    Proves that a person doesn’t need a university degree to enjoy the pleasure and benefits of reading…

  7. Matt Johnson permalink
    June 11, 2018

    Thanks for the lovely tribute to my dad. He was a wonderful man and a close friend to his sons as much as a parent. My brother and I spoke with him daily and miss him terribly. He had actually written a prequel to ‘Tales From The Two Puddings’ which I shall be editing and publishing sometime next year. It details his early life growing up in East London, including the Blitz, comical stories from his National Service stint and working down the docks amongst other jobs.

  8. Zeke Manyika permalink
    June 11, 2018

    It’s hard to add anything more than the lovely tributes already paid. Eddie was such a lovely and captivating man.Although I knew his health had been failing I am still in shock at his sudden passing. I just pray his deserving soul will be reunited with his beautiful late wife Shirley and his two wonderful sons Andrew and Eugene. Farewell big man, it was a blessing to be in your orbit.

  9. John Wells permalink
    June 11, 2018

    My band, The Electrons, were playing there one Sunday morning when a fight broke out. Eddie said “keep playing”! We decided not to & as vocalist my mic was unplugged in a second but it took our drummer quite a bit longer to dismantle his kit! Happy days!

  10. June 12, 2018

    So Long, Eddie Johnson — R.I.P.

    Love & Peace

  11. manu permalink
    June 12, 2018

    so upset and sad to know this….so close to Andy’s loss… RIP mr Eddie… sorry Matt and Gerard…

  12. Janet permalink
    June 13, 2018

    Truly sad news. My husband knew Eddie from The Two Puddings days but I only met him once, very briefly, a few years ago.

    He was stepping into a taxi with Matt and my husband and Matt turned and introduced me to his father. My instant and instinctive impression of Eddie, which I remember to this very day, was “Now, here is a quietly elegant man with impeccable manners.” My sorrow for Matt and the rest of his family.

  13. permalink
    June 18, 2018

    I’m really sorry for your dad’s news, Matt J.
    A strong thought to him, to you and your brother …
    RIP Mr Eddie J.

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