Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

TV victory restored some of our traditional values

Pub landlady Karen Murphy took on Rupert Murdoch and won. She's a hero of our times, writes Marina Lewycka

Heaven knows, there's precious little good news around nowadays, what with prices of all the pleasures of life - never mind the essentials in life - going through the roof and the grinning bankers and corporate scamsters running off with our money.

And while we're at it, our phones being hacked and our libraries being whacked and our health service about to be smacked.

Then there's the Prime Minister, who apparently wants us to pay off our credit cards sharpish, because the party is well and truly over.

So isn't it great to read about someone hitting back on our behalf? Reclaiming a little low-cost treat to brighten our day?

And, what's even better, that it's not a celebrity, or - God forbid - a politician, but rather an ordinary woman, a stubborn pub landlady called Karen Murphy.

Karen is the landlady of the Red White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, who stood up to the millionaires of the Premier League at the European Court on behalf of her beleaguered customers - and won.

In the process, she asserted her right to screen Premiership football via a Greek-based company for only £800 a year - as compared with the crippling £8,400 a year Sky had initially tried to charge her.

The local pub, tavern, bar - call it what you may - has long had a central role in our cultural life, as a place we think of as home.

It is a realm of misrule where naughty things can happen, but order is restored by closing time; a place of intimacy where lonely people find companionship, romantic people find love - a place where you can meet familiar faces and travellers passing through, where you can get merry, but not too drunk.

And the key figure in all of this, the matriarch and the magician who holds this show together night after night after night, is the pub landlady.

That's Karen Murphy, wearing a modest cardi over a skimpy T-shirt, winking at her regulars and laughing her head off. The pub landlady straddles a peculiar role as the arbitrator between merriment and decorum, between drunkenness and getting home safely.

From Shakespeare's Mistress Quickly to Stella Price of the Rover's Return, she has to be mother, headmistress and madame.

Tough and tender at the same time, she can confront a drunk, comfort a dying man, match-make, mediate, listen and pull pints - and all at the same time.

In my student days, I had the good fortune to live next door to my local, the glorious Old Swan. We regulars downed lukewarm beer and played cribbage, all under the watchful eye of Mrs Burrows, who propped her no-nonsense bosom on the bar, forbade swearing, and told us when we'd had enough.

It was a traditional pub, where the main entertainment was talk - though singing, dancing, pub games and canoodling all had their place.

Stories, ideas, gossip and news swilled around with the booze, all mixed together, so you'd stagger into the frosty night not quite knowing which was which, but promising you'd be back to find out.

Some people - myself included - regret the usurping of pub conversation by a big screen where men in shorts run after a little ball.

Times have changed and, okay, you might not find today's Samuel Pepys, Dylan Thomas or James Joyce hanging out in the TV lounge of the Red White and Blue; Premiership football is not The Canterbury Tales and Wayne Rooney is less entertaining than Falstaff.

But never mind nostalgia, Karen Murphy is a modern-day landlady in the great tradition, standing up to and for her customers.

They wheeled out the big legal guns against her, but she didn't back down. She stood tall in the face of gross profiteering and bullying on the part of the football establishment and she won.

Oh, and she gave the Murdochs a passing poke in the eye. Hurray!

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