Leary drinkers in a flat roofed pub downing pint after pint while women blast out ‘Roll out the barrel’ on a karaoke machine, was what treated viewers in a documentary on Britain’s toughest pubs in the noughties.
With the boom of satellite channels in the nineties and noughties, in 2004, Sky 3 produced a show called ‘The Toughest Pubs in Britain’. Whether you remember it or not, it certainly shned a light on some of the dodgier drinking holes that litter towns and cities across the nation.
Each episode would delve into the seedier side of a couple of pubs that had made a name for themselves as ‘tough boozers’ as the show’s producers would get prime anecdotes from a motley crew of patrons. No doubt they were encouraged to share their most lurid tales as colorfully as possible.
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One pub on the whistle-stop tour that featured in the third series was Manchester’s own, Billy Greens. Now demolished, Billy Greens in Collyhurst was once the center of life on the estate.
Named after renowned local boxer boxer and well-known pub landlord, Billy Green, it’s fair to say the pub had a reputation. The pub closed in 2011 and was being abandoned and burned out, eventually falling victim to the bulldozer. Where the pub used to stand there’s now just a patch of wasteland left in its place.
The episode featuring Billy Greens starts with the show’s narrator introducing the pub. The narrator says: “Here we are again in the traditional British boozer; a local pub for local people. A center for the community. A place to meet old friends and mix with like minded souls – fat chance!”
The narrator adds: “Let’s continue our journey with a trip to sunny Manchester, and if you dare, to the notorious Collyhurst estate.”
The episode kicks off with an interview with one male drinker who has a pair of sunglasses perched on the top of his head. He immediately sets the tone of what’s to come: “I call it Beirut, if you’ve not got a car burnt out outside your house in the morning you’ve had a good night.”
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He continues: “We’ve been in jail all our lives, so f*****g what, you win some you lose some. I’ve been stabbed eight times mate, eight times and survived.”
Back to the narrator who giving further details on the pub’s history, says: “It’s an intimidating boozer that prides itself on a hard reputation; a place to meet tough guys and former villains, many who have spent more time behind bars than even the most dedicated landlords – welcome to Billy Greens.”
Another “ex-villain” is introduced who lights and cigarette before offering his slice of local wisdom: “It’s quite a known fact that in Collyhurst and the surrounding area, you were either a boxer, a footballer or a thief. I took the Collyhurst way – the villain way. I’ve done time in Holland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland twice, Germany twice.”
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An older gray haired ex con then says: “I’ve been locked up for electrocuting people. I was a minder for major people, and I used to straighten people up.”
The scene cuts to a sunny afternoon with drinkers smoking, drinking and joking outside the pub. The narrator explains it was the traditional Collyhurst Bank Holiday reunion when all the “lovable rogues brought up on the estate have come back to their favorite drinking hole to rub shoulders with the locals”.
Perhaps the warm weather and the constantly flowing pints prompts one local to offer the following anecdote: “The funniest thing I saw in this pub here was a mate of mine, coming back from United and Leeds away. Coming back from the game they’d nicked a sheep off the moors.They brought the sheep back to the pub on a lead.
“This other guy who was in the pub booted the sheep, and his mate had a crossbow behind the bar. He shot the crossbow at the guy that booted the sheep and it went right through his arm ‘ere his.
“And he’s wriggling about on the floor. So you’ve got like a sheep on the floor there, and you’ve got this geezer with an arrow in his arm. That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in here, we all just hit the f*****g deck mate, it was just like so funny it was like, wow.”
Back inside the pub and another drinker with a large scar running from his mouth to his ear explained its origin: “All it was is a pint flying my way, nothing to do with me, just glanced off the side of my face, man, that’s all it was. This old guy went ‘oi’ and I went [puts his hand to his cheek] and my tongue come out of my face, I had to put it back in.”
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Another of the pub’s locals says: “In Billy’s at the moment there’s a lot of these villains, a lot of them might be on the run. A lot have come from different countries, they’ve emigrated and come back, but they’re on the run. But they’re all good people.”
The narrator then says the jolly mood in the pub turns sour when it comes to one controversial topic – “grasses”.
One smoking ex-con offers his take on the subject: “Any grass that even got a hint that he was a grass would be terrified, absolutely terrified, and would have to leave with his family.”
Another says: “Every pub in Manchester is pretty rough, we don’t like f*****g grasses in Manchester, especially landlords. We don’t s**t on our own doorsteps – well I certainly don’t and neither do my pals.”
At the end of the episode, the narrator sums up Billy Greens before the documentary turns his eye onto another unfortunate ‘tough pub’ in some other corner of Britain: “So be warned, because if your tongue is set wagging by a few swift halves , you may lose it together at this genuine hard man’s pub, Billy Greens.”