“IS THAT Cider Bob or Whisky Bob?” asks Leslie May, landlord of the Hallamshire pub. In the Hallamshire - just as in the theme song for the American sitcom Cheers – everybody knows your name, even if it’s a bonkers made-up one.
But landlord Leslie, aged 65, from Commonside, does more than invent daft names for his customers.
He’s a counsellor, student mentor, socialite, sports expert and pork butty maestro – and all from behind the modest wooden bar and beer pumps.
In 31 years behind the bar, Leslie Joseph May has seen it all. But after three of the best decades of his life pulling pints and having his ear bent, he’s called it a day. And what a life it’s been.
“I’ve had an absolutely brilliant time,” said Leslie.
“It’s been a pleasure being a landlord at this pub for 31 years, I’ve always had marvellous staff and I love the customers. As a pub landlord you have to be able to talk a bit about everything and keep your opinions to yourself. No-one wants to listen to a landlord going on.”
And the range of customers is staggering, from students to former intelligence workers with OBEs.
“Our oldest customer was Sid Smith, who died recently at the age of 89. He was awarded an OBE for his work as an army intelligence officer and he was a lovely man.”
Leslie clearly gets quite close to his customers.
“I started off in pubs 35 years ago with the Roebuck Tavern but back then we didn’t have an indoor toilet for the ladies, they had to walk down a dark alley past the men’s toilet so I used to let them use our bathroom.
“But one day I was in the bath and the lock hadn’t clicked and some poor girl walked in. When I came back into the bar she went bright red with embarrassment.”
Eventually, he upgraded his pub and had some facilities built.
“Back in the 70s people were starting to drink more spirits and wine but to sell wine and spirits you had to get a special licence, but one of the conditions of being granted the relevant licence was that you had an indoor loo put in.”
It’s been a long time since his customers had to walk outside to use the lavatory - or indeed since they’ve seen Leslie in the bath - but the characters are still the same.
“You always get characters in a pub. There used to be a home for adults with learning difficulties over the road and when it closed down these adults were sent into housing nearby, with visits from carers.
“There was one man who would come into the pub at 12 noon and stay until 7.30pm on the dot. One day, I spotted that he had been patiently waiting at the bar but his finger was dripping with blood. I said ‘what have you done?’ He said: ‘I trapped it in the bar over the road so I told them I had to come and see Leslie.’ Pubs are important places for people – there are always people here to talk to.”
Some of Leslie’s customers are students.
“There was a group of lads living next door and they were great. There were five of them from all over the country and they were in here 24/7. They were proper lad lads, and I don’t think they wanted to class themselves as students.
“But when it came to graduating one of them said he wasn’t going to bring his parents. So I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and said: ‘Do you realise that they’ve scrimped and saved to put you through university and this is the most important day for them and you’re not going to bring them’.”
The student took Leslie’s words seriously - and after graduation the student’s father visited him and thanked him. “He also commented on the state of the lads’ house,” recalled Leslie. “He said ‘I can’t believe they live like that. It’s disgusting’. So I said: ‘I think I’ve got something to tell you: they’ve been cleaning that house for four days for your arrival.”
The lads still visit Leslie every time they pass through Sheffield. “They’re all in high-flying jobs now – directors of finance and all sorts.”
So what’s next for the retired landlord? “I’m only moving four doors down. I’ll be back here next week!”
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