Interview with
Harry King in The Approach Tavern
with Sally Musgrove
4th September 1998


Where were you born and where?

28th of August 1922 in Bethnal Green.

How long have you been associated with the Approach Tavern?

About 70 years. There is a photograph of your father in the bar, was he the landlord? Yes, that was taken just after the war.
When did the pub first open?

I have just read a book that said that Approach Road existed in 1881, we used to be number 49 but now we are number 47, because they have probably built more houses.

Why is the road called The Approach?

Queen Victoria came this way when she came to open Victoria Park and this road is the approach to the main gates.

Did you take over as landlord from your father?

Yes with my mum at first and then I took it over.

What are your thoughts about the changes to the pub, now that it has also become a gallery?

Well I was here when it first happened but Julian is landlord now. It has gradually worked its way up, when we had the first opening night we were astounded because we have never had anything like that, there were thousands of people. Of course the type of customer has changed a bit, the regulars can't make them out but before the gallery opened there was Sally (Musgrove) and other artists in here.Things had gradually changed, one of the first people was called Dave King, he found the studios in Robinson Road. There were originally brush people there and then it became a bed factory ( Steeles the people who invented the Z Bed), then they went into liquidation. Everyone around here worked for Steeles at some time. Then it was empty being a Crown Property and Dave King must have seen it, thought about it and invited some artists over. But then it became a company or charity and now they are the biggest ones, Acme.Sally lives in the house where my mum was born in Approach Road.One of the people involved early on was called Janet Ludlow and she ended up as Mayor of Tower Hamlets.She is now leader of the Liberal Democrats and still has a studio around here. A lot of boxing people used to come in here. There used to be lots of boys clubs but Mrs Thatcher closed them down she wanted them to go to evening classes instead. Repton which is University House now was a famouse boxing club, its where "Which" the magazine started, its a shame its all flats now.York Hall is still there but next door in the Drill Hall is where my father used to teach boxing. That is the police station now. Victoria Park Square is where Moseley before the war had all his rallies of the British Fascist Party. did the pub get hit by bombs? Yes look at the photographs, one night there was a string of bombs and one hit the pub. The ceilings are original upstairs but all the rest of it is new. We had one bedroom left upstairs that my dad used to sleep in and they put me in a room across the road. My old aunt was in her eighties when they said they were going to knock the houses down across the road (Approach Road). There was the LCC and the Crown properties and two women one 86 and one 85 who were so scared by this that they both died within a day of each other (one over the Mile End and one in The Chest Hospital).

They were all supposed to be demolished werent they?

Yes thats what happened to my aunt,frightened by it after living their all their lives, and look they are still there.

The Chest Hospital is still here?

Yes it had its 150 year anniversary this year.

Sally:Do you remember the man who had 23 children?

Yes, Mills

Sally:he was in the Chest hospital for three weeks and was told no alcohol or cigarettes

Yes he came out of the chest straight in here for a drink went out the back and dropped down dead. I worked in the chest hospital as ARP in 1939.

What different breweries have there been?

It was a Berkley Perkins a Dr.Johnson brewery originally, then it expanded to a brewery in Egypt and one in Australia, and then I think they went up the wall. They sold out to Courage. Port and the beers used to come in barrels I used to have to deal with it downstairs. We always kept real ale even when keg came in. First pub my dad had was The Blue Platter in Stepney that was in the 1890's, we have always been in pubs.

Sally: There used to be lots of cinemas around here?

Yes , yes lots but mostly closed down now. There are more galleries now. I want to know how all these artists make a living, there wasn't one gallery or one studio and now we are invaded.We cant see how they make a living apart from teaching.

Sally:You used to put artists work up

Yes we had a few here.

Sally: Do you remember the man that wanted you to show the academic life drawings and you said to him that they were a bit old fashioned couldn't he do something like Andy Warhol!

Yes I only said it to wind him up because he didn't think I knew anything.

What do you think your fathers response would be to having a gallery upstairs?

Before this I had alternative comedy, Lee Hurst and co.We had Jo Brand and all of them. Jo Brands a cry baby, she got barracked and it made her cry.

Sally: There have been lots of films made here too?

Ive lost count, a lot of interviews done here. There was Alan Bates and Gary Oldman with an Alsation, more recently was Sean Bean in the film about the gold heist. We also had so many churches along here that the street was swept twice on Sundays. We used to have outside toilets before the "Red Room' was there and there used to be a policeman called Blossom who used to come on his beat and we used to have to take him a pint of mild and bitter out to drink in the toilet.Now they come and want gin and tonics with ice and lemon.Everything changes you see, everything. There must be quite glamorous people here now at the openings. Oh yes you can see that by their red and green hair, its nice what a change! I can remember openings years ago in the Bonner Gallery round the corner. They used to give free drinks and people would come in here afterwards drunk as a lord and steal the old posters and adverts that I had up from years ago.I used to see the same ones every time, freeloaders.That has been finished now. I don't see those people or type of people now.

Notes: Harry King now lives in a flat in the East End having sold The Approach Tavern to Jake Millers mother and step father. Harry helps out daily in the bar. The new landlord is called Julian.

Other Educated Persons
Artists and Art Organisations in the East End of London 1972 to present

Map of Tower Hamlets