Campaign for Real Ale

Tributes

Here we pay tribute to those who have contributed so much to the Reading CAMRA branch over the years but are sadly no longer with us. So, raise a glass and have a read. Entries are in chronological order.

David McKerchar - 2020 (by Quinten Taylor)

Dave McKerchar David 'Dave Mack' McKerchar, a CAMRA stalwart at local, regional and national level, sadly passed away in early April at the age of 71.

One of the many fired-up in the early 70’s by the neglect of traditional ale, he remembered that you had to take your chances that beer on a hand pump really was real ale and not keg beer;

“You asked the landlord how his beer was sold.” Dave said. “If he didn’t tell you, you didn’t drink there. If he told you and chatted about his beer, then you knew you were on to a good landlord…if it didn’t make you fart or belch, it was good enough to drink!”

Dave was a very early CAMRA member, joining the Campaign in 1973 and was membership number 376 and thought “this drinking thing” sounded like a good idea.

He subsequently threw himself into CAMRA. Amongst many achievements he;

  • was instrumental in setting up the South Oxfordshire branch of CAMRA
  • served on the CAMRA National Executive between late 1977 - 1983
  • was Chairman for the 1983 National AGM Organising Committee
  • was instrumental in establishing the CAMRA Real Ale tent at the Woodcote Veteran Transport Rally - an event that continues to this day after almost 45 years
  • instituted the Thames Valley Drinker magazine in 1979 after this Branch stopped producing Newsletters. Dave single-handedly produced the two first editions; not just writing it but typing it, drawing cartoons and other artwork and getting it printed and distributed
  • was heavily involved in setting up the Reading Beer Festival, and was famous for predicting that cider would never sell; Reading Beer Festival of course became the national venue for CAMRA National Cider Champion judging

Dave contributed many years to the Reading & Mid Berkshire CAMRA branch, joining as a committee member in 1988. An irascible character when the mood took him, Dave holds a place in Reading, and possibly all CAMRA branch history, by being the only person to ever walk out of a meeting they were chairing! Another story is relayed by John Dearing; “On one occasion Dave came storming into a branch meeting and shouted in his broadest Scots; “Whooo was responsible for putting the Royal Oak at Shinfield into the GBG?” Someone who shall remain nameless admitted to being the guilty party. Dave responded; “You bloody fool! They’re on blanket pressure!” and out he stormed!”

He was a well-known face in the well-regarded ale outlets of Reading; indeed he even spent a few years after retirement doing bar work in the Nags Head in Russell Street. One evening he gave chase to two teenagers who had stolen a glass from the pub and, belying the age and weight gap between he and they, apprehended them at the top of the street.

Outside of CAMRA, Dave worked in the Courage Architects' Department based in Castle Street, Reading, where he helped to design pubs. Paul Geehan recalls;

"There were many times when we would meet up and walk along the Kennet to one of the many pubs along that river for a lunchtime session. Dave knew most of the landlords and tenants and there would always be good conversation about pubs, beers and people; he was the sort of person who made friends easily, but he had the gift of persuasion because he combined authority and knowledge with a pleasant manner."

After Courage got out of running pubs, Dave worked freelance for a number of years and was engaged in designing a number of the Tap & Spile chain. He then joined Morlands (shortly thereafter to become Greene King) in 1997 - they told him there was a conflict of interests in his carrying on with chairing Reading CAMRA and he was told that he had to stand down! Despite his obviously Scottish roots Dave was also a keen supporter of Reading FC and followed them avidly around the country, allowing him to drink great beer in great pubs around the UK as a happy consequence. He was one of those rare people who could tell you, instantly, the best pubs to drink at in almost any given town or city.

Dave is survived by his wife, Ann.

Martin Hoare - 2019 (by Sue Thirlaway)

Born in Newport (Gwent), Martin studied Physics at Brasenose College, Oxford. Later in life he took a Law Degree with the Open University, one module of this being Welsh in remembrance of his roots. He then proceeded to take on the taxman in court, representing himself, and won!

He was frequently found propping up the bar in the Alehouse, particularly when Wales were playing rugby, and had been doing so since it became the Hobgoblin. He was involved in our local CAMRA branch and, at the time of his death, held the position of Vice Chairman. His involvement with the Reading Beer and Cider Festival dates back to the very beginning, working as Finance Steward. In later years he held other stewarding roles, was a valuable member of the Foreign Beer Bar team and provided and operated the PA system, which he used to good effect to run the pub quiz.

Martin loved attending science fiction conventions, where he provided sound systems and ran the real ale bar. He also loved Belgium and Belgian beer and visited Ostend a few times a year. There he had a group of good friends and was involved in De Oostendse Bierjutters, a local beer supporters club.

Martin was authorised to give firework displays, and did so until fairly recently with a group of loyal friends. They would all meet up in the pub afterwards and greet each other with the shout “ten”, holding up their hands to prove they still had all their fingers. Yet another of Martin’s talents was pickling onions with the help of his glove puppet Doris Panda, and he entered these into the Retreat’s annual pickled onion contest.

Martin was a real character who knew an extraordinarily large number of people, all of whom will miss him greatly. He died twenty years to the day after his beloved wife Jean.

Arthur Pounder - 2018 (by Martin Hoare)

It is with great sadness that Arthur Pounder, our recently elected co-chairman, suddenly passed away in January 2018.

Arthur stepped up to the plate to fill a key committee role at our recent “Save the Branch” emergency meeting. In the short time he was co-chairman he showed energy and leadership. He started to revitalise the branch and worked to remove procedural obstacles to the Reading Beer Festival. The really high attendance at a branch meeting – some 35 people – is a testament to this.

As well as his branch work Arfs worked at many beer festivals. With Scott Nichol he had been joint organiser of the trade session at Reading for six years. He was chief steward at Maidenhead and Ealing (call name 'Wimpy'). He also worked on many other festivals including the annual charity beer festival at Twyford.

We offer our condolences to his family and friends. We will miss him.

Ian Mihell - 2016 (by Dave McKerchar)

It is with very great sadness that one of CAMRA’s pioneers – Ian Mihell – passed away after losing his battle with cancer.

Ian will be best known to the older members of the Campaign, but I’m sure that many branch members in Sussex, Suffolk and Berkshire will also remember Ian with much fondness. He was always keen to be involved with local and national issues and he was very active on the social side as well. Ian joined CAMRA in the early 1970s and he recalled his first ever brewery trip to Gales at Horndean with a party from NALGO – his career was based in local government finance and his last position before retirement was as Head of Finance at Bracknell Forest Council.

However, it was in the early days that Ian’s skills were influential in helping the fledgling campaign overcome some financial difficulties and as a result he became Chairman of the Finance Committee on the National Executive for several years. This is where I met him – I became Chairman of Branches Committee also on the N.E. – and we shared many a pleasant pint together. He always taught me to get my “bag on a bed” when we went away for meetings, as in those days we stayed with local branch members so it was good policy to know exactly where you were kipping that night!

Ian moved from the South Coast to a new job in Ipswich before making his mark at Bracknell where again he was heavily involved in local branch activities. Members from the London area will also remember Ian as he would often join their pub crawls and other campaigns and socials. When he retired to Bournemouth he became an active member of the local East Dorset branch and also helped the Pub Heritage Group with surveys and information.

Apart from CAMRA and his career, Ian was very keen on good food, cycling, football (he was a Reading fan), all forms of transport (especially trains and canal boats as they took him all over the country to sample new beers!) and he served as a local councillor for a while as well as being involved with the ambulance service. He was a very sociable and friendly person and I don’t think I ever heard a bad word from him in all the years I knew him and I’m sure his many other friends would say likewise. He was a CAMRA pioneer and he was the type of person whose dedication helped us become what we are today. One of his many endearing features was that despite his senior roles in the past he never threw his weight around at meetings and never bragged about his past achievements.

Ian is survived by his wife Sandy who has been at his side all through his illness and who was a perfect match for Ian – except that she enjoys a glass of wine as opposed to a pint or two of real ale! Ian Mihell was just one of those lovely blokes that you could easily enjoy a beer with and listen to his sound and sensible reasoning on all kinds of topics. He was a gentleman and without any doubt will be very sadly missed by all of us who knew him.

Local CAMRA members gave their reactions to the sad news:

“Ian was a very nice man and an unsung hero of CAMRA’s early years. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that CAMRA might not be around today if it hadn’t been for Ian’s work on the NE finance side. I’d like to pay tribute to the great support and help I had from Ian when I was Branch Chairman in the long-off days (which not everyone will remember) when Berkshire South East was a part of the Reading and Mid Berks Branch. Ian took on the difficult job of coordinating the GBG entries and did it with his usual efficiency. He contributed to CAMRA in many other and more important ways and will be much missed.” John Dearing

“I found Ian knowledgeable and supportive when I was BSE Chairman, despite the fact that every time I launched into something he could be relied on to bang his empty glass on the table and shout 'Beer Break!' I think one of his hobbies was winding me up! His knowledge of which bus went where and when was amazing, not just locally but in many areas of the country. I think the only Regional Pub Crawl Ian missed was this year's – he emailed a few days before to say he was not well enough. I had hoped he just might make the next.” Sue Thirlaway

“I was chatting to Ian once on a Reading Beer Festival helpers’ trip. We didn’t know each other before and had just found out that we both worked at Bracknell Forest Council. ‘Ah’, he said, ‘you should meet Sandie our branch secretary. She works at the council too.’ A few days later I e-mailed this Sandie, not knowing who she was other than a fellow CAMRA member. We went for lunch and never looked back, and have now been married for 13 years. If it wasn’t for Ian we’d probably never have met.” Phil Gill

RIP Ian Mihell 1941 – 2016.

Russ Wood - 2015 (by Laurence Hansford)

So many people knew Russ Wood and shock hardly expresses the reaction when they learned that he had passed away on Friday the 17th April 2015. Feeling unwell, he went into hospital on Easter Monday; after tests they discovered he had advanced cancer and it was all over in eleven days. I suppose one can at least take some comfort from the fact that it didn’t prolong the agony unnecessarily. He would have been only 59 in the July.

Russ was one of those cheerful characters liked by everybody. Being a Yorkshire lad, he was known for saying what he thought, but at least you always knew where you were with him. Russ also had a bit of an impish trait as, trading on his Yorkshire roots, he used to enjoy giving the impression that he was extremely parsimonious whereas, in reality, he was extremely generous.

Russ was a man of many talents and interests, the main ones (apart from his work as a Chartered Engineer) being CAMRA, Real Ale and pubs; football, Reading Royals in particular; horology (electrical clocks and precision timekeeping); TVR cars and any antique electrical or mechanical thing. Oh, and loud music. However Real Ale was VERY high up the list and an integral part of his life to the point that, after his wife Carrie, his family and work, I would say it has been right at the very top for the whole of the last 40 years. His CAMRA membership number was 000413.

I first met Russ in August 1975, less than a year after the establishment of CAMRA in the Reading area, in the middle of a large sloping field beside the A4 at Knowl Hill. Before CAMRA came on the scene in the early 70s, beer festivals were virtually unknown in the UK and even in 1975 there were only a handful in places like Ealing, Cambridge and Peterborough, usually held in Town Halls or similar buildings. Our branch was looking to hold some sort of event and got to hear that a local pub had lost money selling Keg Whitbread Trophy from a tent at the then popular Knowl Hill Steam Fair. To cut a long story short, our offer to set up an event with a range of cask ales was accepted and we were provided with a canvas marquee.

Russ, it seems, had got a summer job with ICL, then a big manufacturer of computers, in Reading. Somehow he had got to hear of our “Beer Festival”, found his way to Knowl Hill and offered to help. Soon he was spiling and tapping casks and coming up with suggestions on how to keep the beer cool on what that year were very hot summer days. Luckily, John Keeley, the man behind the steam fair, was a vegetable and potato merchant with his yard nearby and was able to lend us lots of used hessian potato sacks which we soaked and put over the beer. Equally luckily, nobody noticed the stink of old potatoes!

This was ground breaking stuff. Apart from the fact that, as far as I know, any sort of beer festival had never been held west of Ealing, Brakspears – then the holy grail of real ale – were extremely uneasy about their live beers being sold in the middle of a hot dusty field and almost refused to supply us. So concerned was Mike Parsons, the Head Brewer, that he paid us a visit and was rather relieved to find all his casks nicely cooled with wet sacks, sitting on nice solid scaffolding. All the same he insisted on siphoning some out from each one and refilling with an extra dose of finings! Any way the event was a success and we became a permanent fixture at Knowl Hill.

Next year Russ was back again and got stuck into looking after the beer. Although he came from far away he sort of became part of the Knowl Hill team. I don’t remember the exact details but I understand that when Russ finished his degree sponsored by ICL they then announced they didn’t have any jobs going. Casting around for something else, Computer Analysts & Programmers Ltd (popularly known as CAP) offered him a job in their Reading office, which I like to think he accepted because of his involvement with the Steam Fair. Thus he became a member of the Reading & Mid Berkshire CAMRA branch, having already made a name for himself as an expert in looking after beer in a field.

Over the years he held many posts within the branch but from that time in the late 70s it was always Russ who was in charge of the beer at any event we did right up until the first few of the current Reading Beer Festivals. When we first set up at Knowl Hill there was no central pool of CAMRA beer festival expertise – in fact hardly any expertise at all. All organisers of such events were on their own and, like us, had to make it up as they were going along. It would be fair to say that methods pioneered by Russ back then have been handed down and are still in use at the Reading Beer Festival as well as having permeated outwards to be used by many other branches.

Having soon discovered that we shared many interests (though, I have to admit, not football) besides CAMRA, pubs and beer, Russ and I became firm friends and I shall miss his banter terribly. It goes without saying that his wife Carrie and his children Cat and Mike will too. Russ’s love of beer and pubs undoubtedly stems from the fact that his parents ran pubs “up north” when he was a child and many will know that this tradition lives on: Mike can usually be found behind the bar in the Nags Head, one of Reading’s leading Real Ale pubs.

My image of Russ will always be of him in an old tee shirt and shorts complemented either by a blue lab coat or his black apron with pouches bulging with spiles and bungs, holding a brass beer tap in one hand and brandishing a mallet in the other.

Gill Ford - 2011 (by Brian Jones)

Late in the autumn of 2011, after a determined fight, Gill Ford lost her battle against her second bout of cancer. She was a woman of many talents, and only 42 when she died. We remember her as being passionate and committed to the things she held dear - choral singing, her Christian beliefs, clog dancing, her friends and, of course, real ale.

Professionally, she was a dedicated employee of the Global Markets International Willis Group, working in their Special Contingency Risk section. She played a very active role in the Inter-Governmental Organisations team, travelling widely throughout Europe to visit clients and advise them on their insurance contract for their staff members. She was much loved by both clients and colleagues.

One benefit for Gill of working in London was that she was able to join the Lloyds Choir – made up mainly of those associated with Lloyds the underwriters. The Lloyds Choir also allowed Gill to combine her love of singing with her love of beer. After evening rehearsals, a few of them would pop around the corner to The Old Tea Warehouse in Aldgate, which despite being owned by Greene King, had 4 changing beers beside their ubiquitous IPA. Gill was also a devotee of West Gallery music - the sacred music of the Georgian era. She would often return from their annual August week at Dartington Hall in Devon with stories of sampling the local ales.

Gill’s love of folk songs, folk dance and especially clog, were another example of her combining her beer and other interests. It was, through folk dance, that I first met Gill, not yet a teenager, and her family. After that, our paths would occasionally cross at folk events, then more frequently after she came to Reading in 1987. She went into Insurance because her parents thought that it would best fit her strong negotiation skills – as witnessed by certain shopkeepers in Dunstable, her home town.

Gill and I were both members of the Reading Clog & Step Dance Group and the Aldbrickham Clog & Step Dancers – for the latter of which, I was leader for many years. Gill was a far better clog dancer than I was. She had a crisp, controlled style, being incredibly light on her feet.

Gill had joined CAMRA in 2000 and in early 2004, began a 6½ year period as Campaigns Officer for the Reading & Mid Berks branch committee. From 2005 to 2007, she was also Membership Secretary. It was Gill that persuaded me to become more involved with the local beer festival and, in 2006, she and I were appointed joint Staffing Officers for the Reading Beer & Cider Festival. She held that role until her death.

Her friends will remember Gill as a very caring, determined and practical individual, always willing to go the extra mile for CAMRA and the beer festival and always ready for a beer. She held a strong Christian faith and, if she had a dark side, it would be her love of stouts and porters.

Gill’s life and her contribution to CAMRA were celebrated at the 2012 Reading Beer & Cider Festival with the festival glasses displaying the toast, “Cheers Gill!” and her photo put up in the Alehouse. Next time you are in there, look up at her on the wall opposite the bar, and perhaps those of us who remember her, might echo the toast, “Cheers Gill”.

Alan Tunnicliffe - 2009 (by Katrina Fletcher)

Alan Dale Tunnicliffe, known to many as “Shirley”, died suddenly aged 37 on 18 January 2009 at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Remembered by all who met him as a generous and infinitely kind man, Alan was an active member of CAMRA, involved in the organisation of Reading Beer Festival, an integral part of the stewarding team there and at several others around the country.

Alan grew up in Bracknell, attending the Pines School and then Ranelagh. At 18 he went to Huddersfield University and whilst there, was elected president of the student union. One of the many letters his parents received in the days after his death spoke of Alan's excellence in this role, one of the best presidents the university has ever had.

From Huddersfield he went on to do a PGCE at the Institute of Education, part of the University of London, following in his mother and her father's footsteps. Alan was a born teacher, always keen to share his knowledge. He did a lot of training and, the weekend before he died, ran a hands-on primary science workshop at Reading University where the UK science education conference was being held. His enthusiasm and excitement just before he went off to do it was clear and those who attended said he was brilliant. I can well believe it.

With a degree in transport management, Alan worked for a long time in the railway industry. His particular love was for the underground. One of the snippets of “inside information” he imparted was “When travelling on the tube, allow 2 minutes per tube station and 5 minutes per intersection.” It is a rule of thumb that rarely fails.

Alan's other great loves included aircraft, books, rugby and of course real ale. When he moved from Derby to Reading nearly five years ago it was The Hobgoblin where he found his place and became a dear friend to so many very quickly. He was an invaluable member of staff, giver of advice, hugs and practical help.

Alan lived his life in a way few of us will ever match. Even when the world was bleak his enthusiasm, determination, courage and unending capacity for love shone out. The severity of his heart condition was barely touched upon; some were aware of its existence but he never let it dim his outlook.

The number of lives he touched was clear at his funeral on 9 February. Holy Trinity Church in Bracknell seats 350 yet people kept pouring in and, when even the choir stalls were full, people stood at the back and in the aisles.

Alan will always be remembered for his smile - cheeky and boyish, and for his sense of humour - droll and occasionally filthy. He was charming, caring, sensitive and so full of fun. Already quite tall he, like Tigger, always seemed bigger because of his bounces.

We will always miss Alan, but we are all so proud to have known him and to be able to call him our friend.

Dick Hirst - 2008 (by Sue Thirlaway)

Dick Hirst It was with great regret that we learnt of the death of a long term local CAMRA member. Dick Hirst sadly suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 63. Dick was for many years a member of Reading & Mid Berks branch, then later Berkshire South East, and had the distinction of being CAMRA Life Member number 4! He was a familiar face in his local, the Old Manor at Bracknell, as well as the Nag’s Head and the Butler in Reading, and the Wenlock Arms in Hoxton. His bi-annual pub crawls were legendary.

Friends from his childhood home of Hastings always knew him as Harry, and his colleagues at the Met Office tended to call him Richard. He was also called Biggles at one time, presumably from his days as resident meteorologist at various RAF camps around the world.

Friends from CAMRA, Hastings, the Met Office and his favourite pubs gathered at Easthampstead Crematorium in Bracknell to bid him farewell.

Peter Smith - 2007 (by John Dearing)

Picture of Peter J SmithAll his many friends were shocked and saddened to hear of the death early of Peter J. Smith. Peter was brought up in Kent and attended Tonbridge School. He lived in the USA for some time before settling first in London, then in Reading. Part of Reading’s attraction seemed to be the reopening by Hop Back Brewery of a pub called the Hop Leaf. This became Peter’s local (as it literally was) and was almost certainly where he drank his last pint.

By his own account Peter began drinking beer at an early age. In his view the best way of campaigning for real ale was drinking it, but he was also an energetic worker at beer festivals such as Battersea and Reading, where he seemed to be able to work virtually non-stop.

Peter’s other interests included cricket (Yorkshire), soccer (Chelsea), opera, horse racing and reading. In 2004, with Peter Bowyer, he instigated a series of vintage bus trips to country pubs, which proved to be highly popular. Before his death, Peter had planned that this summer’s first outing should go to the Black Horse at Checkendon and the Bell at Aldworth. The trip went ahead with 39 people aboard, who drank a toast to Peter’s memory.

About eighty people attended Peter’s funeral service at St Mary’s Church in Reading and enjoyed several pints afterwards at the Hop Leaf, including his beloved Summer Lightning.

Colin Lanham - 2006 (by John Wood)

Colin Lanham Colin was a multi-talented and very popular man who died suddenly on 29 December 2006, at the age of 57.

Colin joined CAMRA in the early years and for more than a decade was a tireless campaigner for the organisation. He was Central Southern Regional Director for over three years, until February 2004, and during that time was an inspirational leader. As Reading and Mid Berks CAMRA was very large, he spearheaded the creation of the Berkshire South East branch in 2001.

Colin was the editor of the most recent edition of the local beer guide for Berkshire and was the Brewery Liaison Officer for Brakspears for many years. He fought passionately to save the Henley brewery from closure and was bitterly disappointed when the brewery closed in spite of the fierce opposition that he had been instrumental in arousing.

At the time of his death Colin was busy organising the first Ascot Racecourse Beer Festival, as by then he was a member of Berkshire South East and was their membership secretary and webmaster.