Whitstable People: Max Denning
This is in memory of my friend Max Denning, former landlord of the East Kent pub, who died in hospital a few years back after a short illness. He was living in Greece.
Many people in Whitstable will remember him. Indeed, having met him it, you would be hard-put to forget him. He was as loud, as boisterous, as up-front a personality as you can imagine.
Well I say “loud”. When I first knew him he was loud. When he rang the bell and bellowed “last orders!” you could hear it all the way to Sheppey. But after he developed cancer and underwent throat surgery, he went from Whitstable’s loudest landlord to its quietest overnight. From a roar to a croaky whisper.
He began his career in the pub trade as the Chairman of the Whitstable Labour Club, where I worked alongside him for a while. After that he took up residency in a pub in another part of the country, before returning to Whitstable and to the East Kent. The pub is currently undergoing refurbishment, but it's previous layout was entirely down to Max, I believe. For many years after he left it still bore the mark of his personality.
He was fiercely left-wing, bordering on communist, with a great sense of history. He would have made a successful trade union leader. He could quote Karl Marx like a proper leftie preacher, so it's ironic that in his last days he spent his time gambling on the stock market and making a lot of money. He was very good at it.
But he was also an astute observer of the small details of life. Running a pub, for him, was like living inside his own private soap-opera, with beer on tap.
I have several memories of him. I can clearly see him now, one afternoon in the bar of the East Kent, very drunk, having a belly fight with one of the customers. They were bloated with drink, and were charging at each other, shirts off, to balloon off the others' distended belly, roaring with laughter with every bounce.
That was Max. It was a wonder he wasn’t banned from Shepherd Neame pubs rather than being the landlord of one of them. But he was a great charmer and could sell anything to anyone. The bosses at Shepherd Neame were as bowled over by his charm as the rest of us.
Most of all I remember him, glass in hand, raising it in greeting. He was a larger than life character, as forceful as he was generous. The world is made smaller by his loss.
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books
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