Legendary Dirty Duck landlady Pam Harris was laid to rest after a touching last journey past the pub
Well-known RSC actors Dame Harriet Walter, Guy Henry and Alun Armstrong were among mourners, including her close family and many friends, attending Pam Harris’ funeral at Oakley Wood Crematorium last Monday.
Legendary Dirty Duck landlady Pam was laid to rest after a touching last journey past the pub that became a second home to many under her 30-year tenure.
Pam died aged 88 following a long illness on 25th July. She is remembered as a larger-than-life Mistress Quickly-type figure who regularly barred people from the Dirty Duck, but was also very caring and motherly.
Her cortege came down Sheep Street just after midday and passed along Waterside on a dazzling late-summer day. As the funeral director walked at a stately pace in front of the hearse bearing Pam’s coffin, applause erupted from those lining the pavements and on the pub’s terrace who had gathered to pay their last respects.
Afterwards around 70 mourners attended the Leamington crematorium for the funeral service conducted by Pam’s friend, former actor turned Roman Catholic priest John Warnaby, who returned to Stratford to comfort her at the Bentley care home in her final days.
During the service John and the actors took it in turn to share memories of the inimitable Pam.
Guy Henry recalled coming to the RSC as a young actor in the early 1990s and at one point being cornered by Pam who was renowned for her no-nonsense and sage advice.
“I was that wonderful actor mixture of being arrogant and deeply insecure at the same time,” recounted Guy. “Pam took me under her wing as she did with many. She’d seen me perform and took me aside one night in the pub and said [here he impersonated her bold husky voice with comedic effect]: ‘You are in a prison of your own making. You are in a cage, you need to go through the bars.’ It was a good piece of advice, with pith and perspicacity, and it stayed with me.”
After referencing his continued deep friendship with Pam following her retirement from the pub, Guy went on to read Noel Coward’s thoughtful and touching When I have Fears.
No farewell to Pam would perhaps be complete without reference to Mistress Quickly. Saying how she had always seen the connection between the generous Pam and Shakespeare’s characterful inn-keeper, Dame Harriet Walter gave a poignant delivery of ‘Mistress Quickly on Falstaff’s Death’ from Henry V, which imagines the errant knight “in Arthur’s bosom”.
Prior to her death Pam had made arrangements for her funeral. Songs she chose included Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Time To Say Goodbye by Il Divo and All things Bright and Beautiful.
Giving the eulogy John said the hymn seemed particularly appropriate. “She was bright with a beautiful heart, and as Guy has said she was wise. I got a dollop of that wisdom from time to time.
“In her chosen career she was wonderful – the first woman to hold a licence for a Whitbread pub.”
Referencing her fearsome reputation as a landlady, John continued: “She ran a tight ship, high standards were expected at all times. Professionalism behind the bar and courtesy out front. Anyone who got to know Pam knew that behind the stern reproof was a heart of gold. She had a love of life and a wicked sense of fun. Her staff and customers became an extended family. Sunday service at the Duck was followed by a bumper lunch.
“At Christmas a discreet invitation was extended to someone who might otherwise be alone. She was a zealous friend to those she would call her mates, always keen to hear their news and always available to give astute advice if required – and sometimes if not required. She was always ready to roar with laughter at the latest joke or story, and she always had her own inimitable turn of phrase.”
John jokingly observed: “At the end of one long phone call, she said: ‘I’m going now because I’m starting to bore even myself.’ Many things was Pam, but never boring.”
Acknowledging Pam’s immediate family, including her brother, sports journalist Bob Harris, with whom she was especially close. John said: “She will be missed terribly by her family by sister Val and littler brother Bob, who when he was small she spoilt rotten with comics and sweets. Our hearts go out to Bob, who was a constant presence on the phone or when Pam was in hospital. She doted on Bob and was so proud of his achievements and of those of younger family members.”
Recalling her later days and how she had struggled with her health, John said: “Pam demonstrated remarkable resilience, enduring operation after operation. She was always dignified.
“She had plenty of time to contemplate her own death and she believed she was headed to a better place. Pam looked forward to what she called ‘my next adventure’. The bar would be perfect, the champagne exquisite and ever-flowing, and Pam will preside in her heavenly place as her memory will live forever in the hearts of those who loved her, and were blessed by the great gift of her friendship.”
Bringing the service to close, actor Alun Armstrong shared his warm and funny memories of Pam and how she would often request he sang traditional Geordie folk song Cushie Butterfield in the Dirty Duck – the threat being that she would serve him no more drinks until he did so. Remembering that Pam was at her happiest during a good old sing-song at the Duck, brandy in hand while people sang their hearts out, Alun dedicated a final rendition to his old friend.
The chorus seems appropriate to end on:
She's a big lass
She's a bonny lass
And she likes her beer
And I call her Cushie Butterfield
And I wish she was here