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The much-loved Kingfisher chip shop on Ely Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, is changing hands after 42 years in the same family

PRINCESS Diana, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and football manager Ron Atkinson – just some of the famous names who loved fish and chips from The Kingfisher.

Royals, celebrities, stars and sportsmen have all tucked into a delicious fish supper from the chippy in Ely Street, Stratford, which is coming under new ownership after 42 years in the same family.

Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart, TV chef Gordon Ramsay, Jenny Agutter of The Railway Children and Call the Midwife and former Manchester United and Aston Villa player and now TV pundit Dion Dublin have all been on the guest list at one time or another over more than four decades.

It was August 1978 when Greek husband and wife Andreas and Rita Panayi moved north from London and bought The Kingfisher as a partnership. It’s believed there’s been a chippy on the site since the 1930s.

The couple brought with them the Mediterranean hospitality which meant everyone was given a warm welcome – including royalty.

Rita Panayi of Kingfisher Fish and Chips with her late husband Andreas.. (44225941)
Rita Panayi of Kingfisher Fish and Chips with her late husband Andreas.. (44225941)

Rita explained: “When Princess Diana used to visit Stratford, a close friend of the Princess would come to The Kingfisher and order Diana’s favourite meal, cod and chips. The same person would discreetly let me know that Diana was in town and that she really enjoyed our fish and chips.”

Other famous regulars that Rita and Andreas and their staff have served include Amanda Holden, Bergerac star John Nettles and actor Jeffery Dench – who was buying for himself and his sister Dame Judi Dench. Another TV favourite was Casualty actor Patrick Robinson.

Anyone who frequented the chippy will recall that Andreas always had a picture of his beloved Arsenal Football Club behind the counter and loved to talk football. Nearby was another photograph, a publicity snapshot of American film star Telly Savalas as TV cop Kojak.

Rita said the Arsenal connection began in 1971 – a year before the couple married – when Andreas lived round the corner from the Gunners’ then home ground at Highbury. He followed the team all his life and in later years was accompanied on match days by close family friend, actor Joe Melia.

The Kojak photo found its permanent home just below the chippy’s price list because many years ago, Andreas was playing roulette at a London casino and on the next table was Telly Savalas – who of course had his own Greek connection.

Sadly, Andreas died last year and Rita now feels the time is right to retire. But The Kingfisher will retain its name under new owner Stelios Stuliainou, who hails from the same village as Rita, near Larnaca in Cyprus.

Rita said she had so many happy memories, including raising five sons, all of whom have worked in The Kingfisher.

Customers and staff have become lifelong friends and one – Jill Jones – worked alongside the couple from the time they arrived until she retired last year.

“It’s been so nice to see the children of staff grow up and come to work with us,” Rita said.

One of her funniest memories was of a Bank Holiday Monday 25 years ago, when she and Andreas had to evacuate when a fire broke out. Undeterred, the coach party eating in the restaurant at the time picked up their plates and carried on eating outside.

Rita now plans to stay in Stratford and look for a volunteer job when restrictions allow. She said: “I came with nothing and now I have something – I love Stratford.”

And what about the secret to perfect fish and chips? Apparently, it’s mixing the fresh batter properly. But it also helps to be Greek, because “Greek families do great fish and chips”.

Tell us your Kingfisher memories – email news@stratford-herald.com.

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