the bermuda tavern's colour bar

In July 1963 reports appeared of a ‘colour bar’ in operation in the Bermuda Tavern. This would have been just after the pub changed its name from The Shakespeare in June of that same year. The landlord at the time was William Pugh.

According to reports, Harold Stephens (described as a 42-year-old West Indian press operator) and two friends had gone in for a drink and had been refused. Mr Stephens said that they would come back every Saturday at 6pm and bring more people with them until such point as the bar was lifted. He told the press I have been going there for seven years and lots of my people go there. 

William Pugh said:

…there is not a colour bar as such. I can make no comment, except that in the last two weeks white people have come in who have not been here for several years.

Mitchells & Butlers said that The Shakespeare had previously had a terrible reputation and they’d spent thousands of pounds on cleaning it up. Since we reopened, some people, both coloured and white, have been refused service… going on to claim that they didn’t operate a colour bar. William Pugh supported this claim, saying he was acting on his own initiative not at the company’s instigation.

The Daily Herald reported that Harold Stephens, from Wednesfield, had gone in with friends and they’d sat in silence without a drink until the police came, at which point they left quietly. Harold Stephens said that he and his friends would continue their peaceful demonstration every week until they got served. One of the other protesters was named as Alva Wiggin/Wiggans (two different spellings in two different reports).

The newspaper also stated that the pub had been redecorated with murals of palm-fringed lagoons, ironically a familiar sight to West Indians. Another newspaper commented A pub goes all Caribbean, changes its name to the Bermuda Tavern and then refuses to serve anyone who comes from that part of the world. ‘Not a colour bar’, says the licensee. Not a bar either apparently.

Harold Stephens said that he’d received threatening letters and was worried for his wife and three children, and that he would be opposing William Pugh’s license renewal. 

Putting this incident in a wider context, it took place two years before Malcolm X came to Smethwick and challenged colour segregation in bars there.