Rod Humphris is a calm, gentle, straightforward chap who — as he tells me at least five times when we meet in The Raven pub in Bath — never, ever loses his temper. Or, at least, not until Monday this week.
Instead, he gets his heart racing yomping with his two Great Danes across the fields, or quietly meditates as he fly-fishes.
He throws expert pots on his potter’s wheel, waters the sweet-pea seedlings in his greenhouse and tends his chickens. He is part of the bell-ringing team at Bath Abbey and has just finished writing his fifth Simon Ellice crime thriller which he has self-published. Rod, 54, also spends three days a week running The Raven, an exquisitely characterful pub that dates back to the 18th century and where the barmaid describes him as ‘such a calm, lovely man — a really good person and the best boss you could ask for’.
So it’s a teeny bit tricky to square all of that with the apoplectically angry Rod who this week seemingly went bananas and yelled, ‘Get out of my pub! THIS MAN IS NOT ALLOWED IN MY PUB!’ at a very shocked Sir Keir Starmer during an official visit to mark the reopening of licensed premises.
He was physically restrained by Starmer’s security man, for goodness’ sake, and accused the Labour leader of letting the nation down by failing to challenge lockdown restrictions. But today Rod has no regrets.
Rod Humphris is a calm, gentle, straightforward chap who — as he tells me at least five times when we meet in The Raven pub in Bath — never, ever loses his temper. Or, at least, not until Monday this week when he threw Labour leader Keir Starmer out of his pub
‘I am a lifelong Labour centre voter, but I just really, really didn’t want him in my pub — not after this year, when he should have been standing up for us and asking the questions that needed asking. Why have we just accepted lockdown? Why have we just accepted the loss of all our freedom?’
So he gave Keir both barrels.
‘I just said what I needed to say. I had to speak out. I had to. Everyone in the hospitality industry has had a total nightmare and for what end? I feel very strongly about it.’
So strongly that Starmer was duly ejected from The Raven, flustered, furious and urgently smoothing his hair.
‘I’ve hardly ever thrown anyone out before,’ says Rod. ‘We seldom need to because this is a very civilised place — and only when they’re very unpleasant.’
Within minutes, The Raven phone was ringing off the hook and Rod was popping up on BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 4’s PM show.
His appearance yesterday on Good Morning Britain, however, was a little confrontational, with Dr Hilary Jones recommending he should ‘stick to pulling pints instead of advising the Government about a policy on the biggest public pandemic issues in the past 100 years’.
Former anchor Piers Morgan later denounced him as a ‘callous ill-informed halfwit’, and others criticised him for questioning an extended national lockdown.
‘I suppose I wasn’t surprised. They called me a ‘Covidiot’, but I don’t mind. All I have done is quote various facts from serious sources,’ he says. ‘This is just a brief storm. It will soon be gone. I had to make a stand.’
Not just to air his own pent-up frustrations at the handling of the pandemic but to speak out in protest at the 600,000-plus jobs destroyed in the hospitality industry, the 87 million pints poured away and the tens of millions spent by publicans in the past year to adapt to seemingly ever-changing Covid regulations.
This despite the fact that pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK reported minimal NHS Test And Trace incidents.
Within minutes of throwing Starmer out, The Raven phone was ringing off the hook and Rod was popping up on BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 4’s PM show. Pictured: Humphris with the Mail’s Jane Fryer
Over recent months, British pubs have been closing for good at a rate of more than five a day.
Given the year his industry has had, perhaps it’s little wonder Rod went a bit mad for five minutes.
Rod had never yearned for a life of high drama.
He grew up in the West Country with his sister, and, after leaving school with two ‘rubbish’ A-levels, has done a bit of everything — from building to crewing charter yachts around Jamaica, working as a potter in the Cotswolds, driving taxis, practising yoga and meditation and spending six years as a computer programmer — ‘sooo boring’.
He bought The Raven with his old pal Tim and second wife Sarah — with whom he shares a farmhouse on Bath’s outskirts — ‘on a whim’ in 2004. ‘It has been the best thing I’ve ever done,’ he says. ‘Or was until the past year.’
It is a wonderful pub — quirky, friendly, bursting with history, with a raft of awards and a lot of chat. ‘We’ve always been a pub for discussion,’ says the girl behind the bar.
Which, right now, is dominated by Rod’s views — on lockdown (‘it seems very obvious to me looking at other parts of the world — Belarus, Florida, Tanzania — that lockdown was a mistake’), the social-distancing laws (‘I took the view a long time ago that they were absolutely stupid’), and the Labour Party (‘I’ve never voted Conservative but I’m not saying I never would. Frankly at this point I would vote for a dead sheep if it was anti-lockdown’).
While he insists his family have been utterly supportive of his outburst, he has yet to discuss the incident with his business partner Tim, who set up Starmer’s visit.
‘We haven’t had time to talk, it’s been so crazy,’ says Rod. ‘He’ll give me a piece of his mind at some point, then we’ll move on.’
The reaction from the public has been equally mixed.
A smattering have been in touch on social media to say he is an idiot and they are never coming back, but some — including Matt and Boy, two young computer software salesmen sipping pints in the sun — are here for the first time. ‘We just wanted to show our support,’ says Matt.
Rod insists that many more have been in touch from around the world, 95 per cent of them to say thank you. So, now he has had a taste of it — and seems to enjoy the attention — does he fancy a foray into politics to complement all the fishing and bell-ringing?
‘I’m interested in politics but I have no wish to wade in myself,’ he says. ‘Maybe I should, but I’m happy writing my books, however slowly they sell, and pulling pints. I like my life far too much.’