My friend Mike Mercer, who has died aged 81, was for 50 years the landlord of the Albion Inn, an attractive street-corner pub in the heart of Chester.
The words “pub” and “landlord” scarcely do justice to the Albion or to Mike. A romantic and a perfectionist, he devoted much of his life to maintaining the comfort, atmosphere and appearance of a traditional English public house. The Albion was a magnet for those who believed that a drinking establishment should be a retreat from the bustle and frenzy of the outside world, where real ale and good food should be enjoyed in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
Its decor proclaimed Mike’s old-fashioned and benign patriotism, but the atmosphere of the place was politically ecumenical. In its three bars, Guardian readers and devotees of the Telegraph sat side-by-side, talked sport and picked each other’s brains for crossword clues.
The flip-side of running a pub on such traditional lines was the banning of what Mike considered the worst aspects of modern life: piped music, adulterated food, wide-screen television and bad behaviour. No purveyor of strong drink was ever so keen on prohibition.
Mike enjoyed playing the curmudgeon, but his true nature was kindly, genial and humorous. He was passionate in his interests, supreme among which was the history of those who fought and died in the first world war. To that tragic generation he dedicated his pub, decorating the walls of every bar with an extraordinary array of memorabilia.
The men and women of that war were not just memorialised in the fabric of the pub: they were honoured in Mike’s celebrated midwinter “Christmas in the trenches” gatherings; evenings of popular music of the first world war period, along with recitations and general revelry, to which a dwindling cohort of veterans were invited each year.
Although Mike seemed to have been ordained from birth to become a landlord, keeping a pub was not something he had originally wanted to do. He was born in Northfleet, Kent, to Edward Mercer, a building firm manager, and his wife, Kathleen, and grew up in Kingsley, Cheshire, after the family moved there for Edward’s work. On leaving school he realised his dream of going to sea, qualifying as a radio officer and serving for much of his 20s in the merchant navy.
An early marriage, which ended in divorce, and family commitments eventually brought him ashore, and he signed a lease with Greenall’s Brewery to run the Albion. Years at sea had cured Mike of the itch for foreign travel and he never wanted to be more than a day’s ride away from Chester in case the pub needed him. It was a good-humoured grumble of his second wife, Christina (nee Veal), whom he married in 1987, and who helped him run the pub, that the furthest he wanted to go on holiday was Scarborough.
Mike is survived by Christina and and by his three daughters, Clare, Faith and Lorna, from his first marriage.