Tribute – Les Maggs

It has been a strange old year, as all will acknowledge. It came as a complete shock to hear in early February that Les had passed away. While self-isolating, Les had kept in touch with his CAMRA colleagues as well as his close friend Jim Betts but, after there had been no contact for a while, it was found that he had apparently suffered a fatal fall in the lounge at home in Queens Park, W10. He was 73.

Les (right) helps Roger Protz launch the
2018 Good Beer Guide at the Star

Les had been a real ale activist for over 20 years and had chaired CAMRA’s West London branch for the last ten years, having been elected in June 2010. Les was not what you’d call a flamboyant character but, in his quiet understated way, he has had a profound impact, and left an indelible impression, on CAMRA locally and indeed across London. He was in many ways indefatigable; John Cryne, CAMRA’s London Regional chairman, described him as a campaigner of the old school, a true foot soldier, and no bad thing for all that.

Many remember him fondly. Julio Moncada remembers Les for all the visits he paid them when they first started their brewery, just off Ladbroke Grove. They still have the handwritten lists of the pubs that he gave them, on small pieces of paper, to help them get started. George Wald, the Corporate Communications Manager at Fuller’s, remembers Les from when she first started work there in 2002; he would always turn up with a big smile and a plastic carrier bag, every time! Helen Wilson and Chris Cochran at the Victoria in Paddington also recall him well, “This wonderful gentle man who for many was the face of CAMRA West London. We knew Les Maggs for over twenty years and were lucky enough to have him hand over a good few CAMRA awards to us over that time. He always attended beer launches and tasting events, adding his ale enthusiasm and knowledgeable observations to every visit. We last saw Les in September for his birthday at the Vic. So long kind sir. We hope you are enjoying a pint of ESB in the most convivial of pubs in the sky. Les, we raise a glass to you.”

CAMRA’s West London branch presents no little challenge, covering as it does the heart of the West End and beyond: the thousands of pubs across the City of Westminster and the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham. Les ‘struck gold’ in his very first year in the chair when one of the branch’s pubs, the Harp in Charing Cross, was voted CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year (2010). Karl Seville, formerly the assistant manager and cellar manager at the Harp for many years, knew there was a keen eye keeping his beers under close supervision and was always up to the mark. He wrote from New Zealand, “Les was a great ambassador for West London CAMRA, even if his meetings were more fluid than business. He will be missed.”

Presentation at the Cask in Pimlico in 2013

At meetings Les had a wonderful, open, and disarming personal style and chaired the branch with a light touch that was remarkably successful in keeping the meetings cohesive, motivated and friendly. Along with his responsibilities leading the branch, Les would often be seen trudging round West London every two months with his trademark shopping trolley carrying up to 900 copies of this magazine for distribution to pubs.

He was also, for many years, Brewery Liaison Officer for two local breweries, Moncada and Portobello, helping them in their start-up period and then keeping them up to date with forthcoming beer festivals and pub news. He also made sure that the branch had a very good relationship with a much larger local brewery, Fuller’s, and with its pub managers.

Les volunteered every year at our ‘local’ beer festival at Olympia (the GBBF), usually working on the glasses stand. He also volunteered for many years at Ealing Beer Festival, invariably staffing the tombola stand alongside his good friend Paul Gray. Les did not use information technology so, as well as formerly being branch treasurer, Paul handled Les’s IT needs for him. Les could generally be relied on to support CAMRA’s various Parliamentary Lobbies.

Les (left) with Dave Cripps

In his quiet way he could be very effective at brewery and pubco AGMs, including Fuller’s, Young’s and Wetherspoon’s, where he was well known. He would be forthcoming with senior managers and board members on the various problems and concerns CAMRA had with the industry.

Les was a private man. He was born in Marylebone and was an only child. His family moved to Queen’s Park when he was ten. After a varied career, most latterly with a steel stockholding company based in the Lee Valley, it was after then being made redundant, and retiring, that he became interested and active in CAMRA.

It was a surprise in some way to learn of his enthusiasm for model railways, where a detailed knowledge of Great Western steam locomotives, which he developed from walks to and from school, stood him in good stead. He was a long term member of the Model Railway Club, Kings Cross, and he supported and assisted at the annual show at Alexandra Palace for many years.

Les enjoyed his football. As the family had relatives in West Ham, his father regularly took him and school friend Jim Betts to West Ham United matches, cementing his support for the Hammers for life. I gather he also keenly enjoyed TV quiz shows and Jim reckons that he would have made a knowledgeable contestant.

Les had his favourite pubs, there was no doubt, and before the pandemic struck I would see him occasionally in my own local, the Harp, most usually on a Sunday evening. Apart from his regular favourites, the Victoria, the Cleveland Arms, the Grand Union, and the Mad Bear and Bishop, which were all fairly local, he could and did range widely, including a variety of Wetherspoon’s pubs, both for the ales as well as the food, in and across London. In so doing he may well have been the number one user of the Freedom Pass.

We will, when the times have become a little saner and we are permitted to meet in larger numbers than is possible right now, be celebrating and commemorating Les, his life and contribution. While I didn’t know him well, and would not always see eye to eye on matters of policy or possibly priority, he commanded a great deal of respect.

I think that as a final tribute, here at least, only Jim’s words will serve, “Les was a bachelor who enjoyed west London life and expressed little desire to travel and none to move. He was independent and resilient, strong minded but perhaps not always politically correct, and yet always calm, levelheaded and reflective – and absolutely reliable.”

My thanks to all who have contributed towards this appreciation. Even if not directly included, your words have helped fill out the character of someone who has, in his way, played his part well.

Dominic Pinto