Interview: Laurence Lynch – Soho Plumber And Playwright

Laurence Lynch with Soho legend Sebastian Horsley

It’s fair to say Laurence Lynch is not your average plumber. Working in Soho by day and drinking there by night, he has tested taps and checked the piping for (amongst others) Norman Tebbit and the Rupert St brothels. He taught Colin Firth football basics ahead of his role in Fever Pitch and was a pallbearer for another client, Soho legend Sebastian Horsley. From next Friday, his first play, Burnt Oak, will be showing at the Leicester Square Theatre, one of his clients.

Introduce yourself in one sentence.
I have been a plumber for 34 years, the last 20 of which I have been based in Soho unblocking toilets in bars, brothels and churches.

What would someone not guess about you having met you?
Someone would not guess I have written a play, I was in the Territorial Army in the Duke of York barracks, I played in what was judged to be the best chess game in the Martel London Chess League, I am both chairman and president of the Beaujolais Nouveau Society established in 1970s Soho.

When did you decide to become a playwright?
I decided to become a playwright ten years ago when an incident happened to a friend of mine. I pretty much locked myself away for months and had probably gone mad but I was driven to write the play and almost didn’t surface until I had written it. I had no training whatsoever and had failed resoundingly at school.

How autobiographical is Burnt Oak? Are any of the characters based on people you know?
It’s very autobiographical and all the characters are based on people or incidents that have happened. My best analogy for writing the play is compiling a giant jigsaw puzzle and making all the pieces fit together to make a coherent work. However, it is still a work of fiction.

What do you most remember about your working class upbringing in North London?
Being brought up as a child in 1960s North London almost never done me any harm. I had a good friend and we would spend our days exploring old derelict buildings and shops. We were really quite feral but it all seemed very exciting and we lived without any fear. However, when I left home and moved into Grahame Park estate in Colindale, it was a very oppressive and isolating environment. I couldn’t wait to get on the Northern line and get to Camden or Hampstead for a drink. I loved Camden at that time, it had everything, great pubs, music, and people. Now it just seems to be about selling t-shirts and shoes and I hate shopping.

Do you go to a barber or hairdresser? Could you recommend one to us?
I go to an old Italian barber, Pasquale, he’s been in Soho since the early 1970s – he’s on the first floor above Bar de Marche on Berwick Street Market, he’s been there for donkeys and only does one haircut which is the approved Soho haircut for the working man, £10, very reasonable indeed.

Describe Soho in five words.
Tolerant, tight-knit, entertaining, premenstrual, nocturnal.

You gave Colin Firth some football tips ahead of his performance in Fever Pitch. Does he know the offside rule now?
Nobody knows the offside rule, the referees will tell you that, but Colin took to football like a duck to water. He is one of the brightest people I have ever had the privilege to spend time with. He wanted me to give him a heads up on what it was like to be a football fan, from my perspective it was taking as much liquid protection as possible before the 90 minute ordeal. It was good to find someone with no football team or allegiance because then you can start the brainwashing so with me and Nick Hornby he never had much of a chance, poor fellow.

Do you have a favourite football team?
I am Arsenal.

How did you get to know Sebastian Horsley? 
I done Sebastian’s plumbing for him which is my profession however Sebastian would ask me to do all the work in his flat, some of which I was pretty poor at, like putting up light fittings and repairing floor boards. On one occasion he asked me to repair his overused wooden Victorian bed which I had an attempt at and failed. Sebastian said to me, ‘call yourself a f***ing carpenter?’ I said, ‘I am a plumber Sebastian and my bed repair work is for domestic not commercial use’, to which he said, ‘I prefer the word industrial’. He was a top man in a top hat, as brave as they come and I will always miss him.

Hamish McAlpine, the producer of your play, had a famous punch-up with his director Larry Clark some years ago. How did you two get along?
We are the best of friends and neighbours, no blows exchanged. He has taken me to Wimbledon and I have taken him to Arsenal. Neither of us expected to be working creatively together but it is very rewarding and, touch wood and whistle, ‘Burnt Oak’ will be a big success.

Would you ever go back to being a plumber full-time? Would you recommend that profession to today’s youngsters?
I haven’t given up plumbing, I can’t afford to. The best thing about plumbing is you get out and about meeting people ‘everybody needs a plumber sometimes’. I look up at that Shard being erroneously built in London Bridge and would be horrified at the prospect of looking out that window for 35 years selling your house in Gravesend and moving to Littlehampton. I would rather push a barrow round collecting scrap metal.

Finally, what are your insider London tips?
I love pubs. Soho and Covent Garden still have some great pubs. My secret (if it is one) is that The Crack is normally better during the day than when it is mobbed at night, that is when we give it over to the revellers, the suits and the screamers. The Harp in Chandos Street, The Blue Posts – both Berwick Street and Rupert Street – the French House, Bradley’s the Spanish bar in Hanway Street which has a wonderful old vinyl juke box.

Burnt Oak is a tense thriller with trainee hairdresser Susan caught between her ex-con father and her dipso boyfriend Nobby. Directed by Nathan Osgood, recently seen in BBC’s The Shadow Line and produced by Hamish McAlpine – the boss of indie flick publishers Tartan Films – Burnt Oak will be at Leicester Square Theatre until 3 September.

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