Community pubs are hard to come by these days, however, Chaplins Bar owner Harry Seccombe knows all the right ingredients.
Appearing in the shadowy doorway in a long grey coat, carrying a briefcase and looking slightly like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, owner of Chaplins Wine Bar and The Cellar Bar in Boscombe, 41 year old Harry Seccombe’s entrance is met enthusiastically by his staff. Conversing with them over a few business matters and requesting a cup of much needed coffee, Harry matches every inch of character that covers the walls of Chaplins.
Chaplins has just been crowned the ‘Best Bar in the UK’ at the national Best Bar None awards.After winning overall in the Bournemouth area last year, Harry and the Chaplins team were able to enter at national level. The awards ceremony took place at the House of Lords on the 11th October this year, and Harry says he was “chuffed” when Chaplins was announced as the winner. Harry says the award is “great for the staff, and shines a positive light on Boscombe too.”
Walking into Chaplins from a bustling but neglected high street is like wandering into another world. Sixties music pours through the open door and you are invited in by the rather welcoming Charlie Chaplin statue outside.
On a tour of the pub, or bar as it’s referred to in its name, Chaplins oozes a great deal of charm. Harry explains that the stairway, leading down to the Cellar Bar where live bands play every evening, and the large arch in the garden area, were saved from an old church that was about to be knocked down and have perfectly integrated themselves into their surroundings. Of course, Charlie Chaplin memorabilia sits on the bar and shelves which decorate the pub, while a flat-screen on the wall loops old black and white films, an ironic combination.
Harry has only been the owner of Chaplins for five years, building upstairs of the bar when he took over with the help of pub regulars and his fiancée Vivien Hoffman. The Cellar Bar downstairs has been there for ten years, although Harry says, “they look like they’ve been here forever.” Harry previously lived here in Boscombe and Chaplins was his local pub. It was the manager at the time that approached him about buying it. “He told me that the owner was selling up, and I couldn’t pass up the offer; I didn’t want to see someone come along and rip the heart and soul out of it.”
Harry originates from West London, where from the age of 13 he worked in a family-run builder’s merchants. Having done his A-levels at the raw age of 16, Harry applied to do a Maths degree (although he later changed this to Psychology) and was accepted by the five universities he applied for. However, Harry took a year out, and went travelling around Morocco, Spain and Greece. The reason? “One of the universities told me that they would circulate my picture around all the bars, [as I wasn’t old enough to drink at the time] and that put me off, because I didn’t want to go to university and not be able to drink!” This passion has obviously continued into Harry’s later life, judging from his current profession!
Harry’s motives spread much further than this though. “I’m a great believer in community” he proudly declares. Harry founded the ‘Pub Watch’ in the Boscombe area, allowing pubs and bars to update one another on any trouble makers in the town. “Boscombe is unfortunately an area that has a lot of problems, so we have to be on the ball.”In addition, Harry is a member of the a member of the Boscombe Community Interest Company which is driving forward change in Boscombe, and is currently setting up a community forum which enables the residents of the town to have their voices heard.Moreover, Harry talks passionately about his on-going attempt to save the local community and arts centre (BCCA), which is to be knocked down for additional housing. “Community is probably the main reason I’m here in the pub” Harry clarifies.
Boscombe is very lucky to have someone like Harry giving them support in more ways than one.Boscombe West Councillor Chris Wakefield is extremely appreciative: “Harry is great as a local businessman, which the recent award proves, and he is putting something worthy back into our local community.”
Once community is the subject of conversation, Harry cannot be stopped. “I think we all need to get back to being local and that’s why I’m such a huge supporter of it all.”
Written by Alys Penfold, Multimedia Journalism Student at Bournemouth University.
A version of this article was published in Issue 9 of The Bournemouth Rock, Thursday November 22nd 2012.