The artistic pilgrimage, it’s a mixed bag. If you’re a music fan there are plenty of places to visit; Max Yasgur’s farm, the Cavern Club, Glastonbury, CBGB’s, the Hacienda apartments, Salford Lads Club. Art lovers just need to pop along to their nearest gallery or pile of architectural wonder. But all film fans have is an atlas full of question marks.
Saving every penny we could scrounge and eschewing the hassle and lost time of Gatwick airport, our summer getaway this year was a cruise around the Med. Avoiding the living hell of two weeks at sea with a boat load of kids we opted for an adult only cruise. Most of the passengers had tans so deep they were close to changing race, but on-board pools full of epsom salts and leathery living lilos was a small price to pay for a fortnight of solitude. We’d spent months living like paupers; now we’d have a fortnight living like kings.
One of our ports of call was Valletta, the capital city of Malta. A little digging revealed the islands movie location back catalogue (Troy, World War Z, The Da Vinci Code, Munich, Midnight Express, Clash of the Titans). But much more important than this was the fact that Valletta was where one of Britain’s best thespians transitioned to the big soundstage in the sky. Valletta is the city that called last orders on Oliver Reed. Some argue that it’s a shame Reed’s reputation for a brew overshadowed his acting career. To that I say bollocks. In an age where every fart and whisper of performers is reported with great hyperbole across the internet and 24-hour news channels, life’s great characters are disappearing. Where’s the next Richard Harris, John McEnroe and Freddie Mercury? The coolest actor in the world right now? Samuel L Jackson. Sam’s pastime of choice? Golf. Oliver Reed’s pastime of choice was pissing off the balcony of life into the swimming pool of conformity.
Tributes adorning the wall of The Pub
Reed died of heart attack on 2nd May 1999, toppling to a pub floor after an afternoon of libations. At that moment if you’d have asked Olly if he’d have lived his life differently he would have likely answered ‘Yes, I’d have liked to have done more partying’. This isn’t to glamorise alcohol. Having recently consumed a life threatening amount of booze at a friend’s barbeque, all I was left with was hour long gaps in my memory, a mysterious swollen left knee, broken sunglasses and a cracked Nokia. My wife Googled "divorce proceedings” over breakfast while I became better acquainted with our upstairs toilet bowl. No doubt Reed had his fair share of regret on toast and humble pie for brekkie. But Olly was a grown man who made his own choices and did things his way, right to the end; this just happened to include a slight thirst for the Devil’s mouthwash. Whatever the rights and wrongs, he will always be remembered. No bad epitaph.
Another of Reed's contenders for greatest photo ever
Still, for the film fan it’s a slight pity that Reed exited the bar when he did. His performance in Gladiator (2000) had career renaissance written all over it. He was the best thing on screen, no mean feat considering how towering Russell Crowe was in it. It would have been a treat to have seen Reed on screen again in his Autumn years; but it wasn’t to be. So when the gang plank touched shore in Malta we disembarked the Oriana with a singular purpose; to find Olly’s last watering hole.
It was easy to see what drew Olly to small-but-perfectly-formed Pub
Helpfully, we had two friends, Darren and Asha, holidaying in Malta to lend a hand. Asha spent a number of years living in Malta and had made the journey to Olly’s bar a few times before. This was a blessing as ‘The Pub’, as the bar in question is fittingly named, is tricky to find. Located down a side street behind Valletta’s Archbishop’s Palace, you could easily walk by without noticing it. But once discovered you'll find that The Pub is about as perfect a last stopping post for Reed as you could imagine. It is the public house distilled down to its purest form. Consisting of one small square room, it has bench seats down two walls, a bar down one end and a couple of tables in the middle. Originally a favoured haunt of visiting sailors, one wall is dedicated to The Pub’s naval history while the other wall is a fabulous tribute to Reed. Framed newspaper clippings and photos sit at various angles, hap hazardedly thrown up amongst signed flags and t-shirts that pay tribute to the man. In the middle sits a framed jumper and tie that Olly wore during his last week, dedicated to the bar by his wife Josephine. The owner and barman is appropriately surly (opening hours are stated as ‘when I can be bothered to open and when I’m fed up I’ll close’) but he at least has the sense to have the Kinks and Stones on the stereo.
Demanding to have some booze, in tribute to the great man
Taking a table in the corner, we ordered a pint of Cisk, the local brew, and raised our glasses skyward in honour of a man whose ability to raise hell was only surpassed by his ability to act in front of a camera. The Pub quickly filled up with passing patrons popping in to chink their own glasses in tribute. We downed a couple more jars over stories of Olly’s legend, none more fitting than the time Geena Davis, in Malta to film Cutthroat Island (1995), tried to succeed where many had previously failed. Having decided to wash down breakfast with a sherry or two Reed arrived two hours late for his 11:00am call time. Davis unwisely saw fit to give Reed a verbal dressing down in front of the crew. Olly’s riposte was to unzip, whip out "Big Olly”, wave it at Davis and offer her the option of ‘fucking right off’. If only Renny Harlin would have written this scene into Cutthroat, it might not have been such a turd.
Olly's tie and jumper, kindly provided to The Pub by Reed's wife Josephine
Valletta itself was a delight, a blend of San Francisco hilly streets and Maltese architecture with a Parisian vibe. We didn’t have nearly enough time ashore to see all that the city had to offer, let alone the rest of the island. But even if the city was the armpit of the world it would still be an essential destination for those who hold movies and good times close to their hearts. Reed knew that both made life a little more special. How right he was.