Haunt of the sixties jet-set—The Bell at Aston Clinton

Good food guide Bell Aston clintonA few days ago we heard on the radio that there was much more violence during the Great Train Robbery of 1963 than has been reflected in the over-romanticised films about it. We also learnt that the notorious Leatherslade Farm, where the robbers held out, is no more.

Luckily, ‘The Bell’ at Aston Clinton, the pub frequented by the prosecution at the trial down the road at Aylesbury, is still around. Here’s what the Good Food Guide for 1961 – 62 had to say about this very popular inn just a year before the robbery took place:

Gerard Harris now has his own company and controls the inn; perhaps his brow will become less furrowed. The Bell is no well known to our members now that it is difficult to find anything new to say about it. Its menu is large, but not gigantic and the cuisine rises to a level of real distinction…creamy pate, 3/-; Arbroath smokies in cream,3/6; coq au vin, 9/6; beef Avignon, 8/6; sweetbreads chasseur,8/6; entrecote marchand de vin, 11/-; blackcurrant sorbet,2/-;crème brule,2/6…The menu is supported by a long and a remarkably chosen wine-list. The strongest section is probably the clarets: at one end is a Haut Medoc at 10/6, at the other ‘28’s and ‘29’s—chateau bottled wines between 32/- and 45/-, which are now not at all easy to get, even from wine merchants. Ordinaires at 9/6. Often crowded, and service sometimes overtaxed ( especially the wine service); but meals are served until quite a late hour. Open all year. Bed and breakfast, 19/6; no full board (App by too many members to list .)

Later on in the swinging sixties ‘The Bell’ became the eating place of choice for the glitterati. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were diners, along with international jet-setters like Jackie Onassis. The place had its own helipad. As one former chef recalled, ‘the Bell Inn did for British cooking what the Beatles did for music’. In the seventies and eighties, according to the same source, ‘young chefs from around the world came to work and learn their trade’. These included Raymond Blanc and the Roux brothers.

In the days when ‘The Bell’ was just a humble roadside pub Evelyn Waugh drank there while teaching at Aston Clinton School across the road. He spent five terms ( Sept 1925 – Feb 1927) at what seems to have been a school for under-achievers (Waugh called the boys ‘lunatics’ early on in his career there) and was eventually sacked for some indecent remarks he made to the matron while drunk. The school is cited as being the main inspiration for Decline and Fall.

‘The Bell’, though still operating, is no longer the haunt of the rich and famous and it’s unlikely that you would find many chateau bottled vintage clarets in its cellars. The helipad was decommissioned decades ago. [R.M.Healey]



20 thoughts on “Haunt of the sixties jet-set—The Bell at Aston Clinton

  1. Shaun

    I live in Aston Clinton and can confirm that now a chain pub, the bell has definitely lost its former glory and exclusiveness , the manager is full of his own self unimportance with arrogance combined , the staff on the other hand are welcoming and friendly.
    The building still has its character and spacious dining area, however the menu sadly lacking and towing the line of the chain pub ethos
    I for one would love to see the establishment rise once again to the pinnacle it once was, rather than be a sheep in the chain pub world, it would be nice for it to be a lion and set the standards rather than follow the diluted ones of others

  2. Susanne Young

    I met Michael Harris in Barbados and when I went to work in London , I spent nearly every weekend the in the mid sixties. I would love to know what happened to him as time marched on we lost touch.

    bobby MacBrien young

    1. Robert Dick

      Hi Bobby
      I worked with Michael at the Bell and met you on many of your visits.We had a drink or two in Michael’s “new room”with the swinging chair.I remember you came once with a lovely friend called Paddy.I think she was Irish.I seem to remember that you had a place together in the Adam & Eve Mews in Kensington.My friends lived close by above the shops and Michael dropped me off there when visiting you.
      I have been living in Tasmania,Australia since the late 60’s but called into the Bell in the late 90’s.It looked superb.Michael really went to town on the decor,money no object.I met him briefly on that occaision.I met his gorgeous daughter too who managed the extensive accommodation side that had been created out of the old stables and staff accommodation.
      I heard that he had been badly injured in the 80’s being hit by a car whilst crossing the busy road just outside the pub.He walked with a limp and his face had been visibly damaged when I met up with him.
      I was just reading that the Bell is now part of a commercial hotel chain and no longer the special place it was during it’s halcyon days.Don’t know what has become of Michael and family.

      1. Eamonn Montague

        Dear Robert Dick.
        Which years did you work at the Bell and who was the head chef then?
        I worked there from 1974 to 1980.

  3. Andy Puchalski

    I worked with Jack dick in the 1980s and had many trips with him to new covent Garden. fruit and veg market also had to go to the flower market for oil mrs harris . Had many good times there at the bell . i know that Patsy Harris Michale’s wife passed away some time ago. I would think now if Michael is still alive he would be about 79 or 80 years old I think he was born in 1940.. He lived in in house aston park just over the Road from the bell . and the pavilion has long gone do to a fire there some years ago\

  4. Albert Stone

    I was lucky to have spent 3 years working alongside Jack Dick in the kitchens , My wife also worked in the restaurant as chef de rang :

    1. Simon Blunt

      I too served as an apprentice in the kitchen with Jack, Manuel, Andy and many others for 3 years 1981-1984.
      It was such a fantastic experience and great culinary grounding. Jack and his bikes and fast cars,living in what was the white lion, brilliant.I have been past on occasion since and seen what has become of the business, shame, but what memories.

      1. FRIDRICI Francis

        Hi, my name is Francis and i worked at the Bell in 1983-84 , knew well Jack and also Hogo, Paolo and Pat working as headwaiter, I spend there the BEST year of my life, first job after school in France. Take care.

      1. Dr Andrzej Puchalski

        do you mean Jack dick Head chef of the bell inn aston clinton lives in weston turville just across the road from the chandos Public hoise

      2. Dr Andrzej Puchalski

        do you mean Jack dick Head chef of the bell inn aston clinton lives in weston turville just across the road from the chandos Public house

  5. rosemary glaisyer

    I knew Gerard, Daphne and Michael Harris very well in the early 1960’s and I loved them all. What a special, discreet, high quality place it was, The Bell at Aston Clinton in those times !
    It was so sad when handsome Gerard died when only in his sixties, and then later his very loveable son Michael was run down, badly injured, and died. Poor Daphne, she lost her husband and son…..She was a delight to be with and I had such fun out walking with her and her Michael in those carefree days !
    The food and the ambience were so comforting at The Bell. I’d love to hear from anyone who knew all of this in the early 1960’s..

    1. Rolf Versen

      Hello Rosemary,

      Pleasure to read your lines. I was there in the seventies and became friends with Jacques Dick. Then we lost connection and only in about 2012 he left a message on my answering machine, unfortunately without contact details. Maybe you know about his whereabouts.

      Very kind regards, Rolf

  6. JJohn Pye

    I worked as a chef for 3 years 1988 I think, under chef Kevin Cape, learnt so much in such a short time,. That standard of food and service is not around any more. I remember the lovely dinning room and going out to carve the beef to old Mrs harris, she would like it carved very fine I recall . She lived in the cottage behind the kitchen and would come in every day with her dog.

  7. Rolf Versen

    Hello everybody,

    I was guest in the seventies and became friend with Jacques whom I visited a couple of times. His cooking in the Bell was world class. When I was on English TV 2011 there was a message from Jacques on my answering machine. It said here is a voice from the past. Unfortunately he left no contact details. Does anybody know where he lives now and how I can reach him?


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