From the archive: a gourmet guide to transport cafés, 1967

Some of the snack-scoffing regulars were delighted to see our intrepid reporter, others less so

Chippy about everything: café culture, 1967
Chippy about everything: café culture, 1967
Chippy about everything: café culture, 1967

Last modified on Tue 16 Feb 2021 06.31 EST

Marika Hanbury-Tenison took to the road for the Observer Magazine to find out which transport cafés were worth a visit ‘by the long-distance motorist or the long-lasting reveller’ (‘Café Society Takes to the Road’, 27 August 1967).

That is some seriously frothy/boiling black coffee on the cover, almost as dangerous-looking as the paper-wrapped sugar cubes beside it. But no self-respecting greasy spoon would ever serve up cocktail sausages.

However, such establishments are less about the grub, wrote Hanbury-Tenison, and more of ‘a club, a meeting place – a release from the solitary confinement of the driver’s cab – a platform on which to air their views on the business of the driving public, the local police and their not too popular patron Barbara Castle.’

Shockingly, at four of the cafés she visited, she was turned away, twice politely and twice not. ‘One lady of Amazon proportions suggested that she would give me a helping hand to the door if I continued to poke my nose into their business.’ Who knows what ruinous industrial espionage might follow if she were allowed to see exactly how much fag ash was dropped into the baked beans preparatory to stirring?

Sadly, Hanbury-Tenison knew her place. ‘In every café, transport drivers take priority. Private drivers will be turned away or sent to the back of the queue when the rush for dinners with chips is in.’

But perhaps she was a bit wet behind the ears for the gig. At the Sunset Café, she saw ‘the astonishing sight of a man ordering and eating a meal consisting of fried bread with kidneys, two fried eggs, sausages, baked beans, and, of course, chips.’ Er, standard caff fare then!

Some of Hanbury-Tenison’s highest praise was reserved for Jock’s Café at Colnbrook: ‘Well worth leaving the M4 for.’ The greasy spoon equivalent of a Michelin star.