“Is this a dagger I see before me? I’d rather it was a pint.”
You cannot fail to notice the words of Oxford’s greatest beer swiller Endeavour Morse immortalised above the bar at this charming backstreet local.
It was on a cold night in 1987 that millions were offered a glimpse of Jericho’s famous inn when the detective solved his first crime within its walls… sort of. The quaint, colourful interior is nowhere to be seen in The Dead of Jericho; whitewashed walls and a buxom barmaid replace the assortment of knick-knacks and curios.
Apparently it was only the Bookbinders’ exterior which the producers chose to film with a London studio doubling for the interior. While Morse’s first episode is undoubtedly a classic, I can’t help but bemoan this bar’s omission.
The bland setting presented for screen may help the viewers focus on the action, yet how many pubs can boast an upside down train set fixed to its ceiling? An opportunity missed by ITV.
Renowned as much for its cuisine as its ales since the current tenants arrived 18 months ago, “the Bookies” does not discriminate between eaters and drinkers, creating a warm, homely atmosphere.
Although it’s a Greene King house the ghastly IPA is mercifully nowhere to be seen; instead the Norfolk brewers’ St Edmund’s bitter and Old Speckled Hen are staples. Hooky Bitter and a delightfully light, beautifully kept Temple of Love are amongst this season’s guests, priced £3.40 across the board.
In this respect it is similar to the Gardener’s Arms, another Jericho favourite which has successfully incorporated a solely-vegetarian menu into what was once merely a watering hole.
Both establishments draw similar crowds; on both visits students and locals alike were huddled around tables, occasionally playing the odd game of Scrabble or Monopoly.
But I am forever drawn to the Bookbinders for its sheer significance in Oxford’s literary folklore. Almost the entirety of Morse’s first outing takes place in Jericho’s dimly-lit streets from the gruesome murder of Anne Staveley in a Canal Reach terrace to the gripping climax outside the pub itself.
For Morse aficionados like me it’s a chance to embrace the inner-fanboy, yet in any case a visit to the Bookbinders is an opportunity to drink deep in a little-known slice of this city’s heritage.