Paul Howard Blog, Food & Restaurant Reviews, Travel 5 Comments

Terrys All-Time.

Terrys All-Time. Leeds psycho-heritage

Walking down Woodhouse Lane in Leeds recently, I passed by the Universities, heading toward the city centre. On the left, past the Brutalist Car Park, and where Leeds Beckett Wellness Centre now stands, once stood Terrys All-Time. I sat down, overwhelmed by unbidden memories.

Terrys All-Time, (no apostrophe) was a real 24-hour cafe, long demolished and now forgotten. It shared a row of squalid Victorian shops fronting a once elegant Georgian Square. In the late nineteen-seventies, this was an island of squalor ringed by sixties slum clearance and concrete.

Momentarily, everything vividly reappeared in front of me, just as it was decades ago. Here again were the grimy buildings covered with fly posters and right there was the Terrys All-Time sign; a clock with hands at ten-to-two set above a dirty doorway. The windows were permanently opaque, seemingly from a mixture of condensation and nicotine. Greeted on entering by a warm reek of chip fat and fag smoke, that slowly gave way to an undertow of stale sweat, damp, Brut and Body Mist.

Terrys All-Time was even filthier inside than on the outside, but it contained a rich kipple of items, both human and non. The counter for orders was at the far end, underneath a broken peg-board menu. To reach it, pass by stained and chipped Formica-topped tables. The bench seating had long lost most of its stuffing and all of its comfort, covered in tacky brown leatherette. The sticky fake-wood lino floor needed careful negotiation, its edges curled up to trip the unwary.

Stacks of newspapers sat in one corner covered in a dandruff of loose distemper. The appeal of their torn delights differed according to the hour; Page Three and the Racing Post were favoured during the day while the NME was pored over by the late night crowd. It was late, after the gigs. pubs and clubs turned out, when Terrys became our essential destination.

Terry, the mysterious owner, was said to be a taxi driver. Nobody I knew had ever met him. Usually, the service was provided by a tiny chain-smoking woman who appeared to be Hylda Baker’s body double. You didn’t dare cross her. Nobody knew her name.

No-one emptied the overflowing ashtrays. Longer stubs were prized and recycled by the desperate. Rivers of brackish tea, served from a steaming urn in unending streams accompanied the menu of saturated fats. No-one asked for coffee.

Dim and dingy, there was an absence of colour. It was like living in a black and white sixties film; one ruled by the kitchen sink realism of the British New Wave rather than the glamorous French Nouvelle Vague. Illumination came from some battered fittings and a flickering fluorescent tube out back.

Of the late night clientele, some seemed to be in permanent residence. One man was always slumped in Faginesque filth in the front corner, out of touch, broken and silent. Others were a motley selection of pushers, pimps, and petty criminals. Young women, their faces a sabotage of make-up, would stumble in. Dressed in tube tops, catalogue flares, and platform shoes, they were the remnants of long outmoded fashion. Skinheads in Harrington Jackets would demand money with menaces, usually without success.

All this made Terrys an edgy all night venue. Alternatives were few, and Terrys had a trump card. That was a jukebox containing brilliant singles, either Northern Soul or those made by our local bands. Terry’s became our gloriously seedy after-hours retreat, an amoral clique of the hip, the pretty, and the vacant. We imagined ourselves being able to change the world with sheer attitude, modern art, and a killer tune. Sometimes we bickered, boasted and plotted. Mostly, we tried to think of something meaningful to say, but could not.

Leaning on the mosaic tiled counter in the flickering half-light waiting for an order, head swimming with alcohol, scrabbling for loose change. Kim Weston’s “Helpless” or R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s a Ghost In My House” playing loud. Stumbling back with tea, chip butties and bacon rolls served up on a random range of battered Pyrex and chipped crockery. Pass me the sugar, brown sauce, and the Bensons.

Then there were the long comedowns in the predawn light, unable to sleep, in the company of elegantly wasted friends. For us, it was a weekend ritual, for the less committed a way to keep warm until the buses started running.

I only ventured into Terrys All-Time during the day once, one freezing winter lunchtime. I had been browsing in the shop next door, the grandly titled Mr. Miles’ Antiquarian Bookshop, which, fittingly, had made a brief appearance in the film Kes. The daylight revealed Terry’s moribund glory yet the place had a different atmosphere. Bored students and office workers nursed mugs of tea while labourers tucked into double egg and chips.

A favourite line by John Cooper Clarke* summed it up,

“The burger joint around the bend, where the meals thank Christ are skimpy

For you, that’s how the world could end, not with a bang but a Wimpy.”

Like so much else, Terrys All-Time was swept away, by the invasion of meretricious corporate café chains and urban redevelopment. The clock sign went first, a few months before Terrys became rubble. Perhaps someone took it as a memento.

These days everything is safe, everything is the same, and everything shuts early.

There really should be a Blue Plaque.


*Lyric: John Cooper Clarke, Psycle Sluts, Part 1 & 2

Comments 5

  1. Mick

    Always remember the tomato sauce in milk bottles which still only came out as a drip as you had to force it through the encrusted rim

  2. Ray Brown

    Mid-Seventies, ten to three in the morning, T-Shirt Charlie and I float into Terrys. Empty apart from a big guy behind the counter.
    We’re closed.
    You’re open.
    What you want.
    Tea and chip butties.
    You can have tea but sup it quick.
    There’s trouble at three.
    What trouble.
    No answer.
    We drink our tea. Quickly.
    Tshirt Charlie and I cross the road and wait. We represent about twenty percent of the short-lived Leeds Art Group. Recruited by a note in The Corner Bookshop – “If you are a practicing artist who does not like joining groups contact…. ” All done in colouring pencil.
    At three a car pulls up and twenty percent of the short-lived Leeds Art Group watch as two men go into Terrys and smash everything that has not already been smashed by the usual clientele.
    The coup de grace is a heavy chair through the window.
    Charlie and I stroll down to another all nighter behind the LGI.
    Later we are feet to feet in Charlie’s long mesh hammock. Watching the stars fade.
    I probably tell him of a night spent walking around Amsterdam. He would have agreed it was more eventful.
    He probably tells me how the T-Shirt business is going.
    And I probably tell him about the junk shop that used to be on the same parade as Terrys. Junk piled up against the window a yard deep. And three quarters down, caught in a muddle of torches, cutlery, trowels… a three inch tall policeman. Probably lead, scraps of blue paint. He is trapped at 45 degrees and holding up a hand to stop the traffic. He stands on a pitted chrome ring which could attach him to my bike handle bars. But I am twelve and have no money for such luxuries, and no confidence to enter the shop.
    And now I’m on Spencer Place and T-Shirt Charlie is, I believe, in Australia. I wonder where is the lead copper. And the other eighty percent of the Leeds Art Group.


    Used to go in Terrys after the Wigwam in Merrion centre. Terry was always behind the counter, black greasy hair and glasses. He lived in a flat above the cafe, had a dog which I recall was called spike. This was in the 70’s.

  4. Dave

    Apparently The Mekons came up with their first single – “Never been in a riot” – while hiding from police in the toilet of Terrys

  5. Nicko

    For us early 80s students Terrys was the place to while away the hours after the pubs – playing pinball, smoking and drinking tea. Aways in mugs. I did ask for coffee once. Watery and the cheapest possible instant. Once was enough. Terry was usually behind the counter: specs, greying greasy hair, fag in mouth. Otherwise a huge bloke from Chapeltown called Eustace, sullen, unhelpful, lazy. The chip butties were OK, the clientele mostly shady nightbirds, the odd gaggle of leather-jacketed students.

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