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