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Dillie Keane

Dillie made the long journey from deepest Oxfordshire to our corner of East Sussex to be musically funny in a good cause, our local St Michael’s Hospice.

From the moment she wafted on to the stage, we knew we were in the presence of class. Resplendent in her trademark vibrant evening pyjamas and accompanied by the suave and debonair Michael Roulston, the evening was a triumph.

Dillie is a wonderfully creative writer and performer of comic songs, with a voice that can range from delicate and sweet to raspy and vulgar. Her range of facial expressions is extraordinary – switching from innocent and perplexed to thunderous in a heartbeat, embracing the full range of human emotion. With songs about falling in and out of love, about boredom, domesticity, infidelity and childlessness, even an ode to being a lesbian, all of life was here, only funnier.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening for the great and the good of Ticehurst and a decent fundraiser for such a good cause. The Bell donated the venue and food as well as helping to organise and host the event, which raised just over £2,500.

Tom Allen

Ever since his appearance at The Bell, Tom is everywhere. A sell-out tour, numerous television and radio appearances, we were lucky to catch him as his star continues to be in the ascendancy.

Every day suburban life is the backbone of his hilarious material.  A background that he now sets himself apart from but clearly relishes was the narrative for his slick and perfectly timed performance. The nostalgic stories of school days, the leisure centre flumes and the practicalities of Tippex were strung out for maximum impact. How many of us related to how poorly French lessons actually equip you for real time, real life communication?

Tom’s love for language was evident in the exquisite phrasing and use of the pause - he clearly uses his drama school training to great effect. His persona of an elegant, eloquent and hilarious snob was as endearing as it was entertaining.

That easy charm and personality continued after the show as Tom joined the audience for supper and chat before retiring to his sumptuous Bell bed.

La Poule Plombee

The Cabaret Whore, Sarah Louise-Young's alternative version of Edith Piaf with her Gallic charm and addiction to tragedy, had the audience at The Bell in raptures. Her emotionally manipulative failure, singing her way through self-pity, the target of her disappointment was her much put upon accompanist played by the talented Michael Roulston. Together they pull off a parody that both captures the drama of the French chanson and mocks its melodrama.

Young's wry humour matched her superb vocal range as she gently poked fun at the diva's tragedy without sinking into mockery. Michael was the perfect foil with his English restraint hiding unrequited love, yet a need to escape her tyranny.

An elegant performance with just enough audience participation in the shape of an ex male ballet dancer who lifted La Poule on high whilst she remained steadfastly in character!

This duo will return with one of their other shows, so watch out for the dates.

Nick Hall: Szgrabble!

Nick Hall’s ‘tiny hands’ flew across an imaginary typewriter as we were introduced to a seemingly compliant HQ secretary. But little is what it first appears in Nick Hall’s one-man Cold War thriller. From the comfort of our seats at The Bell, we witnessed Nick darting through London, Amsterdam and under the Iron Curtain to the heart of the Soviet Union, all in the pursuit of a board game tournament which could decide the fate of the world.

Training up a member of ‘MI17’ for a World Scrabble Championship is a fun concept requiring this determined performer to pull off a far-fetched plot and prevent it from derailing into absurdity. What Hall achieved is tight storytelling, playing every character with enthusiasm and unstoppable energy.

Nick’s stand out performance is as the Flashheart-esque anti-hero, Van Scallion. A strapping, overly confident spy, prone to some bizarre similes, he sticks out amongst the sea of stereotypical spy thriller place-holders.

The hour’s performance sped by with added tension and humour from accompanist Matthew Floyd Jones, last seen performing at The Bell as part of the wonderful Frisky & Mannish.

Adam Hess

Awarded Best Newcomer at The Edinburgh Festival in 2015 and looking forward to performing on Saturday Night at The Palladium, we may just have caught Adam Hess at a tipping point in his career. He certainly doesn’t lack material, treating us to an hour packed with rapid-fire gags with no time to waste.

His genuinely happy demeanour is almost giddy and certainly infectious. Comparisons could be made to Mr Bean and there are certainly many anxieties in his storytelling but that somehow makes him all the more likeable. Adam’s pace of delivery compels the audience to listen well for fear of missing a gem.

Family anecdotes abound with tales of his parents’ inevitable disappointment in his chosen career despite what sounded like a rather good (and possibly expensive) education. A self-confessed comedy geek, Adam is clearly refining his craft beautifully. Definitely one to watch. When he is gracing the best of radio and TV comedy shows or receiving writing credits for hit sitcoms, remind yourself where you saw him first.

A Night at the Musicals

Jonny Woo and Le Gateau Chocolat made a welcome return to The Bell for a Christmas comedy extravaganza. Typically self-deprecating with promises of a show “where musicals come to die” and bemoaning the lack of highflying special effects, the duo did not disappoint. Their renditions of big budget musical favourites with camp comic twists had the audience in raptures.

Seamless costume changes, each more gaudy and inflammable than the last, made for a slick cabaret pace, with peels of laughter rolling in like great breaking waves. Memorable moments included audience participation from, possibly, not such a willing gentleman that saw gymnastic Jonny straddle him on a delicate ballroom chair whilst singing Mein Herr from Cabaret and it was very nearly all over!

Gateau’s rich baritone voice is simply delicious and reaches unexpected places. We were left wanting more and we got it. A ‘soft light’ rendition of 'Tales As Old As Time' from Beauty and The Beast was our treat of an encore and then we were finished - exhausted.  This high camp entertainment was the perfect escapism from a bleak world and the lead-up to a sparkling Christmas. 

Phil Nichol

Bursting with irresistible energy, Phil Nichol greeted the audience as they took their seat: ”This is not the show …”, a clever move to make us love him from the start.

There was no mistaking the show when it did start. Roll after roll of high-octane wit, this Robert Downey Jnr doppelganger completely engaged with us, building his story and drawing on his 20 years' experience as one of the best live comedians on the circuit. This very ‘hetro’ man spent most of the show flirting with James in the front row (an anaesthetist apparently), much to the amusement of his wife. The relationship blossomed until James was up providing lead vocals to ‘The Only Gay Eskimo’ - a song we’ll all be humming in the weeks to come. Phil’s rock 'n’ roll guitar prowess allowed him to show off his brilliant musical impersonations. His take on The Proclaimers, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Oasis, Elvis and Morrisey in rapid succession had us all howling with laughter.

At times deliberately shocking and nearly always politically incorrect, everyone can agree that this comedy veteran was thoroughly entertaining.

Rhys James

Rhys James looks almost old enough to be doing his GCSEs.  He does insist, however, that he’s a real grown-up and pretty soon the sheer classiness of his comedy begins to convince us. This was a superbly constructed set, shot through with a series of running gags.  His method was to establish an idea before revisiting it, repeatedly, to increasingly comic effect: the best of these riffs culminated in a magnificently hilarious impersonation of his father.

There’s an honesty and clarity about his often self-deprecating humour, and a refreshing lack of cruelty.  Even when engaging in banter with our resident stonemason (only at The Bell…), there was a richly witty generosity in the way he shared the laughter. His set ended with a rap poem as sensitive as it was funny and we realised, to our surprise, that a whole hour had flown by, during which he had held a full house in the palm of his hand.

The Guardian describes young Mr. James as “Destined for great things”. We couldn’t agree more. Remember, ye burghers of The Bell, you saw him here first.

Rosemary Lane Day Music Festival 2016

Blessed with fabulous weather, we hosted a small but perfectly formed summer music festival. Featuring local talent  performing on the amphitheatre stage we created in the garden, the pub thronged with happy chatter and magical melodies. Magic was on tap for the children too with Robbie the Magician keeping them entertained along with wonderful poet and puppeteer, Ann Perrin with Eccles and the White Rabbit.

The Bell has come a long way in the last four years or so but we like to stay connected to our past. Before our time, the celebrated folk musician, Bert Jansch, lived in Ticehurst and used to jam at his local, The Bell. His most successful solo album, Rosemay Lane, was named after the lane on the outskirts of the village - hence the title of our music festival. Since his death, the Bert Jansch Foundation helps support the next generation of acoustic musicians and it was a privilege to have them with us as part of our special day.

Heartfelt thanks to all who performed for us; Paul Cheese, Zeus, Eden, Lily Denning, Sean de Burca, Good Ship Band, Katheryn Anderson our wonderful MC, Calum Bowie, and to the man who made them all sound good, Guy Denning.

Stephen K Amos

Stephen K Amos - performing at The Bell! We had to pinch ourselves as he brought the house down. A master of live performance, he didn’t skip a beat with the audience, playing members of his crowd off against one another, always with a mischievous glint in his eye.

From offering advice to a young member of the audience on his future to an impromptu rendition of Kum Ba Yah, to say he had us eating out of the palm of his hand was no exaggeration. 

Hosting a comedian of Stephen’s calibre in our quirky country pub was a privilege. Non-stop laughter from start to finish, nobody mind waiting for supper as they enjoyed extra time!

Spike Milligan Day

'Ning Nang Nong where the Cows go Bong...' as they surely did in Ticehurst where Spike lived for a while.

Members of the The Goon Show Preservation Society kindly trundled up from various places across the South East to give a really spirited performance of a Spike Milligan script for an enthusiastic audience.

John Henty, who once worked for BBC Sussex, gave an illustrated talk about interviewing Spike in his radio days, treating us to the original recording of the Ying Tong song.

The Bell has now become The Goon Show Preservation Society’s country seat and we look forward to more collaboration to while away the darker nights.

Jonny & The Baptists

Funny, clever and at times provocative, Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers bounded through their repertoire of musical gags and gigglesome wordplay. There was a gentle moral tale to be told but not in a way that beats you over the head. Their incantation that “We’ll all stay alive, if we act like we’re five” was a wily rallying call as five year olds tend not to fuck up the environment!

Leaving the room bathed in high-octane energy and food for thought, Jonny and Paddy joined us for supper, convivial company with vitality to spare.

It was a privilege for The Bell in little old Ticehurst to be part of Jonny & The Baptists' national tour and another feel good night of comedy at The Bell.

Mo Gilligan and George Lewis with MC Fake Bush

Miss Fake Bush hosted another sell out night of Comedy at The Bell.

Spotted at The Amused Moose Laugh Off comedy competition, Mo Gilligan and George Lewis are two young up-and-coming comedians to watch.

Mo kicked us off with his urban wit and remarkable physicality. Miming to illustrate the full band of his Rasta dad’s took his comedy to another level. His skilled interpretation of mime and comic timing left the audience wanting more as this young man could certainly carry a full hour set.

George Lewis has a string of awards to his name and did not disappoint. Robustly witty writing is George’s stock in trade and his comic story-telling had us in stitches. He completely commanded the room with his geeky self-assurance playing the loveable loser in love.

Fake Bush rounded off the evening with a pitch perfect rendition of Wuthering Heights. The audience had arms aloft, swaying and singing along - all except the young university crowd who had not a clue who she was but enjoyed the spectacle. We are nothing if not a diverse audience here at The Bell.

Look at our twitter feed @bell_ticehurst to get a few video snippets.

Ivo Graham


How we loved Ivo Graham at The Bell. Delighted to be doing a full hour’s set, he assured us that we counted as part of his tour – London, London, London, Ticehurst - admitting that it was somewhat surreal.

His local research was faultless and banter ensued with audience members. “This is what I love about playing villages – the audience all know each other!”

Ivo had toyed with the idea of using just his Oyster card for his journey down from the big city, a reference to the notorious Stonegate fare-dodger – possibly the biggest news story in these here parts in the last decade. The connection didn’t end there as Ivo’s late grandmother had once run the local prep school and there, my friends, is the segue to privileged education that marvelously informs much of his writing.

For all his self-deprecating arrested development, at just 25, Ivo’s seasoned wit and bemused but polite irritation with the world is endearing. His pedantic approach to texting, his insistence on a well-crafted thank you letter and his aversion to media of the social kind had our audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

The expertly paced delivery of thousands of beautifully crafted words was over too soon. Look out for this young man and remember, those of you lucky enough to be in the Big Room at The Bell in February 2016, you saw him here first!

"If evey night of my career could be like last Thursday night at The Bell, I'd be a very happy bunny indeed." Ivo Graham, 16th March 2016

Lee Payne

As a treat to our audience coming to see Ivo Graham’s comedy set on 11 February, we invited our friend Lee Payne
to surprise them with his extraordinary ‘hoofing’ on our big table in the stable.

Slip-sliding, tip-tapping up and down, across and around and taking a rather spectacular running backward jump off the
steps, to the encouragement of ‘do it again’, his faultless footwork enthralled.

Christmas Comedy at The Bell

Frisky and Mannish got their show off to a rip-roaring start at The Bell by inviting us to join their office party. Less than 5 minutes in and we were all singing along, putty in their hands.


Party games followed with the front row of the audience invited to play the balloon-between-the-legs game, to what effect I have not idea, except that it was hilarious.


There were no holds barred as they stepped out of the box that is cheesy Christmas songs. Innuendo was high on the agenda - ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High - we’ve all been there’! Who knew that Santa Baby really is the sauciest of Christmas songs? A nuance and a nod and we were there before them, anticipating the line ‘come and trim my Christmas tree’.


F&M’s not insignificant genius was perfectly showcased with their own song, The Perfect Christmas, in association  with Radio 1’s Scott Mills. Frisky’s vocal range and power seamlessly slipping from one genre to another, pitch perfect. Mannish’s seamless piano playing,  not to mention impressive falsetto,  had the audience pinching themselves. This much talent in our local pub - sometimes Christmas dreams do come true!

Marcel Lucont, Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo

Marcel Lucont, an ultra cool Frenchman, promised to bring the urrrrrst into Ticehurst. His set explored the British penchant for festival going, glamping (meaning 'glad I did not go camping') and vaping. He fell upon the only Frenchman in the audience, a cheese seller and a gift for a quick-witted comedian.

Marcel’s laconic delivery was not exactly high octane - he expects his audience to bring their own energy, unlike Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo who, well, wooed the audience into submission.

Two very tall men, one black, one white, one with a beard, one without, hit the stage running with an extraordinary interpretation of ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Oh, and did I mention they were dressed to the nines in crinolines, gargantuan wigs and made up with glitter lipstick and implausibly long fake eye lashes? It is safe to say an air of confusion rippled around the room but not for long!

As the layers of costumes peeled off with each “musical massacre”, the audience warmed to the theme and how. In a mime spot to ‘At The End of The Day’ from Les Miserables, Jonny adopted the persona of no less than 12 characters with the skilful use of a tabard and a wig that had to be seen to be believed.

Gateau’s beautiful baritone voice floated like melted chocolate above the assembled heads through a hilarious hairdressing segment to ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from the show of choice, Les Mis.

Yet another costume change had the duo in highly flammable pink nylon and was that REALLY a pink petalled swimming cap that Gateau was wearing?! Finishing on a rousing rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ with everyone singing along, the audience were left wanting more. Nothing for it than to be upstanding for ‘Summer Lovin’, then down for supper 40 minutes late - sorry about that, chef!

Our comedy nights are selling out fast so keep your eyes peeled for your email alerts and book in double-quick time to avoid disappointment. Let us know if  you want to be included on the mailing list by emailing zoe@thebellinticehurst.com.

If you missed them at The Bell, seek them out elsewhere …

Marcel Lucont http://www.marcellucont.com @marcellucont

Le Gateau Chocolate  http://legateauchocolat.com  @legateauchoc

Jonny Woo https://www.facebook.com/jonnywoopage @jonnywoo

Comedy at The Bell - Paul Zenon

The UK's top comedy trickster, Paul Zenon, had no place to hide on Thursday night at The Bell. We packed them in - front, back and side of the stage - and we all left dumbfounded as to just how he does it.

Apparently, Paul's agent said to him early on in his career that, if he played his cards right, one day he would get to play a gig in a posh room above a pub, with a tree in his room and where he got to pee in a tuba! These days, Paul is used to playing rather larger venues but such is the draw of The Bell.
From the get-go, he had us eating out of the palm of his hand. His pacey routine gave us top tips on how to really screw up airport security and quite how he teleported $3 from one woman's brassiere to another is anybody's guess.
Audience participation was full on. Bold Toby assisted Paul as he sliced into his expensive city suit, burnt it with a lit cigarette (yes, a real one - oh so risqué) but, of course, eventually returned it to him intact - though not before he relieved him of his watch!
You really had to be there for the finale when Paul balanced a pint of beer on a snooker triangle, attached a dog lead to it and swung it around his head and over the audience (he said afterwards that this does go wrong from time to time!). The biggest round of applause was for Paul downing the pint in one!

Rosemary Lane Day - 22nd August 2015

Folk heroes young and old performed in the glorious sunshine on 22nd August Saturday for our first Rosemary Lane Day. The music festival, in association with The Bert Jansch Foundation, celebrated the influence this former Ticehurst resident continues to have on the music industry. The Bell was Bert’s local and he regularly had impromptu jamming sessions on the pub’s piano, the keys and pedals of which can be seen in a multimedia homage to Bert in the Stable.


The car park was transformed into a food court of fabulousness, with a rusty wriggly tin shack serving paella, bean tagine, burgers and pulled pork. A newly restored classic air stream diner doubled up as a milkshake and ice cream parlour.


The garden amphitheatre saw hugely talented local teenage singer/songwriter Lily Denning open the festival accompanied by her friend Jake Clifton.  The Princes in The Tower entertained a receptively jovial audience to medieval mayhem and were a great warm up act for Noisy Toys. Their unique approach to science saw everyone up on benches holding hands to form a remarkable sparky connection. The kids loved it! That and the artistic face and body painting from Nam Nams.


Winchester-based Polly and the Billets Doux donned their shades and sun cream to play a winning set of original songs. With encouragement from the audience, they were brave enough to take on Bert Jansch’s ‘Rosemary Lane’ and did not disappoint.


The Bert Jansch foundation scholar, LUNIR performed heartbreakingly soulful covers and original pieces. This young lady and her band are surely set for stardom.


Radio 2 favourite, Jon Allen returned to The Bell for his third gig and bought the house down with his recent hit ‘If I Can’t Have Your Love’. Jon said “There seem to be remarkable folk lay lines running through The Bell!”.


Bonny Dobson, still pure of voice at 74, gave a pitch perfect rendition of of her famous ballad ‘Morning Dew’ which has been covered by many top artists including The Grateful Dead, Robert Plant, Jeff Beck and Lulu. She explained this was the first song she wrote in 1961, when “… we were scared of being blown up and we are still scared of being blown up”


Glasgow group Trembling Bells, fresh from a UK tour and album launch flew in especially to give a roof-raising final set. Lavina Blackwall’s vocals so high, pure and strong, the set was infused with trad folk and expansive seventies rock, with a surprising unaccompanied pared back folk solo from drummer Alex Neilson. They are a truly unique band.


Rosemary Lane Day music festival will return to The Bell next summer, videos of this year’s artists can be found on our Facebook page. Look out for Trembling Bells ironing board keyboard!

Table Talks: This house believes....

taking a selfie is an act of empowerment...

Chances are you’ve either taken a selfie, or seen someone posing in one. David Cameron, Madonna, school children – take a peek on the Internet and you’ll notice this self-as-subject photo craze has infiltrated every nook and cranny of society. They can’t help it, reaching for the smartphone, “I was here, look at me, here’s a photo as proof….”. Selfie has even made it into the dictionary.

“Is it empowering to offer up our image to public judgement?” asked our host Emma B, “Or, is it the ultimate act of narcissism…gross insecurity and peer pressure?”

The Sussex writer and actor Lucy Holmes, who successfully campaigned for the abolition of The Sun’s page three, said, “A selfie cannot make you feel empowered. What empowers you is the validation you get.” And Lucy knows a thing or two about empowerment, having triumphed over News UK. So, what made her so strong? “Education, feminism and going to university.” No selfies involved there.“I don’t think we should be validated by how we look,” Lucy said, “Then we miss out on how we think and how we feel.”

Billy Smith Morris, a sixth former at Uplands Community College, in nearby Wadhurst, said selfies allow “people to feel good about themselves and to experiment with identity… I believe selfies to be an act of empowerment.”


Billy’s schoolmate, Alex Rostron, said the selfie, “can raise those who are otherwise oppressed. ” He eloquently cited the case of Leelah Alcorn, née Joshua Alcorn, a transgender teenager in the US who committed suicide. Alex said Leelah’s selfie, posted on social media was an act of empowerment not just for Leelah but for other marginalised transgender people. Not so for writer and editor Anna Fielding: “I don’t believe that selfies are empowering,” she said, “Turn the camera around. You could make something beautiful, you could make something that matters, you can make art, you can make the news – that’s empowering.”

Fin Hamley, Chair of Uplands’ debating society, said, “The selfie lets anyone choose how they are represented, that’s why it empowers rather than oppresses.” Fin said this control is necessary in a society where girls, in particular, are under pressure to look perfect.

From the audience, Francesca Evans, a local student, welcomed selfies posted by celebrities without make–up. “It shows people aren’t perfect,” she said, “It shows to younger girls that celebrities do have imperfections.”

Another girl in the audience said she took selfies, too. “I want to show people that I’m proud of who I am and who I’ve become. It’s a permanent record of your growth.”

And where are our traditional records of growth? Remember photograph albums? In this digital age we’re less likely to have our photos developed than post them on social media. But there’s something about the ubiquitous selfie – perhaps it’s the desperate doe-eyed pout – that swayed our House to vote ‘no’; the selfie is not an act of empowerment

Table Talks: This house believes....

...that private education is the public’s harm

As one of our locals said, enjoying a pint after Table Talks, “Nothing cleaves British society quite like private education.

Panelists at The Bell were certainly divided over the motion, ‘This house believes that private education is the public’s harm.’

James O’Brien, broadcaster and journalist, was schooled at Ampleforth yet says private education should be abolished. He spoke passionately about his father’s decision to send him to one of the country’s elite private schools, “My dad bought me a golden ticket to the top table,” James explained, revealing that his father, a state educated man, never felt he belonged at the Sunday Telegraph where young journalists from private school flew past him.

Now, James himself fears he will be unable to resist the temptation to send his eight-year-old daughter to private school to ensure she has the same opportunities. He says private education is unfair and urges, “Remove the choice.”

Angela Cullen, headteacher of a prep in Tunbridge Wells – The Mead School– said, “It’s parental choice and they’re choosing it for a reason…it’s about small classes.”

She argued that by providing jobs and saving the state money, “Private education supports and helps the public.”

Alex Gear went to a comprehensive and is now headteacher at Oakhurst Grange School, a Surrey prep. He said, “Choice is what actually matters…What my school does is give people opportunities… We send them out and say ‘The world is there, do what you can.’.”

Educated at a grammar, John Barnes, Conservative Councillor for Rother North West, went on to Cambridge. “We’re talking about privilege gained from being at a few schools,” he said. “There is no way you’re going  to make an even system on schools.” John feels if we abolish private education, as James suggests, we will still see an unjust system where, for example, house prices rise near good states schools, as they do in the tight catchment area for Cranbrook School.

Instead, John advocates the Australian system, “Give them a voucher for their state education, let them choose to go wherever they like…What we don’t want is…sterile uniformity.”

Nick Perry, the Lib Dem Candidate for Hastings and Rye, went to a private school then Cambridge.

“Private education is set up to improve people’s social status it is not there to promote social cohesion,” he said. “I’m a liberal so I don’t seek to ban things…I look on private education as I look on cannabis – it needs better regulation and it needs taxing.”

Liam Collins, headteacher at Uplands Community College himself went to a state school. He said, “Private schools…contribute significantly to our country’s inequality…It’s a fast track to success that the vast majority of families can’t afford.” He talked of the privately educated as having a stranglehold on positions of power…If you went to a prep school and then to Eton and then to Oxford when did you connect with someone from the local council estate?”

Our panelists and audience spoke of grammar school places filled by children educated privately at primary level and by others extensively tutored to pass the 11+. Where does that leave those state Primary pupils whose parents can’t afford tutors, they asked.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, the only reason we pay…is because we know they’re gunna lose if we don’t,” said James O’Brien.

Fin chipped in from the audience, “If Eton and Westminster are taking up so many places in government and the legal system isn’t that unfair?”

So how does society answer Fin, himself a pupil at Uplands? Are we really happy to say if your parents can’t cough up, you can’t be among our nation’s leaders? How very cosy.

You can sense it already. The motion was passed; this house believes that private education is the public’s harm.

- Posted on October 15, 2014

Table Talks: This house believes...

...charity is a convenient crutch

The British public gave £9.3bn to charitable causes in 2012. But, whom is charity really helping? Take a closer look and it seems neither so altruistic nor so helpful.

Our Chair Emma B kicked off Table Talks with a quote from Bob Lupton, the author of Toxic Charity, ʻGive once and you elicit appreciation; give twice and you create anticipation; give three times and you create expectation; give four times and it becomes entitlement; give five times and you establish dependency.ʼ

The broadcaster Lucio Buffone said, “If you want to campaign, join a trade union, join a political party, donʼt waste money on a charity.” He said charity is, “a poor replacement for a society that is cohesive and works together.” He sought to ridicule UNICEF by saying its American CEO, “earns $400,000 a year.”

On behalf of UNICEF, our panelist Chris Brown said charities “have to behave like business because there are huge challenges in this world…charity is not a crutch; charity is about giving support where there is none.”

Chris told the debate that in 2001 750,000 children died every year from measles and that work by UNICEF has helped to bring that figure down by 25%. He also told us that 25 years ago 50% of children went to primary school, now 90% do, thanks, in part, to charity. “There are still 1.2bn people who are hard to reach…charity is still important,” he added.

Simon Kaston from the charity Great Ormond Street Hospital said, “I think itʼs really insulting to all of us who work in the charity sector to say that itʼs just a crutch…. We predate the NHS by nearly 150 years; it was only the generosity of philanthropists that made our hospital open in the first place…we are doing stuff that only a charity can do.”

The author, journalist Anne Atkins said, “If youʼre starving itʼs really important to receive charity…but itʼs also really important for the giver…we have a sense of compassion…we say there are children there and theyʼre suffering and itʼs not their fault.”

Emma B wondered whether we are really satisfying a need by giving to charity or whether we are creating an unsolvable dependency to make ourselves feel better.

The sport commentator and charity ambassador Dan Lobb said charity “may not be an ideal model, but itʼs the only one weʼve got….there needs to be transparency in charities…we need to reconcile glaring ulterior motives…there are aspects of fundraising that are necessary evils.”

A member of the audience had serious concerns that charity stops countries helping themselves. He said, “I wondered whether, because we give money to charity, the governments of that country think ʻWell theyʼre doing, it why should we bother?ʼ”. Chris Brown replied that UNICEF tells governments to change their laws, such as convincing India to vaccinate its own children. He said, “Yes, governments should help their own people, but letʼs be real; they donʼt, they canʼt, theyʼre not there yet.”

There is no better truth than personal experience. Anne Atkins told us she, too, had needed charity, “As a family we were homeless…95% of people we knew took no notice; either they didnʼt believe it or they thought it was our fault or they were too busy. But there were three people who really took notice and they kept us going…weʼre OK now, but thank God for those three friends.” The house glowed with respect for Anne. Isnʼt part of our motivation for giving to charity the realisation behind the 500-year-old saying ʻThere, but for the grace of God, go I.ʼ?

At the end of a most interesting debate, the motion was denied.

Posted on March 31, 2014


So, you’ve dedicated the last three-and-a-half decades to your cause only to be repeatedly told, before an audience, that you were misguided, in short, that you had wasted the best part of your life. Feathers well and truly ruffled?

So it was for John Morgan, a Helios pharmacist, who cites the satisfaction of his patients throughout his thirty-five years as a homeopath as proof of its efficacy.

“There is something more than the placebo effect,” he said. “There is an effect that deserves looking into.”

Not proof enough, though, for the science writer Dr Simon Singh.

“There is no good evidence that shows that homeopathy works,” he said.

It made for a tense debate as our prodigal chair, Emma B, hosted the first TableTalks of 2014 at The Bell Inn Ticehurst.So, what did our other panellists believe – is homeopathy, this 220-year-old alternative medicine, a viable treatment, or is it no more effective than a sugar pill?

Onto the table jumped Wadhurst GP, Dr Andrew Sikorski, donning his white doctor’s coat like a mad professor, or, even, the embodiment of alternative medicine.

“Prescribed medicines are the third biggest killer after heart disease and cancer,” he said.

“So, I’d say patients want something other than prescription medicine…Thank the Lord that homeopathy is there.”

Rachel Roberts, Chief Executive of the Homeopathy Research Institute, chimed her agreement. “It’s real science,” she said. “Give us the money to fund more research. Stop saying you don’t have enough evidence if you won’t fund research.”

Diane Goodwin, Chair of The Society of Homeopaths, said, “We welcome regulation. We have standards of practice. Patients come to us as a port of last resort. It is absolutely not a placebo effect; homeopathy works, patients want it.”

What the audience in the stable with a table wanted was answers – does homeopathy actually work?

Serena Atkins, a science tutor, went to the crux of the matter; “The scientific world is neglecting the power that our minds have to heal our bodies.”

Believing in that power seemed too large a leap of faith for at least one of the scientists on the panel. While they regarded each other like there was no love lost, the rest of the house voted to give homeopathy a chance.

Posted on March 21, 2014

Coopers Farm won the cup with 28 day hung beef

If you’ve ever been to one of the large summer Agricutural Shows like Heathfield or The South of England Show you’ll have seen some wonderful rings of cows, sheep, goats and pigs.

These prize winning beasts are bulls and cows, ewes and rams in other words breeding males and females. In the winter there are another string of shows, called the Winter Fatstock Shows, where butchers go to choose beasts for Christmas.

At the Hailsham Fatstock Show last Wednesday, Coopers Farm of Stonegate, a family run business which supplies The Bell Inn with its 28 day hung beef, won the cup for the Best Sussex Steer in the show.

We know it tastes good and now we’ve got the rosette to prove it!

Posted on December 6, 2013

Secular society should not prevent people acting o

We took part in the best debate yet at The Bell, as the house put forward the motion that a secular society should not prevent people acting on their religious beliefs.

Table Talks’ host Emma B laid the foundations for a lively discussion, reminding us that the UK has undergone secularisation, fewer of us go to church and there appears to be a lack of support for religious liberal values while fundamentalism recently lead to the fatal attack on Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London.

The panel featured the writer and filmmaker Gita Sahgal, who is also Executive Director of the Centre for Secular Space. Gita said, “The point about a secular society is it allows people to live together…You should be able to hold any lunatic belief you wish to hold, however if you act on that lunatic belief, you have to be stopped.”

Father Michael, the Priest of the Catholic Church of Christ the King in nearby Burwash, argued that society should be allowed to practice its religion. “I agree we don’t need religion to be good, and I agree with the notion about fundamentalism…But, if you analyse the secular states that we’ve had in the last 100 years – Communist, Fascist….” well, a far better option for Father Michael is a pluralist society whose people are allowed to practice their religions all the while respecting one another.

 “The great thing about religion, said the comedian Joy Carter, “is that it’s a glue that holds society together…I was bullied and what kept me going was my faith.’’ Joy lost her family to war in Africa and was adopted by missionaries.

The broadcaster James Whale delighted in clashing with his fellow panelists and said, “To be in tune with Mother Nature and the environment, like the religion of the red Indians, is the ideal religion.”

Gita Sahgal won the audience’s approval with her passionate intellect, “The point about a secular society is that no-one is trying to take your religion away from you…religion flourishes in secular societies, it is also limited in secular societies where it does harm.’

After tonight’s lively debate, the motion was carried: a secular society should not prevent people acting on their religious beliefs.

The bell may have tolled, but heated conversations continued into the night…in our multicultural society we are often encouraged to hide our religion – this week the Girl Guides scrapped the allegiance to God that hitherto formed part of their oath. In today’s multicultural society are we going too far in our effort to be all inclusive and avoid inflaming tensions?

Posted on July 15, 2013

This house believes in passing the parenting test

 Should we have to pass a test before we are allowed to become parents? Or is the reality of restricting procreation to those who demonstrate they are capable of nurturing and instinctive parental love a flagrant disregard of our basic human rights?

Sue Atkins, author of Parenting Made Easy and Parenting for Dummies kicked off the debate. “At times parenting can feel like training jelly – all wobbles and no rules.” Agreeing that it is not easy to raise a balanced, useful member of society, Sue is concerned that parents are reluctant to ask for help, no matter what their background and that training is better than testing. “Parenting is one of the most important jobs in the world and yet we get no training for it. I don’t mean the extremes of Super Nanny, just ordinary everyday skills.”

Journalist Tom Latcham, the only man in the group, argued that the subject is surrounded by snobbery and hypocrisy. “Popular opinion appears to be that thick poor people should be prohibited from having kids and yet Prince Harry is a thick Royal and he could potentially father the next heir to the throne!” Tom has yet to enjoy the parenting role and the prospect terrifies him. A parenting test could be likened to passing your driving test and then crashing into the barriers. “After all, what moron would leave a child in a pub? Oh yes the same moron who put George Osborn in charge of the economy!” Tom concluded that no government has the right to decide who has a child or not.

Our lovely local representative couldn’t be better qualified. Frankie Nowne, as a youth magistrate and a member of a local adoption panel, questioned what the criteria would be for a parenting test, financial or genetic? “The Australian government has just apologised for giving children away born to mothers who didn’t pass the marriage test.” Frankie believes that there is a robust system in place to audit childcare and safety. Adoptive parents have to go through rigorous and intrusive tests but at the end of the day all children need is unconditional love.

Rachel Tonkin, a Senior Communications Officer with Parenting UK, wondered how many times parents should take the test as parenting changes as a child grows up. “It’s very different for toddlers and teenagers”. Lots of things happen during any childhood which will affect the way they are parented, be that divorce, bereavement, changes in physical and mental health. The single most important thing Rachel feels is “to reduce the stigma of asking for help.” Their helpline received over 8.6 million queries last year according to Rachel “Not seeking help is, in fact, failing you child.”

The debate opened to the audience and issues such as the environment children are brought up in,, parenting lessons in schools, financial circumstances and level of education were raised, some quite vocally. When put to the vote the motion was denied – unanimously, which is a first for Table Talks at The Bell.

And, at the end of the day, parenting should be a joy, not a burden.

Posted on April 15, 2013

Something Fishy at The Bell

The Bell’s very own master chef and fish connoisseur, Richard Kirkwood, hosted an educational and insightful evening on the global challenges of securing tasty, sustainable fish. To appreciate just how good local, sustainable fish can taste Richard demonstrated how to cook a perfect mackerel starter and local fish enthusiast, Kit Smith, cooked up a fascinating fishy quiz. We all now know just how ugly a monk fish really is!

Lively debate in a packed stable, a fabulous two course dinner with wine made for a swimmingly good evening.

As promised here are the recipes.

Devilled mackerel with shaved fennel &blood orange Serves 4:

4 whole mackerel, gutted

For the paste:
75gms butter
5gms caster sugar
5gms English mustard powder
5gms Cayenne pepper
5gms Paprika
5gms ground coriander
5 gms freshly ground pepper
10gms salt
11 mls of red wine vinegar

For the salad:

1 head of fenne
120gms dill
1 blood orange, if not available then a normal orange will do.
Rapeseed oil or good quality Extra Virgin Olive oil

Preheat your oven to 180oC to make the paste melt the butter in a saucepan, then add all other ingredients mixing well. Bring back to the heat and cook for another 2 minutes, set aside until required. 
Wash and dry the mackerel, then with a sharp knife score the skin on each side. The deeper the scores the more that the devilled paste with flavour the fish. When the paste is at room temperature use a pastry brush to apply the devilled paste. Apply as much or as little as you wish.

 Place the fish onto greaseproof paper and place in the oven for about 10 minutes.
For the salad, segment the blood orange, placing in a small mixing bowl, using a mandolin thinly slice the fennel, adding this to the bowl, add the chopped dill, season to taste and finish with some Rapeseed oil or good quality Extra Virgin Olive oil. Allow the salad to sit for 2-3 minutes to allow the orange juice and salt to soften the fennel.

Pan fried gurnard with smoked bacon and wild mushrooms Serves 4

4-8 fillets of gurnard depending on the size. Ask your fishmonger to fillet and pin-bone the fillets (ask to keep the bones)

For the garnish

80gms pancetta lardons

100gms wild mushrooms (use chestnut or button if wild cannot be found)

80gms small baby onions (do not use round shallots as the taste will be too overpowering)

100mls good chicken stock
Splash of white wine

For the sauce:
Gurnard bones

20gms pancetta lardons
1 Leek sliced
1 carrot sliced
1 onion sliced
3 cloves garlic sliced

20gms tomato puree
1 small tin chopped tomatoes
10gms Fennel seeds
200mls good red wine

200mls good chicken stock

10gms butter


A little rapeseed oil or extra virgin oil for frying 

The sauce can be made the day before and stored in the fridge until required.

Add the pancetta to a cold heavy bottomed saucepan and gently fry until all the fat has been released. Add the chopped gurnard bones, fry for 2 minutes and then add the vegetables. Turn down the heat and cook the vegetables and fish bones for 15-20 minutes.

Add the tomato puree, sweat for 2-3 minutes then add the red wine. At this point turn the heat up and boil until the red wine has reduced by 2/3. Add the chicken stock, fennel seeds and the chopped tomatoes and simmer until the desired consistency has been reached. Check the seasoning and pass through a fine sieve. The sauce should have a gentle hint of red wine, and a hint of sweetness. Place aside until required.

For the garnish:
Peel the baby onions and fry in a saucepan until coloured, add a splash of white wine, and then cover with good chicken stock, simmer gently until cooked. Drain and set aside for later. In a heavy bottomed, cold, saucepan gently fry the bacon lardons, until crisp (note: you do not need any oil in the pan).

Add the mushrooms and fry until cooked, add the baby onions and toss with a little butter and chopped parsley. In a heavy bottomed frying pan, heat the oil until hot, but not smoking. Lightly flour the gurnard fillets and season with salt and pepper. Fry skin side down, placing them in the pan away from you to avoid splashes. Fry on a medium heat until the skin is lightly coloured and crispy, flip the fillets over and finish cooking in the pan. Note: If the fillets are large they may have to be finished in a moderate oven.

To serve, spoon a small amount of mashed potato in the middle of the plate, top with the gurnard fillets, then the garnish and finally boil the red wine sauce, whisk in 10gms of butter to create a silky smooth sauce and pour over and around the fish.

Posted on January 17, 2013

Table Talks December

With a festive nip in the air we sneaked into the Stable with a Table to debate the latest Table Talks notion:

‘This House Believes in Father Christmas’. As if the very existence of the jolly fellow were in any doubt!

Yes, this was one of our more light-hearted debates, but if we delve into the past, we find a real figure associated with Father Christmas, or Santa Claus – Saint Nicholas. In his life as a bishop, Nicholas was known for his generosity to the needy and for his love of children.

He was imprisoned for his faith and after his release attended the Council of Nicaea, called to preserve the unity of the church. Now,

St Nicholas Day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death on December 6th. So, why do we get our children all excited by a man in red squeezing down our chimneys on the night of the 24th?

Well, first to speak from our Christmas panel was Philippa King. Stonegate’s PR guru suggested Father Christmas could be seen as a “pre-cursor to a conventional religion”. “It takes a leap of faith to believe in Father Christmas as a child and maybe the same leap of faith is made to believe in the virgin birth.”

And there are, she said, similar expectations that, “If you are good you will get your rewards, whether that be in heaven or your stocking.”

The writer Cole Morton told us that, to bolster his son’s swaying faith, he wrote a piece in the Sunday Telegraph about phoning Father Christmas.

When Cole got finally got through, Father Christmas said, “Merry Christmas”, in a voice as warm as figgy pudding.” Hhhm! That’s just how we imagined he would sound, perfect.

Spy Magazine, said Cole, worked out that to deliver gifts to the 378 million believing children in the world, Father Christmas would have to travel at 650 miles per second with flying reindeer pulling a sleigh with 321,300 tonnes of presents.

The comedian Frog Morris is not convinced: “There are no known species of reindeer that can fly. You can’t get to 91.8 billion homes in one night and no one can drink 91.8 billion glasses of brandy in one night, I know this because I’ve tried it.”We’re teaching children capitalism and it begins with Santa… why don’t we teach children to go out and work and buy presents.”

Santa, implausible? Certainly not, argued a little elf (this debate was getting a touch surreal): “Quite obviously my boss does not use conventional means…. It’s quite conceivable that flying reindeer have not been discovered yet.” Kieran the elf was pretty put out to be wasting time on our debate when he has far more pressing things to be getting on with in the run up to Christmas. Well, he is Manager of Baubles and Chief of the Naughty List.

Mark Watkins, chef extraordinaire, took to his feet: “I believe in Father Christmas not because I want to, but because I have to… I was a sloth at Chirstmas,”

Mark explained, “So, I went to Christmas Anonymous. One of the steps was you had to believe in a higher power so I let Father Christmas in.”

The pink-clad head of Wall of Sound records, Mark Jones, turned the surrealism up a notch, telling everyone he is a Buddhist and urging us to chant with him. So, we did. Mark says he believes in faith but is yet to be convinced by Father Christmas.

Our host Emma B baited the audience with the suggestion that, “Father Christmas is a kind of faith system,” since, “there is an order in the way we approach it.”

“Enough!” cried the audience.

Sue Gaisford, put everyone straight: “Children have to be disillusioned at some stage.”

Her husband, Rob, added, “In our house my older brother was so frightened of this fat bloke coming down the chimney that my parents had to tell him he parked down the drive.”

When the vote was cast, the house passed the notion. It seems we do believe in Father Christmas, or the Christmas spirit, at least.

Posted on December 14, 2012

Table Talks

We’re mid conference season and for all the coverage given to the annual gatherings of the three major parties, you would think we regarded them as events of monumental significance. So, why is it, as The Economist recently reminded us, that the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour have fewer members between them than the RSPB? Could it be that the political party has had its day? A lively debate featuring Ken Livingstone considered this motion at The Bell.

“The party is the only vehicle we have,” Ken told a larger than usual crowd, “The alternative to the party system is violence. So, join any political party you can just about stomach.”

Matt Korris, a Senior Researcher at the Hansard Society suggested direct referendums might be an alternative, but his research proved otherwise. “We do need representative democracy. We don’t actually want to make all these decisions,” he said, adding that just 40 % of people responding to his survey wanted to be involved in local decision making, and only 33% in national decision making. “It means, in principle, we want other people to take those decisions. The complaint is that they don’t see it working in the way it ought to be.”

Charles Moore, a former editor of The Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph recalled Maggie Thatcher’s era, when her local Conservative Association in Dartford boasted 3,000 members. “It was tribal,” said Charles, “people had their aspirations and thought the

Conservative party was the vehicle. This was the first generation where women actually had the full vote. Though we all believe in democracy, we don’t so much care about our vote. If we don’t get engaged we can’t really complain about the result.”

The satirist Andy Zaltzman, upon whom our host Emma B pinned the Bell badge for greatest applause, quipped, “The political party is at its end. Floating voters are bobbing face down on a reservoir of disillusionment.” Andy recognised demonstrations and protest marches as the current mode of political activism.

 South East, said, “We seem to accept the party system is dying, but we don’t have anything to replace it. A lot of politicians are still kidding themselves that it’s all ok, but actually the lights have gone out and the party is going on in the dark.” Julia’s utopia would enjoy consensus politics.

We all agreed apathy and disillusionment have taken their toll. What is more, an eighteen-year-old in the audience said, politics is inaccessible, “It’s very rare for people in our groups to have a good understanding of politics, unless they’re studying it,” she said.

Fewer than 10 people in our thronging stable with a table were fully-fledged members of a political party. Yet, the motion was denied.

We voted to keep the party system, albeit with a few modifications – primaries to elect local candidates, for example. We could yet see the day.

Posted on October 9, 2012

The Pig: Its life, its loves and your happiness.

Here at the Bell we revere the noble pig in all it’s forms, and not more so than on our new ‘Pig board’.

Select from our plethora of pork based snacks, like Black pudding bon bons, crispy pork bites, spiced ribs and sausage rolls.

We’ve taken all of the best bits of pig, and married them with their perfect partner, be it Tom Maynard’s Bramley apples,

House of Parliament Sauce or crisp and light puff pastry, to create a truly mouth watering selection of pig treats.

Come to the Bell Inn in Ticehurst to sample our wares and maybe enjoy a pint or 2 as well.

The pig board, and it’s associated partners, are available between 12pm and 9:30pm every day (Sundays 12pm and 9pm).

Posted on September 14, 2012