Tributes to 'Winkle' - the legendary landlord who broke the mould

Ray 'Winkle' Norman

Ray 'Winkle' Norman at the White Horse Pub in Upton on his 60th birthday. He has been described as a legend in his own lounge bar, famed for his directness and for having a heart of gold. - Credit: Supplied by Robert Sprunt

You might not have got service with a smile. In fact, you might not have got any service at all if he had nipped out to run an errand or give someone a lift.

Famed for his "no filter" sense of humour as much as his "heart of gold" the death of Raymond 'Winkle' Norman on Saturday, January 23 aged 77 has sparked an outpouring of affection, and the re-telling of many tales - some said to be unsuitable for print.

The only thing patrons could expect at the popular village watering hole he ran for more than 40 years was the unexpected.

The White Horse, Upton. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The White Horse, Upton. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

His traditional village boozer, the White Horse in Upton, had little in common with today's gastro pubs - and no-one could have run it like he did or created such a unique atmosphere that is still talked about today almost a decade after he retired.

Former bar manager Robert Sprunt describes a lively vibe that would have political correctness running for the hills.

"He was one of the nicest men you could ever meet," he said.

"He had a heart of gold, but could be cantankerous as well.

"His sense of humour was second to none. He would say what he thought.  He had no filter.

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"But he was so good to work for. There was always something happening.

"No-one ever knew what to expect when they walked in the door.

Ray 'Winkle' Norman

Ray 'Winkle' Norman, legendary landlord of the White Horse in Upton, has died. - Credit: Supplied by Robert Sprunt

"He was just a real character. He broke the mould. There have been hundreds of stories over the years."

Mr Sprunt recounted an oft-told tale about the time environmental health officers told him there were too many flies in his kitchen - prompting Winkle to ask how many they should be and whether he should zap the others.

"He was a legend and his quirky one-liners were the best," he said.

As well as his quick wit Winkle was also noted for his kindness, shuttling shoppers to Yarmouth on a Wednesday, sometimes leaving the pub unattended to run an errand and people would come in and leave their money behind the bar.

"It was a proper local pub," he added.

Winkle took over at the White Horse in 1972 and lived upstairs, but had worked there for a while before.

Robert Sprunt barman

Robert Sprunt behind the bar at the White Horse in Upton where he worked for Ray 'Winkle' Norman for 11 years. He described him as a real character and a wonderful mentor. - Credit: Supplied by Robert Sprunt

There would be sing-songs, kippers roasting on an open fire and famously an appearance from Winkle dressed as Diana Ross.

Mr Sprunt added: "He will be sorely missed." 

As well as Upton, Winkle was connected with all the local villages including South Walsham and Acle - and was even said to have East End gangsters the Richardson's (their aunt apparently lived in the village) among his customers when they were hiding out from the Krays.

His famous Friday night fish and chips saw queues around the block and the wait could be as long as two hours.

He was also an avid Norwich City fan and lifetime president of South Walsham Cricket Club.

His son Andy said: "To have spent that long in the industry is a real feat.

"It was never conventional. I am sure there were some people whose noses were put out of joint but the swell of opinion is that if anybody needed anything he would have been there."

He said his father was adopted. He went on to marry Christine and they had one son, Andy.

The couple separated but remained good friends.

Winkle had lived at the Bowthorpe Care Village for around five years and had suffered ill health for some time.

HRH The Prince of Wales visiting the White Horse pub, a community pub, in Upton near Acle, Norfolk.

HRH The Prince of Wales visiting the White Horse pub, a community pub, in Upton near Acle, Norfolk. Picture: James Bass. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

When Winkle retired the pub failed to find a buyer and it was taken on by the community, creating Norfolk's first community pub and shop attracting the admiration of Prince Charles who called in and raised a pint to its success.

A celebration of Winkle's life is being planned for when restrictions allow.

The funeral has yet to be arranged.