Mike Atkinson

Interview: Don McCalman

Posted in interviews, LeftLion by Mike A on March 3, 2011

(This feature originally appeared in LeftLion magazine.)

Don McCalman worked through the dark ages of Nottingham nightlife; a time when door staff were bouncers, a lobbing down a flight of stairs was an acceptable way to deal with an errant customer and the profession was completely unregulated. Then he wrote a book about it…

How long have you been working the doors?

I started over 40 years ago. I’ve worked the Royal Hotel for 27 years, and I used to have 16 doormen on there, because of all the restaurants. I used to run the George Hotel, the Mint Bar, the Ossington in Newark, the Daisy Club and lots more, all over Nottingham. At the Palais, I’ve seen blokes being chucked down the stairs. We were bouncers then. But if you were in a situation where it got out of control and someone was going to hit you with a bottle, then you had to take it further.

How often have you felt in serious danger?

Many times: it’s a dangerous job. I’ve had my son working for me and I was glad when he packed up. The trouble is we’re now getting knives and guns. If you get someone on drugs and he says to you that he’s got a gun, you have to take it seriously.

How do you deal with that fear?

It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not frightened of anything. When you’re on the door, you can’t back off – if you do, you’d be known as a coward and nobody would work with you. If you’re going to get a beating, you’re going to have to take it. For example, when I was a young man I was doing The Rose on Parliament Street and this guy hit his girlfriend. He was with a load of lads and I got them all out and made sure the girl was all right. She phoned her father and he came down and thanked me. Then when I walked out later, someone hit me from behind. They found me on the dustbin in the morning.

Do you have to consciously keep your emotions under control?

Oh yeah, you have to. One minute it’s “Oh, please mate, please let me in, honest, I’ll behave” and next thing you’re a bastard. They’ll do everything to get inside you. Spitting in your face, calling you a nonce and all that. They want to get a rise out of you. But you never lose your temper. They go across the road, and they stand there abusing you for a while, and then they go.

Does anybody ever come back and apologise?

Yeah, lots of times. Nice lads will come back the next week. “Mate, I’m ever so sorry for what I did last week, for swearing at you and all that.” Then they’ll say, can I come in tonight? “Yeah, all right, you can come in.” Or sometimes I’ll say, “No, but thanks for apologising and come back to see me next week.”

So has Nottingham become more dangerous over the years?

It’s mixed. It’s got dangerous from the point of weapons. I think that most of the trouble is to do with “you’re on my patch.” I know people who live in St Ann’s, where I was born, who won’t go in one area because they’re frightened. And because the other bloke’s got a knife, they feel safer with a knife. I’ve been at bars where I’ve seen the jackets sticking up – so you know they’ve got the knife, at the back, in their trousers. Everybody drinks too much now – they don’t know what they’re doing, then they wonder what they’ve done the next day.

Is boozing more of a problem now?

Some people just go out to get drunk and cause trouble and some of the girls get absolutely legless. I’ve gone up Parliament Street and you can see them, she doesn’t know she’s having sex, she doesn’t know anything about it. A girl said to me one night, “I’m gonna slit you and pull your liver out.” I had another woman try to get a bottle to hit me. So I had to get her arm and say to her “If you do any more, or if you try and kick me again, I’m going to throw you down the stairs.” Sometimes you have to use that sort of attitude to people. You can’t just say to them, now be a good girl and pat them on the head. Because they won’t take that – they’ll have a go at you.

If you were able to pass any new legislation to make Nottingham city centre a safer place to be at night, what would you do?

I’d cut down closing times to how they were before. I think two o’clock in the morning is ample. I would never have increased the drinking time. If you leave the pub at eleven, it still gives you three hours to drink.

Do you get noticed when you’re not on the job?

I was once in Walkabout, and there were about eight lads with baseball hats. I could remember chucking them out of the Royal. One of them came over and said “Do you remember us? Do you want to come outside now?” Then suddenly, all the bouncers were around them and they went “Have you got a problem, Don? So I say to these lads, “Have we got a problem?” They went, but in a different circumstance, they’d have followed me.

Your autobiography The Bouncer came out last year. How did it come about?

When I first wrote it, I never thought of selling it. It was just for my family. But people took an interest and I was told to ring this guy called John Parker in London. I sent it down to him and he re-wrote it. He likened it to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

The book is even prefaced with; ‘Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not’.

I’ve done quite a lot in my life. But being a doorman has cost me.

In what way?

Being who I am, everywhere I go now, I’m on my own. Everybody knows me as dressed in black, and you get this reputation. When I was a young man, I used to love it, but now it gets very lonely. People can think all sorts – they make you like you’re a gangster and you’re not. I wouldn’t have been the vice-chairman of the Door Watch Committee, for one and I’m well known to the police, as I always did a good job.

You write about being severely bullied as a child. How did that affect you?

When I was a lad, I was really bullied. I was claustrophobic and frightened of going outside. Then when I was about sixteen or seventeen, I saw the guy that used to beat me on Porchester Road. All this hate came inside me and I went and knocked seven bells out of him. Once I did that, I changed from being timid to not being frightened. It was already there, but I was too scared to use it. Then I changed and I was always gang leader. With my mates, I was always the top man. I had jet black hair and there were all the ladies, of which I had a hell of a lot. But I can always remember my wife saying to me: one day, you’re going to end up on your own. And she was dead right.

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