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Family: The North Wales pub which starred in classic Noughties series on UK's 'toughest' boozers

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Leery lads and no-nonsense women downing drink after drink while a classic song was murdered on the karaoke machine in the background - that was a typical scene in a documentary on Britain's toughest pubs in the early 2000s.

The former Old Vaults pub on Chester Street, Wrexham, was the subject in a Sky documentary on Britain's toughest pubs nearly 20-years ago © Trinity Mirror The former Old Vaults pub on Chester Street, Wrexham, was the subject in a Sky documentary on Britain's toughest pubs nearly 20-years ago

The show, 'The Toughest Pubs in Britain', was aired on Sky 3 in 2004, which was part of the boom of new and novel satellite channels sweeping Britain at the time. The premise of the show was to expose to the light some of the dark and dodgier boozers that litter the nation's towns and cities. And have a bit of a laugh along the way.

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The show would look into the less seemly side of pubs by speaking to the regulars to see if the drinking hole in question justified its reputation as a 'tough pub'. There's little doubt the drinkers in these pubs were encouraged to play up for the cameras and tell the most poor taste tales they could muster.

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One North Wales pub they visited on their whistle-stop tour of questionable boozers was Wrexham's own Old Vaults pub on Chester Street. It's worth noting that this documentary was filmed nearly 20 years ago and the pub has since changed hands and has a new name, the Long Pull, who now occupy the same historic building which dates back to the mid 19th century.

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In fact, such has the pub's turnaround been, it has recently been named joint top establishment in town. Plans were also submitted last year to completely refurbish the historic building.

But to imagine the Old Vaults pub as it was then, you'll need to cast your mind back to the early noughties, when TV shows seemed to be able to get away with a lot more than they do today. No doubt, much of the material in the episodes would now be regarded as non-PC by many.


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The episode featuring the Old Vaults begins with the show's narrator introducing the pub to the viewer. Setting the tone of what's to come, the narrator says: "Wales, famed for such beauties as Shirley Bassey and Charlotte Church, so you could be forgiven for thinking a boozer in Wrexham could be a good place to find a young lady.

"But beware, lurking in the town centre is one of the strangest drinking holes in the country. Once through the doors of the Old Vaults, you enter a frightening and dangerous world where going on the pull could be the biggest mistake of your life."

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The camera cuts to the editor of Front Magazine, Eoin McSorley, which was one of the 'lads mags' that proliferated around the time in the same vein as Loaded or FHM. McSorley offers this slice of wisdom about tough pubs: "The problem with tough women in tough pubs is that sometimes it’s very difficult to tell them apart from their men." Maybe now you're starting to understand what I mean when I say that even just 20 years ago it felt like a much different time.

To illustrate the editor's point, the narrator introduces one of the pub's regulars and characters, Big June. Big June is an imposing looking woman who towers over the men in the pub. She wears a high beehive style hairdo and her hands are covered in gold sovereign rings.

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The pub's landlord then offers a bit of background on his favourite regular. He says: "There are customers who come in here, who don’t come in here regular, suddenly look at June and start taking the mickey - the way she dresses, the way she looks, her whole personality - if anyone takes the mickey out of her, June will let them know who’s boss." Cut to Big June who says: "I’ve clacked a few people and I expect I’ll clack a few more before I die."

A drinker in what looks to be in his late 50s then offers an insight into the pub's reputation as a "hard drinking" place. He jokes: "If somebody threw a petrol bomb through the window it wouldn’t go off, one of the regulars would drink it first."

To give the patrons and landlord credit, their sense of humour shines throughout the entire episode in the honestly colourful and, frankly, friendly atmosphere inside the traditional pub - to the point where you question if it really is one of Britain's toughest pubs. It's at that point in the show the landlord sidles over to Big June and plants a quite uncomfortably long kiss on her lips as the rest of the pub cheers.

In summing up the Old Vaults from back in the early 2000s, the narrator offers the following: "Walking into this pub is like stepping into a terrifying twilight zone where nothing is as it seems and nobody knows who they are." The show ends by cutting to a heavily inebriated drinker on the pavement outside the pub while 'People are Strange' by The Doors plays out.

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