Let me today, if you please, sing the praises of the great British landlady. My reference is not to the celebrated seaside variety of old – rollers, hairnet and soiled pinny in place – but to her eminently more refined namesake who once ruled the roost in our nation’s pubs.

And how might she have looked? Laura Thompson tells us in her wonderful book The Last Landlady, universally praised on its publication last year and now out in paperback (Unbound, £9.99).

The subject is her grandmother Violet (‘Vi’ to all), born to pub life in London and then in charge – sans attendant (land)lord – of an ancient Home Counties hostelry where Laura’s youth was partly spent in the 1970s.

We meet Vi first seated at a high stool at her bar, Player’s untipped cigarette smoking in the ashtray, “in the negligent but alert position of a night club singer”.

Laura goes on: “One of her hands rested on her thigh, not quite relaxed, holding a glass [probably containing whisky and soda which, if pressed upon her by a customer, would very likely be thrown on the increasingly soggy carpet].

“Her hair was white but not a grandmotherly white . . . She wore dark foundation and a deep red lipstick.”

Later, we learn that she dismissed the landlady of popular culture (“Bet Lynch? Please”) yet in various ways rather defined her.

“Because my grandmother was the supreme landlady – as well as being supremely herself – she displayed traits that, to the casual eye, would have confirmed the stereotype.

“She was as colourful as a macaw and – Bet Lynch again – she favoured leopard print, although it all came from Knightsbridge.

“She had a hostess’s charm, simultaneously meaningful and meaningless (‘Lovely to know you’ was her greeting to all, pressing the flesh as he eyes deadened with the strain of remembering who the hell they were).”

Laura is brilliant in categorising the publican as “orchestra leader and impresario” in control of supplying the special atmosphere of that fast-disappearing institution – at least in traditional form – the British pub.

And what is that? Laura tells us. “The pub is – or was – a delicate reflection of our nation’s character: the stoical humour, the craving for clannishness, the relish for a downbeat kind of humour, the jokey attitude to sin, the sentimentalism, the rebellious obeisance and the fleeting aggression.”

Laura’s compelling portrait of Violet naturally set me thinking of the colourful landladies I have known over the years.

These certainly included Win Reading – another woman in sole control – of The Eagle and Child (Bird and Baby) in St Giles. She is pictured above in 1973 – the year she first served me with a pint – when she had already been 27 years in the trade.

The photograph accompanied an interview in which she spoke of the barmaid’s role: “All barmaids have their own little ways of welcoming people into a pub. We all have little things we say to our regulars as they come and go – a joke or a familiar line.”

Win was a key figure in the Women’s Auxiliary of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association, along with her friend Sheila Kyffin, of The King’s Arms, in Holywell.

At their invitation, I once joined an Auxiliary outing – the only male in the coach party – to the LVA retirement home at Denham, in Buckinghamshire.

Both outward and return journeys were punctuated by pit stops at pubs along the route. Few were passed unvisited. While the ladies were astonishingly resilient to the effects of the heady drinks – gin and tonics mainly – I began to think, notwithstanding the need to preserve the bibulous reputation of the journalist, that here was rather too much of a good thing.

Another significant female figure on the local licensing scene was Joyce Douglas, who had charge of The Dun Cow, at Northmoor, in succession to her mother Lilian Lay, who held sway there for more than 40 years.

This marvellous old pub was famously primitive, to the extent that it even lacked a bar. The beer was racked up in the ‘serving room’ (kitchen) and delivered in jugs.

The place was notable not for what it had but for what it didn’t have. Besides no bar, there was no food, no music, no darts or pool (though dominoes was encouraged) and no inside lavatories.

Oh, and no ice: anyone foolish enough to request this vital adjunct to a G&T was advised by Joyce to “come back in the winter, love”.

As she told an Oxford Mail journalist in 1982 (it was probably me, but the byline is absent from the cutting): “There are pubs and pubs and there is definitely a place for this sort of pub for the right sort of customers.”

Among them at that time was our local MP John Patten – he was good fun in those days – who joined in the effort to keep the place open. Alas, this was not successful and time was called for good in 1991.