John Osborne's plays have been described as 'kitchen sink drama'. The epithet is even more appropriate when applied to the work of Jewish working class
playwright Arnold Wesker - for it was when working here at the Bell as a kitchen porter that he achieved his first literary success. In 1950, Wesker left his home in East London with a pile of
rejection slips: 'in despair of ever becoming a writer'. He came to stay with his sister Della in Norfolk and acquired the job at the Bell - which at that time was a thriving hotel with a large and
busy kitchen. Like George Orwell whose 'Down and Out in Paris and London' launched a major literary career, Wesker used his menial labours to develop his undeniable talent.
In his brilliant and honest autobiography 'As Much as I Dare', Wesker admitted: "Kitchen life appealed to me". And in his diary notes he recalls devouring books at a prodigious rate in the shelter of his small attic room at the hotel, while below him shoppers crowded the narrow streets. Experiences gained here remained a constant inspiration: "lives wasted accepting second best; lives vulnerable from inadequate nourishment spiritual, emotional, intellectual; lives stultified from wrong choice based on chimeric dreams, self-delusion".
His play The Kitchen specifically draws upon some of his Norwich experiences. In the opening scene the hotel is quiet and sleepy as his daily routine begins at 6.30 making porridge and frying bacon: "The first orders came slowly the cups and saucers could be washed at an even pace then with greater speed, heightened intensity, hum building to a roar. Breakfast was on! Rhythm! Swing! Sweat! Temperament!" It was here he met and fell in love with chambermaid Dusty Bicker who became the model for Beatie Bryant - the central character in his Norfolk based play 'Roots'. 'Chicken Soup with Barley' and 'I'm Talking About Jerusalem' followed and it was Dusty's parent's farm at nearby Redenhall that provided the setting for the trilogy.
The Bell is believed to date from 1480. In the 18th century it hosted famous cock fighting battles and was the meeting place for The Hell Fire Club. From 1943 to 1945 it was used as headquarters and billets for the American Women's Army Corps. It was closed in the1960's and rescued by J. D. Weatherspoons in 1976 to become one of their famous great value freehouses.