Episode 3 – Megan Clark-Bagnall – Learnings from Little Chef for the New Art World

In this podcast artist Megan Clark-Bagnall tries to find a working methodology for the new art world based on learnings taken from the demise of Little Chef restaurants in the UK. 

The Bricks Podcast follow Bristol’s contemporary artists, on journeys within the city walls and beyond, along the leylines of the South West, up the A roads north, and through their unique observations on the world.

Produced by Rowan Bishop, commissioned and co-produced by Jack Gibbon and Jessica Akerman of Bricks. Original music by @rowanbishop.


Daily Express newspaper article showing picture of man and woman outside Little Chef with title Couple's 1,931-mile last supper for Little Chefs
Article in Daily Express about Every Little Chef.

Where the A16 meets the A17 near Spalding on the Sutterton Roundabout, there used to be a Little Chef. The old brown diner building has since been turned into three fast food conveniences: one part Subway, one part Burger King & one part Greggs. 

This was the twelfth Little Chef that Owen and I visited, out of the final surviving not thriving 41 Little Chefs, before the chain closed permanently on 31st January 2019. 

White plate of fried food on table with sun shining on it.

When we first approached the Little Chef (which had a variety of haulage trucks parked up outside) we soon noticed a sign on the door that read “Due to an electricity fault, we are running from a limited menu”. Inside, branch manager Adam told us they had been without a working grill for over a fortnight and were struggling to cook food. Head Office by that point had closed and so there was no-one to respond to the staff’s plea for help in getting the grill back up and working, or sorting out the missing food deliveries from their suppliers. Adam informed us that the branch (empty as it was that day, tumbleweed style empty) did have regular elderly clientele that would pop into the branch for their weekly trip out of the house via taxi ride. The only thing on offer was scrambled (microwaved) eggs on toast and tea, and these items were only available because the staff brought in their own toaster and kettle to replace the defunct items in the kitchen. 

Empty Little Chef restaurant in dark with lights on.
Lights on No-One home

The penny sort of dropped for Owen & I at this point. We were doing our photography road trip project of the Little Chefs, exploring the scenery and sites but until this point like many others we’d almost made jokes about the disgrace of Little Chef. About their slow demise and make comments like “how are they even still going?” but we didn’t care enough until this point to actually find out more about the demise. The low morale of staff forced to front slowing diminishing diners up and down the country was evident. Little Chef’s were often under the radar community centres. Time changes and because the cars started to go faster and longer without needing to rest, and McDonalds kick started Drive-Through culture, we changed not just without question, but without thinking. What else went without thought was what the Little Chef’s of the world meant to people. And what certainly went without investigation was how the large corporations that owned Little Chef treated their employees with care-less and thought-less consideration. 

Blow up globe in studio surrounded by tools. Small placard leans on globe saying The Art World with Art crossed out.
The (Art) World

We’re at a junction now with the pandemic. 

The arts sectors have been forced into stopping and/or changing course…

Without reflecting on what art in the world was like before the pandemic, considering how art should be post the pandemic and exploring the possibilities for creative connection during the pandemic, the arts industry within the world, could continue like Little Chef did.. without thought, question or care.


…. if we continue without thought, consideration or care, the arts industry might end up like the recently defunct Little Chef on the A16/A17. This Little Chef isn’t empty and boarded up, like some others. It wasn’t completely demolished either, like some others. But it’s taken on a new Grab&Go only lease of life, co-hosted by Subway, Burger King & Greggs. This new existence doesn’t provide chairs for the elderly regulars to sit down once a week and be together. I imagine the weekly taxi rides out of the house have stopped.

This old diner now only caters for able bodied grabbers and goers who want to pop in for a vegan sausage roll, foot long sub or double cheese burger, which they will probably multitask alongside their clutch control and steering wheels as they speedily travel onwards to their final destination, leaving little time for digestion or taking in the view via the scenic route.

Black poster with title Death of a Restaurant with white text and a photo of a Little Chef restaurant at night time, empty with the lights on.
Poster for Every Little Chef funeral performance at The Wardrobe Theatre.

I was made up to be commissioned to make this podcast. 

It’s allowed me time to chat to some amazing people and consider for myself where I am going next as a social artist, how I should view myself and which roads to navigate as I travel along…

Woman and man in recording studio wearing headphones surrounded by microphones, pop shields and drums.
Rich Cross in the recording studio 
Red Little Chef funeral folder, notepad with written thoughts scribbled on it and yellow dictaphone on desk.

Find out more about these fantastic people & their projects & ideas here : 

Oliver Hyam, Little Chef Fan currently on a mission to visit all the old Little Chef sites in the UK. 

Rich Cross, Motorway Service Station Enthusiast, the author behind on Twitter: @RichCross98

Matthew Whittle – Co-Director of The Wardrobe Theatre on Twitter: @Matthew_Whittle

Jesse Meadows The Wardrobe Ensemble on Twitter: @_JesseMeadows_

Jack Gibbon, Director of Bricks on Twitter: @jackgibbon_

Simon Alper, Eldest son of Sam Alper OBE (who established Little Chef in 1958)

Dr Tarek Virani, Associate Professor – Creative Industries, UWE Bristol 

Two-page spread of handwritten notes in notepad.
Meg’s Manifesto

Bricks Recommends…

…For anyone interested to learn more about social infrastructure check out Eric Klinenberg talking about his book Palaces for the People on the podcast 99% Invisible

Arts Council England and National Lottery combined logo
With thanks to Arts Council England and National Lottery players for funding this podcast series.