An “offensive” pub sign which prompted outrage has been removed and dismissed as a harmless joke.

The Jolly Brewer displayed a blackboard which said: “Men no shirt, no service. Women no shirt, free beer.”

The landlord and landlady at the pub on Ditchling Road, Brighton, say although the sign was purely intended to make customers chuckle, they have been forced to take it down after complaints the wording was “offensive.”

Amy Phipps, 29, of Preston Circus, said she witnessed 40-year-old men laughing and jeering at the wording when she saw the sign.

She said: “It’s just offensive and derogatory. There are schools near here, it worries me young girls and children could see it and think it’s acceptable to objectify women. Sadly these comments are common but it’s shocking when it’s right in front of you.”

When a reporter for The Argus approached the pub for a comment, a customer asked if she had come to “take her top off.”

Gary Hills, partner to landlady Nicky Hills, said the complaints were from “very sad people” and claimed the phrase was a well-known joke featured on a website which suggests funny anecdotes for pub signs.

He said: “We put a new one out each week to make people laugh. The landlady picked it, so she doesn’t mind. We’ve taken it down now but we just can’t believe this has happened. It was just a joke and everyone we have spoken to thought it was funny. We saw people take pictures, smiling as they walked past.”

When The Argus asked people what they thought of the sign, Hollingdean resident Angela Upton said: “It’s a joke just for men who are misogynistic and are unlikely to treat women with the respect they deserve.”

A 23-year-old male staff member at Corner News And Booze, on Upper Hollingdean Road, said: “It’s not offensive. There are more important things to worry about.”

And a 58-year-old resident of nearby Nettledon and Dudeney flats, said: “It’s a joke. There are other things that go on in our area which are more offensive.”

But Hollingdean resident Kevin Guigera, 59, said it made the pub sound cheap and tacky. He said: “It’s like going back to the 1970s.”