Back to the Future

Pub: the Hole in the Wall, Waterloo, London.

By Bailey

Last week, I interviewed Terry Pattinson, who, while not a founder member of CAMRA, joined in the summer of 1972, and was elected to the National Executive in October the same year.

I’m never sure whether veterans from the world of beer and brewing will want to meet in a pub — what if they’re recovering alcoholics or just bored of beer? — but Terry wanted to meet at Waterloo, so I suggested the Hole in the Wall.

When we asked last year which were the first specialist real ale pubs, several people named it as an early example, and so I was keen to check it out. Semi-coincidentally, Terry was able to tell me how it got its cult reputation:

This place used to be a shit hole, with one small bar in the front room. This whole back room was my doing. The landlord then was Irish and had one leg and a stick. I told him about CAMRA and said, go on, get one hand-pump in – get Young’s Special in and see how it goes. When I came in a while later, he wouldn’t let me pay for my pint: the place was packed, he’d done very well out of it, and it became a sort of real ale destination.

Terry Pattinson, c.1975.

Terry on the cover of CAMRA’s What’s Brewing, March 1975.

Terry, who still has a Gateshead accent, worked as a journalist from the nineteen-sixties until his retirement a few years ago, and is best known for his investigation into Arthur Scargill’s financial affairs in the early nineties. Once we’d finished talking about CAMRA, the conversation wandered on to Fleet Street’s drinking culture in the nineteen-seventies. ‘I was probably drinking…’ He paused to think. ‘Seventy pints a week? Eighty?’ A quick count followed, with fingers held up: ‘Four at lunch, then back to my desk. Another four after work, that’s eight. Then down here to get my train, and I’ve have another while I waiting. Then another, or maybe two, while I waited for my wife to pick me up at the other end.’

For a moment, I felt both transported in time, and slightly inadequate as I played at journo with my notebook and ‘shorthand’ (terrible handwriting).

These days, the beer at the Hole in the Wall is hit and miss, and I wondered whether my pint of Young’s Special, sour and buttery, was perhaps the dregs of the original c.1975 cask. Still, it’s always nice to find a pub with a place in Britain’s beer history that remains standing, and remains a pub.

Boak couldn’t join me on this trip to London, which means I get to elbow her out and put my byline on all the posts I write off the back of it. See — I’m getting the hang of this Fleet Street stuff!

16 thoughts on “Back to the Future”

  1. Nice piece, the more I hear about the Fleet St drinking culture from interviews like this or from someone like Rosie Boycott, the more I’m amazed we had a functioning newspaper industry that’s lasted until now, how was anyone ever sober enough to write the things?

    1. You get used to it if you’re doing it every day. So I am told.

      And I’m sure many in Fleet Street in those days were doing a lot more than four pints at lunchtime…

  2. The Hole in the Wall was a bit of a dive, that reeked of Tom cats! Not only that, the bottles and glasses on the shelves used to shake and rattle every time a train passed overhead which, given its location on the line into Charing Cross, was pretty frequently,

    Still, I’ve got some fond memories of the place, especially of how good my first ever pint of Brakspear’s Special tasted there.

    1. It’s a very atmospheric pub — it still shakes every time a train goes overhead — and a couple of the pints were OK. Definitely still worth a visit, I reckon.

  3. DId you ask him what he thought of the explosion of craft keg and whether CAMRA should treat it as friend or foe?

    What was his opinion of CAMRA supporting the minimum pricing law? Or about Cask breathers or Keykegs or the “realness” of PBAs or any of that other fascinating technical stuff?

    1. Py0 — ‘fraid not — this was a ‘just the facts’ kind of conversation about the 1970s.

      It’s fair to say, though, that many of the conversations we’ve had so far suggest that the campaign was more about sticking it to the Big Six (‘upsetting the apple cart’) than the technicalities of dispense. Keg was a symbol of what was wrong with Watney’s et al, and a useful stick with which to beat them.

  4. Ah, the four-pint lunch … what killed that off in journalism was the computer. You can still use a typewriter, or sub copy with a pencil and mark up a layout, after four pints but any more than two, and using a computer starts to become surprisingly difficult.

  5. There may be something in that Martyn (although I seem to remember that typing drunk in the afternoon increased the risk of getting your finger jammed between the keys – quite painful), but wasn’t it more to do with the introduction of new technology giving employers the opportunity to weaken the Fleet Street unions and take control of the job away from frontline journos? Reductions in staffing levels also mean that journalists have become increasingly office-bound, processing press releases.

    1. The introduction of computers gave the journos considerably more control (and ability to introduce screw-ups), rather than less: and the big reduction in journo numbers came a decade or two after the arrival of computers.

  6. Re drinking culture in 80s – Once had 5 pints of Grolsch at lunch on press day at Number One (ipc’s pop mag) and then had to proofread BBC top 50 charts in afternoon- that was tough… and didn’t do it too often. And always avoided wine at lunch – now that was a recipe fir disaster

  7. It would have been interesting to ask him whether he is still a member and if so what he thinks the point of it is, 40 years on.

    1. A lot of this first generation of CAMRA activists considered the battle won in around 1978 when the big breweries either re-started, or committed to continuing, producing cask ale. Is this where I say “and you can read more about all of this in the book when it comes out”?

      1. On a trip down to London for a football match c1977 I remember struggling with determination across London with a bad leg injury sustained the previous day to reach this mythical pub that supposedly had A CHOICE OF BEERS!! It’s difficult to comprehend nowadays with a plethora of ‘Beer Festival’ pubs just how exciting this was.

        1. The multi-beer-pub-as-the-norm really seems to have crept up on us – it seems like they’ve always been there. And yet it doesn’t seem like any time since I was making a bee-line for the Lyceum every time I went to London, because hey, a Sam Smith’s pub! The only time I set foot in a single-brewery pub these days is when I’m on a crawl of some sort.

          1. It’s been really interesting for us to read so much about the time before we were seriously into beer and realise how spoiled beer geeks have become. (See also: this post, and especially this comment.)

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