Mrs Mullis on Types of Pub Customer, 1972

Title text from the cover of the book.

We’re hoovering up books about pubs at the moment and Behind Bars: straight facts about keeping a pub by Peggy Mullis got sucked in and clogged the filter.

Mrs Mullis was a freelance country lifestyle journalist who, with her husband Brian, took on the Crown Inn, Wormingford, Essex, c.1970. (She doesn’t give a date — that’s a guess.)

We Tweeted some bits about beer last week but the best chapter, without doubt, is at the very end, where her accumulated frustrations boil over, Basil Fawlty style: ‘The Customers’.

When we embarked on this venture, I made the naïve mistake of imagining that pub customers were ordinary mortals. They are not, of course. They are a unique race…

She goes on to explain the tension in the relationship: customers ‘pay your rent, your brewery bills, put the clothes on your back and the food on your table’, so they must be important. But they are also pains in the arse. (Not Mrs Mullis’s phrasing.) It starts out fairly tame but gets weirder as it goes, sounding like a transcript of a session with a therapist by the end.

Country pub against a blue sky.
Detail from the cover. Photo by Christopher Drake.
1. The Locals

The true regulars, those for whom your pubs is their one and only ‘local’… [Their] instinct for self-preservation requires them to take their coats off and administer rough justice at the drop of a hat. Touchy to a degree, they nevertheless show more consideration for us and our house than many a more sophisticated crowd… Their capacity for ale and enjoyment is prodigious, their natural wit exhausting…

2. Social groups

[A] highly gregarious group of young couples [who] dominated the scene for several months… Then we had our ‘cultural period’ when I  felt we almost had the making of a salon, with writers, painters, dramatists and what-have-you among us… Saturday lunchtime has recently developed into a City session, with the younger local commuters aggressively relaxed in their jeans and sweaters, having laid aside their bowler hats.

3a. Solitary Drinker

First, there is the ‘solitary’ who, when he wants to be alone, makes sure that he is. After the initial greetings, you will only suffer acute embarrassment if you try and pursue the matter. He will put up either smokescreen or a newspaper, and it’s your job to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.

3b. Solitary but Talkative

[The] ‘solitary’ who wants to talk is… perhaps the hardest… For the first few minutes, your interest may be genuinely aroused… However, they nearly all overdo it, and before long your responses become automatic and your smile mechanical. I honestly believe that we render a valuable social service by providing an outlet for so much from so many. But if you allow yourself to show signs of becoming involved, you will find yourself lumbered for good with someone else’s life, and by now I have learned to remain slightly detached…

4. ‘Experts’

[They] consider it is their mission in life to tell you exactly how to do your job. This includes ramming the virtues of rival establishments down your throat, and amazing virtuosity in displaying intimate knowledge of the trade as a whole. The interesting thing about these experts is that, almost without exception, they have the most utterly plebeian tastes you can imagine.

5. The Gregarious Type

[Another] thorn in the flesh… Anxious to be on the best of terms with everybody, the only way he can make his presence felt is to make an extraordinary amount of noise — about nothing — and intrude with both feet in all directions. The sad thing about this one is that he is no doubt the meekest of husbands and as clay in the boss’s hands… All he succeeds in doing in your bar is to make a perfect ass of himself…

6. Women

Why is it that perfectly normal, charming, intelligent, capable women turn into prinking show-offs in the pub bar? One can forgive the very young, still delightfully under the illusion that a certain style of manner and mood denotes maturity. But when it comes to women of my own age, who suddenly turn into tittering exhibitionists, I’m baffled.

*

We wonder what Mrs Mullis’s customers thought when they read that lot? We might have been Number Fours from time to time. We will heed the rap on the knuckles and behave from now on.

12 thoughts on “Mrs Mullis on Types of Pub Customer, 1972”

  1. I’m intrigued by the thought of the regulars dispensing ‘rough justice’ in their shirtsleeves at the drop of a hat. I like “their natural wit [is] exhausting”, too – I’ve seen that look on many a barperson.

    I wonder what those “plebeian tastes” were – cask mild, maybe?

    1. The example she gives in the text is a bloke who bangs on about sherry for an hour and then doesn’t know the difference between dry and sweet when it comes to order.

  2. I wonder what Mrs Mullins would’ve made of:
    A – CAMRA branch in full campaign with leaflets to distribute.
    B – Hipsters
    I wish she was still around to set the record straight

    1. She was writing a bit early for CAMRA to have been on her rader but she does say, elsewhere in the book, that ‘beer drawn straight from the wood… does appear to be a great attraction to the dedicated beer drinker’ and mentions with some bemusement ‘campaigners for the preservation of draught beer [who are] positively passionate about the whole thing, and have been known to tour the whole countryside in coach-loads, seeking pubs where they can get what they consider is the only permissible beer’.

      And I reckon hipsters are under 2, above.

  3. Great read and rings true. I recognise and have experienced all of these types. I would add the following also:

    7. Pub Crawl groups.
    Often on a stag, work outing or birthday, mostly male. They it invade the bar en masse and change ambience completely for the short time they are there. One man holds the money and makes the order, which often takes a while as he figures out what everyone wants and tries to square that with what we sell. The best ringleaders pick a drink and tell everyone else that they are drinking it, so it’s 12 pints of bitter please, very easy. The worst order one drink at a time and often disappear when it comes to payment. There will often be one wild card who wants to get a wedge or some shots. They will often be carrying one lightweight who is dead on his feet but swept along with the group and who must be recognised by bar staff as needing no more.

    8. Irregular Pub Users.
    They ask for drinks that were popular 10 or more years ago which we no longer stock. They quickly move to the lounge because the bar is to rowdy. One or more of type 5 will try and interfere with them and they often require protecting. Confusion and fear are etched on their features and if you can turn that into a smile you are winning and may convert them to regulars.

    9. Cocaine Users.
    They have incredibly weak bladders but maybe it’s the speed they drink at. Doubles get knocked back like medicine for their sniffles. They are very talkative and often overstep the mark when chatting up bar staff. The smart ones you can’t differentiate from type 5, the dumb ones you can catch and bar. Let them save face and they will leave without fuss since they are restless for somewhere with ‘more life’.

  4. Interesting, well-written in the mordant school. This lady was I think too analytical for the pub business. You need to be somewhat insouciant (not blasé though), pleasant, always on, but Teflon. Like good salespeople are. The most successful I know in the genre aren’t intense personalities.

    Gary

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