PUB BITS: Televisions in Pubs, 1955

1950s TV.

We’ve picked up lots of material on pubs that hasn’t made it into final text of The Big Project but we’re going to share some of it here in the coming months.

Back in 1955 people were really worried about the newly ubiquitous TV set killing off clubs, societies, cinemas, and even threatening the church. Publicans were grumbling, too, as journalist Derrick Boothroyd discovered when researching an article, ‘New Ideas Can Fight TV Competition’, for the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. (28/02, p.9.)

He spoke to some who ‘moaned’ that their pubs were deserted, especially when the boxing was on TV, but for balance also found someone who was more upbeat — the landlord of a ‘bright and cheerful’ public house:

TV has affected us undoubtedly… But it’s nothing like as bad as some people make out. I find the only nights that my trade is poor are when there is something really big on. Mind you, I’ve got to set out to attract people now and I think that’s what a lot publicans tend to forget. But provided you offer some incentive I don’t think TV need be feared. The average man — and the average working man in particular — is not the type who wants to stay at home every night. He wants to go out and have yap with his pals at the local — and if he has a decent local to go to, he’ll still go even if he has two TV sets. I should add however that it’s no solution to put TV in your pub. Everyone watches it and no one drinks. I’ve had mine taken out —and so have a lot other landlords.

Sixty-plus years on that still sounds like good advice to us. We hadn’t really considered it but it’s funny how many of the pubs we warm to, from down-home to high-falutin, are TV free.

9 thoughts on “PUB BITS: Televisions in Pubs, 1955”

  1. In the U.S., it’s a mixed bag. A lot of good beer bars have TVs, but they are usually not meant to be the center of attention. They are almost an accommodation to visitors who might want to watch a big tennis match that is going on, or something like that. Just watched the Super Bowl at such a bar – very laid back. (Very sad about the racists winning.)

    On the other hand, the best beer bar in the U.S., Monk’s in Philadelphia, has no TV.

  2. It’s impossible to talk about TV in pubs without talking about football. And the only time I find myself in a genuinely rammed pub these days is when there’s a big game on (local team or international).

    This is where your average boozer knocks your typical craft joint into a cocked hat. Very few crafty places (Port Street Beer House in Manchester is a semi-exception; I watched some of the Euros there on a big screen) even have tellies, let alone football on them.

    No TV, however, is definitely a plus point when the televised event isn’t the focus of the evening. Completely a personal point of view but I’m very easily distracted no would rather not have Sky Sports News (or whatever) on in my peripheral vision when I’m trying to have a good chat.

    So maybe the rule is this – if the televised event is the focal point of the session for the majority of punters then great. If not – switch it off.

    1. Reminds me of a Robinson’s pub in Hale that I visited briefly a couple of months ago. They had a weird setup – there was one long room, going right through from the street to the beer garden, with four or five TV screens dotted about so that everyone could see the match (and it was popular; the room was standing room only, and not much of that). The weird part was that they also had two square, brightly-lit side rooms, in each of which four or five people had retreated to get away from the crush… and each room had another TV screen, which was of course showing the match.

  3. The problem for pubs making a feature of televised sport is that the costs are now so high that they have to maximise their take from any significant match. This means effectively that if you are in when the match is on, there is no escape.
    Hence the non sports fan (particularly non football fan) is turned off, possible for good as far as that pub is concerned.
    The sports oriented pub increasingly resembles the cinema chains, dependent on the product available to them on that day/week.
    This is especially true on Sundays. If you become known as a football pub, your Sunday lunch or family business is non existent. If the games on Sky are Palace v Swansea and West Ham v Stoke, unless they are your home town you have a washout.
    And remember that Sky costs are based on rateable value, which for many bigger pubs have just been increased.

  4. There is room in the pub market for a multitude of business models, the sports pub is one such model, just like the family friendly food pub, the quirky beer emporium with its 8 handpumps and (nowadays) row of craft keg taps, and the locals’ pub with pool and darts teams and regular quizzes and other events.

    If you want to run a successful pub, you need to pick a model and stick to it- trying to show football whilst families eat Sunday lunch rarely works.

  5. We’re a small bar that never has a screen on ‘just because’, but we’ve had some fun with unexpected “TV” at Golding’s. There’s a little screen up high behind the bar, and during stressful times (like, just for example, the recent American election) I’ve put up nice calming nonsense like Bob Ross’ ‘Joy of Painting’ marathons or Slow TV nine-hour train trips through Scandinavia (just the video, no sound). People seemed to appreciate the randomness of it; quite a few just sat and happily zoned out.

    A few years ago, when the bar was newer and quieter, we had great success with a little run of what came to be known as Sunday Spacechurch: weekly screenings (on a larger projector screen, with the sound on) of the new episodes from the remake of ‘Cosmos’, as they came out. A nice little community developed around that, and people who wandered in without realising it was about to start all took it really well, after an understandable initial confusion.

    There’s definitely more possibilities than just sports. But I also prefer the default to be that screens are off unless there’s a good reason for them to be on.

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