Pin your ears back, this is going to be a big ‘un, this’ll probably clear you right out. Now then… I want ten crates of stout winter brew, five crates of best brown, twelve quarts of Dragon’s Breath, two barrels of bitter, two crates of Danish lager, and a barrel of rough cider.
OFF LICENCE MANAGER
Cor, blimey! Are you going to have a party?
No, me grandmother’s coming over.
From Hancock’s Half Hour, ‘The Reunion Party’, BBC Television, first broadcast 25 March 1960.
When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.
It appears as part of an article called (rather long-windedly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guinness Runs Smoothly… The Service Representatives’ from the Spring 1971 edition.
First, there are some helpful numbers:
In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guinness as in 1956. Fifteen years ago the number of outlets could be counted in hundreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devotees of draught Guinness can get their favourite brew.
By way of context, in those mid-1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve been trawling through draught Guinness is frequently mentioned as a sign of an interesting pub in much the same way, say, BrewDog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still noteworthy, and a welcome sight for many beer geeks.
London Night & Day, edited by Sam Lambert and (the headline act) illustrated by Osbert Lancaster, was intended to help visitors to London during the Festival of Britain and, of course, contains a section on pubs.
It is written for complete newbies and so explains in minute detail things which would probably have seemed obvious at the time. To readers 65 years on, however, this detail is extremely helpful. For example, though the pint is very much the default measure these days, our anonymous advisor says:
You order… by asking simply for a bitter, a mild or a Burton and you will be given a half-pint. If you want a pint you must say so.
The default type — what you get when you ask for just ‘beer’ — was, apparently ‘mild ale, which is also called “wallop” and is the cheapest and weakest… and maybe not what you expected’.
There is the usual breakdown of the main types of bar within a pub (public, saloon, jug-and-bottle) and of the most commonly found beer in bottles (light ale, brown, Guinness, Bass, White Shield Worthington).
We stumbled upon Maurice Procter’s 1956 novel by a roundabout route while searching for something else and, when I realised it was available for Kindle, I made an impulse purchase.
When I’m not obsessing about and over-thinking beer, I sometimes obsess about and over-think crime fiction. This book struck me as a weird hybrid of the American ‘police procedural’ (Ed McBain, Hillary Waugh) mashed together with British ‘angry young man’ social realism. In practice, that means the crime is grubby and small, the setting seedy, and the principal police characters a bit more psychologically complex than usual. (But only a bit.) Bill Knight, a burly undercover constable from Sheffield, is embedded in a working class community in fictional ‘Airechester’, where he struggles to balance ambition with his tendency to impulsive violence, and to manage his love life under circumstances which mean he cannot be or behave as himself. When the landlord of a local pub is killed, he finds himself involved with a rough local family whose son, the sinister Gunner, is the chief suspect. There aren’t many other suspects, in fact, or lots of twists — this isn’t a fiendish golden age whodunnit — but, as a crime novel, it’s compelling enough.
But what about the pub stuff?