Tag Archives: 1970s

Archive Round-up: CAMRA and Real Ale

One of the fun things about working on Brew Britannia was thinking aloud on the blog as we conducted our research.

We wrote quite a few posts about the pre-Campaign for Real Ale era and the early years of CAMRA, and we find ourselves sharing the links fairly frequently.

With that in mind, and to give the undecided a taster of what they might be getting in the book, we thought we’d corral them in one place.

Pub User's Preservation Society memorabilia.

First, there was a series of posts about the organisations that pre-dated the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) and CAMRA. First we discovered the Ancient Order of Frothblowers and the Pub Users’ Protection Society; then the National Society for the Promotion of Pure Beer; and, finally, Young & Co’s 135 Association, inspired by a precursor to CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

Cover of Monopolies Commission report on beer, 1969.

Trying to trace the development of the language around beer, we found a 1934 reference to cask ale as ‘the real thing’, and considered how that kind of general use eventually led to the more technical term ‘real ale’. We also discovered the role of civil servants in fixing the way we use the words ‘draught’, ‘cask’ and ‘keg’ today:

We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer. All the large brewers and many smaller ones now brew a kind of draught beer which has become known as ‘keg’ beer. Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer. [B&B's emphasis.]

And here’s what we discovered about CAMRA’s flirtation with the rhetoric of the ‘whole food’ movement and ‘natural beer’.

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

Finally, we considered the culture and image of CAMRA in its early years. At first, no-one seemed sure if the typical CAMRA member was a blazer-wearing young ‘trendy’, a bearded hippy, or a burly bloke with a beer belly.  The beard-and-sandals image, which CAMRA has spent decades trying to shake, seems really to have taken hold after David Bellamy opened the 1979 Great British Beer Festival.

Quite apart from how members looked, the question of how CAMRA was perceived also interests us. We put together a brief history of ‘CAMRA bashing’ which reflected the impatience some early supporters, such as Richard Boston, felt over the boring technical debates about dispense methods which ravaged the Campaign during 1977.

We also noted that bickering among members on the letters page of What’s Brewing (a) started early and (b) hasn’t changed much in 40+ years.


Yellowing Pamphlets

During the last few months, we’ve acquired a few obscure second-hand books and magazines from charity shops and on Ebay.

Though none of them is exactly essential for the scholar of beer and pubs, each has some little nugget or other.

Pubbing, Eating & Drinking in the South WestPubbing, Eating & Sleeping in the South West is a paperback guidebook first published in 1972. Our faded copy (still lurid enough to damage the eyeballs of anyone who might glance at the cover without suitable protection) is the 1974 edition, and cost us 10p less than the original cover price.

It’s not a deep or complex piece of work but does give details of the beer, food and facilities at various pubs in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Many listings are accompanied by line drawings like this one of the Ship Inn, Mevagissey:

Ship Inn, Mevagissey.

There are also a couple of nice vintage advertisements (‘Take it Easy! Worthington E’) and the restaurant guide is an added bonus for those with a desire to time travel to the land of prawn cocktails and steakhouses.

Inn & Around: 250 favourite Whitbread pubsWe haven’t finished digesting Inn & Around: 250 Whitbread pubs (1974) but have already found lots to enjoy.

It was, we suspect, intended as a ‘stopper’ for the Campaign for Real Ale’s own Good Beer Guide which was first published in paperback in the same year, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being so loyal to one large, rather unpopular brewery that they’d want a guide to only their pubs.

Those who cling to a particular vision of the pub as a Victorian-Edwardian, essentially male space, designed for hard drinking, will find here evidence of where it all ‘went wrong': “The pub today is a place for family entertainment. And — with the increasing spread of children’s rooms and beer gardens — that means all the family.”

Whitbread’s flagship post-war pubs are given plenty of coverage alongside established classics such as (yet again) the George Inn at Southwark. This one was named after the Daily Express cartoonist:

Giles, Prebend Street, London N1.

It doesn’t appear to be there any more. How many of these flat-roofed, wood’n’plastic boxes survived more than twenty years?

As well as illustrations, there are also some splendidly groovy colour photographs.


Finally, there’s the Winter 1977/78 edition of the Countryman magazine, which contains an article by Michael Dineen called ‘Real Ale Returns to the Pubs’, as well as a short spread of photos of Hook Norton brewery by John P. Crook.

There isn’t much new in the tale as told here, but it does give a concise account of the big brewers’ response to CAMRA:

However, one of the acceptable facets of capitalism is that it can turn criticism to its own advantage. Benefit from the strictures…. The result is that many brewers have appropriated CAMRA’s enviable nationwide propaganda, calling their cask-conditioned ales ‘real’ or attempting in other ways to cash in on the publicity by naming so evocatively that drinkers’ memories are stirred again by words like old, tap, genuine, Burton and fine.

The conclusion of the article could be read as a comment on our post from yesterday:

[CAMRA] want quality with tradition… [They] may also be yearning for the glorious uncertainties of, say, La Romaneé Conti, the rarest and finest of Burgundy’s red wines which… stubbornly refuses to be defined scientifically; which may one year be the stuff of dreams and memories and the next, just another wine. [Real ale] has something of that uncertainty.