The Original Beer Podcast, 1975

If you tuned the radio to BBC Leeds at 18:45 on a Wednesday in 1985 you’d hear What’s Brewing, a programme dedicated to beer and pubs.

It was established during the height of real ale mania, in 1975, by a local journalist and CAMRA activist, Barrie Pepper, who worked in the newsroom at Radio Leeds and would go on to become a well-known beer writer. In a later retrospective in the CAMRA newspaper, also called What’s Brewing, for March 1985, he recalled its origins:

[The radio show] made its first appearance… after pressure from members of the Leeds branch of CAMRA. In that programme, though to be a one-off, Tom Fincham and I made the first of our ‘rural rides’ in search of good ale, we defined real ale and Eddie Lawler sang his now famous ‘We’re all here for the real thing’.

‘Famous’ might be overstating it but Eddie Lawler told us in an email that he has performed the song at the CAMRA AGM. He was kind enough to share the version he recorded under the title ‘CAMRAnthem’ for his 2007 album The Baildon Sky Rocket with 1970s references to ‘big-busted barmaids’ and the ‘nattering spouse’ removed. As you might guess, it’s a folky pub singalong with a piano backing:

We’re all here for the Real Thing.
That’s why we’re singing this song, just to show all those
Fancy TV promotions
That the customer’s not always wrong, so you’d better not
Give us pale imitations
Or gas us with chemical beer.
So just give us a pint of the Real Thing landlord
’Cos that’s why we’re bloody well here.

Off the back of that first programme the producer, David Campbell, commissioned a year’s-worth of monthly programmes. In his 1985 retrospective Barrie Pepper described the difficulty in finding topics for discussion and, in particular, the challenge of finding a Pub of the Month every month. (The first was The Greyhound at Saxton.)

1970s portrait photograph, candid and grainy.
Barrie Pepper.

There was also a ‘real ale soap opera’ called Tap Room Tales written by Gerry Garside from Bradford which was representative of the ribald, pantomime humour that characterised early CAMRA culture. There’s an extract from the first episode, broadcast in August 1977, in Barrie Pepper’s 1990 anthology of beer writing The Bedside Book of Beer:

Episode one — the Price of a Pint

The scene is the tap room of The Plastered Parrot, a real ale pub in a working suburb of a West Riding town. The time is half an hour before closing time on a weekday evening.

Let me introduce you to the cast.

Nora Nockers is an occasional barmaid; Yorkie Bale is a retired shoddy merchant, Shufflem Round is the pub domino captain and Barum Hall is the landlord. Charlie Chock, Gordon Spile, Andrew Mallet and Peter Barrel are members of the Campaign for Real Ale. Girlington Gertie is an aging ex-chorus girl and we present Lars Torders, a Swedish Steel worker.

In his 1985 retrospective Barrie admitted that Tap Room Tales ‘might have seemed a bit facile… but it had a serious purpose and was great fun to take part in’.

From 1980 What’s Brewing went weekly and Barrie took over as producer with Mike Greenwood hosting. There was homebrew advice from Bob Blagboro, profiles of Yorkshire breweries, and campaigns against pub closures. ‘[In] the case of the Spring Close Tavern in East Leeds we were able to secure the reprieve by Leeds City Council live on our microphone,’ Barrie recalled in 1985.

Though Barrie insisted the show was independent of CAMRA he was at various points on the Campaign’s National Executive and it certainly seems to have given the local branch what amounted to a mouthpiece funded by the licence payer.

The last episode was broadcast in June 1986 for reasons Barrie explained in an email:

I moved on from the news room at BBC Radio Leeds to become Head of Press and Public Relations with Leeds City council. Ray Beaty, the station manager, wasn’t keen on a non-staffer producing — he didn’t mind a freelance (unpaid) presenter but worried about someone ‘speaking out of turn’ as he called it. In any case I couldn’t find anyone to do the job and the council wouldn’t allow me to do it.

So, that was that.

Thirty-odd years on, though BBC radio only touches on beer occasionally, in the current podcast boom there’s no shortage of beer-related audio. For example, we recently listened to Fermentation Radio for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. We’ll send Barrie Pepper the link.

Main image incorporates elements of ‘Philips Radio from the 1970s’ by David Martyn Hunt under Creative Commons via Flickr.

Face to Face With Mr E.C. Handel of Watney’s

Black and white portrait of a man in a three-piece suit.

The chap in the photograph above is E.C. Handel, known as Ted, who was head of Watney’s advertising/public affairs/PR department from the 1950s until the 1970s.

If you’ve read Brew Britannia (and if not, why not, &c.) you might recall his starring role as a foil for the upstart Campaign for Real Ale, engaging Christopher Hutt in a bad-tempered exchange of letters in the Financial Times which only served to boost CAMRA’s profile:

Most of your readers will probably not have heard of CAMRA… so I should explain that it is a group that includes in its small membership (about 1,500) a number of journalists who see in the ‘ancient v. modern’ beer situation a golden opportunity for ‘controversial journalism’… we have always taken the trouble to answer letters from CAMRA and to point out the innacuracies of the arguments they produce so monotonously. (16 June 1973)

The funny thing is, even though we spent months hunting down biographical details and tracking down people who knew him, including his son, this is the first time we’ve actually seen him. The picture comes from the April 1959 edition of Watney’s in-house magazine The Red Barrel and is excerpted from a group photo of the entire advertising department.

He looks rather severe, doesn’t he? And maybe a bit anxious. He certainly doesn’t look like someone who drank much beer. But maybe the chair was uncomfortable or his waistcoat itchy that day. You can’t read too much into a single picture.

Still, nice to meet you at last, Mr H.

Types of UK Brewery

From time to time, we feel compelled to categorise things. It never really works but, in the attempt, we usually learn something.

This time, we found ourselves wondering about the many different types of brewing business to be found in the UK today and how they relate to one other. (We did something similar before, but that was more abstract.)

Chart of UK brewery types.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE — OPENS IN NEW TAB/WINDOW)

We’ve tried to provide an example for each type, though we struggled to think of an active cuckoo/gypsy brewery, and a very approximate sense of what arrived when.

If the family groupings we’ve come up with work, then you should be able to think of a brewery and find a home for them.

Much more likely, however, is that the first comment below will name a brewery which breaks our classification system.

Flawed or not, we’d be interested to see similar attempts from those who know the beer scenes in Germany, Belgium, the US, or anywhere else — does this look pretty familiar, or wildly different?

Mapping Trends in British Beer

This is something we’ve been doing to help keep track of the narrative of British beer that is emerging as we research and, having enjoyed this conversation over at Ed’s blog, we thought we’d share it.

UPDATED 12:12 4 July 2013: an important line was missing between ‘real ale’ and ‘weird real ale’.

Graphic mapping trends in British beer over the last fifty years.

Notes

  1. This isn’t attempt to define terminology or push anyone into a box, but to reflect how we think people use some of these terms, and to track the ‘DNA’ of various trends.
  2. It’s simplified: we could have added quite a few more boxes (‘Real Lager’, ‘Revivalist IPA’, ‘World Keg’…) but have chosen not to, for now.
  3. There is a judgement reflected here: we’re more interested in and enthusiastic about the stuff in blue.
  4. Sorry about ‘weird real ale’ — we couldn’t think of anything better. It is intended to encompass everything ‘innovative’ (i.e. diverging from traditional styles) from Hopback Summer Lightning onward. (So that means Sean Franklin, Brendan Dobbin, Passageway and so on.)
  5. UPDATE: it’s not a graph, it’s just a kind of family tree.

Our Big News

Brew Britannia cover 1963.
How our book might have looked if it had come out in 1963. (Not the actual cover or even a working design — just a bit of fun!)

We can now confirm that our book project isn’t just a mad fantasy on our part, and is, in fact, to be published in the summer of 2014 by Aurum Press. (Assuming everything goes to plan, fingers crossed, and so on.)

The working title is Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer, and it covers the period 1963 to the present. Aurum are best known for their books on popular culture and that’s more or less the way we think about beer.

The intention, if you haven’t gathered as much already from our blog posts and Tweets, is to tell the story of how we got from a point in the sixties where there was a genuine sense that we might end up with one great combine making a handful of weak, poor quality beers, to today’s far more diverse market.

On the way, we’re going to give a detailed account of how the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) and the Campaign for Real Ale were founded; the impact of home brewing on the ‘real ale revolution’ of the seventies; how ‘craft beer’ (as a cultural phenomenon) was born out of ‘real ale’ and as a reaction to it; and how beer made the transformation from working class daily drink to middle class talking point.

We’re trying, at every turn, to question assumptions, and to avoid referring to the same old sources, or to at least find the originals of those sources for ourselves, which is as frustrating as it is fun. We’re particularly pleased to have tracked down and conducted new interviews or corresponded with many key players.

In the meantime, we’re going to continue posting on the blog any historical nuggets we find that don’t fit in the book, along with the usual ponderings, articles and reviews.

The funny thing is, at the beginning of 2012, we didn’t have any ambition whatsoever to write a book about beer. Strange how things turn out, isn’t it?