The 1963 film The Punch & Judy Man has a scene in a pub where a ‘snob screen’ is an essential part of the action, and fuel for class satire.
In The Punch & Judy Man Tony Hancock plays a seaside entertainer at war with the snooty town council which wants to take Piltdown-on-Sea upmarket.
When rain comes, he and his fellow entertainers and hawkers retreat to a seafront pub called The Trident – actually a studio set at Elstree, evidence suggests.
Being skint, and being working men, they stand in the public bar drinking mild and bitter. Meanwhile, the suit-wearing town dignitaries hang out in the saloon drinking expensive spirits.
Between them is a barrier: an ornate ‘snob screen’ in wood and etched glass, jutting out a few feet from the bar.
Hancock, who co-wrote the film as well as starring in it, uses these as the basis for a bit of ‘business’ which, handily, you can see some of in the trailer for the film.
He pops in and out of the various windows, taunting and teasing the snobs behind the snob screen. In other words, he refuses to respect (literal) social barriers, and highlights their purely symbolic nature.
After all, he and his pals can hear almost every word that is being said a few inches from them, on the other side of the screen.
What is slightly odd is that most surviving examples of tilting or swivelling snob screens are there to separate customers from bar staff, rather than from each other.
In Licensed to Sell: the history and heritage of the public house (Brandwood et al, 2011) the small section on snob screens explains that they were also known as ‘shy screens’.
Pub designer Ben Davis, in his book The Traditional English Pub, 1981, describes them like this:
“This was a Victorian invention consisting of a polished mahogany structure fixed to the counter top and containing small panes of decorative glass in centre-pivoted timber frames. This allowed the ‘snobs’ in the Saloon Bar to be served and at the same time to cut themselves off from the direct scrutiny of the lower orders – perhaps their own servants or employees – in the Public Bar.”
This sounds more like the purpose of the screen we see in The Punch & Judy Man but it is still mounted on the bar, rather than along the bar.
And while there are numerous examples of screens separating bars or sections in pubs, they don’t tend to have pivoting or opening windows. Why would they?
We have to assume that the production designer on Hancock’s film took some liberties here. Artistic licence, if you like, to facilitate a gag the Lad Himself wanted to perform.
A few more footnotes
Even if this isn’t a real pub, and licence has been taken, it’s worth recording a couple of other observations.
First, there are pump clips. Small ones, on the public bar only, but they’re there. This ties into the date we’ve previously suggested for the popular uptake of pump clips, in around 1963.
Secondly, a bit of business between Hancock and his pals underlines the status of different types of beer.
The beach photographer Nevil (Mario Fabrizi) is pressed into buying a round to make up for a breach of etiquette in touting for customers during a performance.
Hugh Lloyd, as Hancock’s hangdog assistant, takes advantage by ordering a large bitter, causing Nevil’s eyes to widen in panic. This is an expensive order! He balances it by ordering a half of mild for himself – the cheapest thing on the menu.
And, finally, it’s yet another faux-Watney’s pub on film, with a famous Red Barrel on the bar. Was the Watney’s publicity department particularly friendly to filmmakers, perhaps?
A promotional booklet for the film (reproduced with the 2019 Network Releasing Blu-ray) trumpeted various ‘national tie-ups’ with Kellogs, Gordon & Moore’s toothpaste, Kodak, Remington Shavers and Lyon’s Maid ice cream. But not Watney’s.