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Wretched hives of scum and villainy

Illustration by Andrew Young for the Beverage Report by Derek Cooper.

Derek Cooper’s The Beverage Report (1970) has an entire chapter dedicated to detailing the various ways those working behind the bar can rip-off their employers and customers; how landlords can rip-off the brewery and customers; how draymen can rip-off landlords and the brewery; and even how customers, given half a chance, can rip-off the bar staff, the landlord and the brewery.

Here’s one example:

A barman of some experience told me: “Say you’ve only got one bar and one cash register. Right! You take an order for a round of drinks, it may come to 8s 6d. The customer gives you a pound. Now two simple fiddles are workable here. Either you decided to cheat the till of cheat the customer. If you’re going to cheat the till you have to be careful. You mustn’t let the customer see you ringing up less than 8s 6d. So you may ring up 6d, almost instantaneously correct yourself openly — you say something like ‘Oh, I’m going mad — that was 8s 6d wasn’t it’ and then you ring up 3s 6d. See what I’m driving at? He’s rung up only 3s 6d so he can pocket 5s 0d. The customer gets the right change, the till gets the right change and he gets the difference.”

The bar staff interviewed reported that they especially prized the kind of customers who didn’t count their change, thus marking themselves out as well-off and careless. You won’t be surprised to hear, though, that they also claimed to reserve their nastiest tricks for the rudest and most annoying characters.

Of course, it goes both ways. Cooper has several stories of pubs being cleaned out by light-fingered customers, and we once saw with our own eyes a three man team pull a perfect short change con with distractions in the Pembury Tavern about five years ago.

The moral? No-one on either side of the bar should trust anyone or relax, even for a moment. Er, wait, that can’t be right…

Fantastic period illustration by Andrew Young scanned from our copy of  The Beverage Report.

3 replies on “Wretched hives of scum and villainy”

Had plenty of people try the short change scam on me in Beer Ritz but I’m very wise to it. I give them a stern look, tell them I know exactly what they’re doing, and they usually kick up a fuss whilst backing out of the shop. It helps to keep all the cash exchanged on the counter until everything is finalised….

A large pub with accommodation near C London (now operated by Fullers) used to have bar staff who rang up the same amount no matter what the round cost. I remember a couple of Saturday nights in there in the 80’s where I watched, amused, as the till roll record was rendered completely useless.

Then, working somewhere with a staff bar, a new barman tried all the stunts you describe – short-changing, turning the power to the till off (‘I didn’t know what the switch was for…’). He wound up as a copper’s nark for the Internal Audit guy (ex-copper) who caught him and sent him into various troubled bars to finger the trouble-makers.

Not a conman, but I heard of a great wheeze by a licensee this morning: he took a wrap advertorial in his local paper to promote the pub and the recent refurb. It looked great, fantastic photos. It cost him £700. He covered the cost by getting all the contractors to take an ad within the wrap at £70 each. Cheeky genius.

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