A Brief History of CAMRA Bashing

Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) hadn’t been in existence for more than five years before it started to attract some familiar-sounding complaints about obnoxious, dogmatic know-all-ism.

The first out of the blocks was Richard Boston in The Guardian. Having boosted CAMRA’s membership by several thousand with his weekly columns and frequent shout outs to the Campaign, he was also one of the first to grow irritated by them. His first salvo, from 21 June 1975, doesn’t, however, mention CAMRA by name (“I ought to be careful what I say on this subject”):

There’s a small minority of beer enthusiasts who are pests. They’ve already ruined several good pubs by taking them over and doing nothing but talk beer, beer, beer. Now the holiday season is on us, bands of them roam the country finding out harmless little pubs and bullying the landlord and regulars by insulting the beer available if it does not meet their requirements. They’re a kind of gastronomic Gestapo and they’re worse than tiresome. Apart from anything else, most of them are totally ignorant about the subject with which they’re obsessed and would cheerfully drink castor oil if it came from a wooden barrel.

(But, by 1976, that “castor oil” line was being applied to CAMRA, so that’s almost certainly who he had in mind.)

On 12 September 1975, he said more:

CAMRA has sometimes taken itself too seriously and at times shown the fervour of religious fanaticism — one of its leading members used to speak of “spreading the gospel of CAMRA”. Some individual members have emerged as bores of Olympic standard.

On 8 April 1976, Peter Senn in the The Daily Mirror noted with some glee this story about a CAMRA Investments pub:

CAMRA, the real ale people’s organisation, is to lose its first London landlord after only seven months — because the beer buffs are becoming as bad as the wine snobs… he is fed up with complaints from the beer snobs who flock to the pub… wingeing about everything from the condition of the brews to the decor.

According to this short article, it seems CAMRA were already aware of, and struggling with, the behaviour of some members and had issued guidance reminding them not to “tell publicans how to do their job”.

On 11 October 1978, a story about student CAMRA activist Simon Jackson and his guide to Cambridge pubs which took a blunter tone than the Good Beer Guide, elicited this complaint from a landlord he’d dubbed “humourless”: “CAMRA has a very strong hold… which means that certain pubs are full of potbellied bores droning on about handpumps.” (The Guardian.)

Opening the 1979 Great British Beer Festival, David Bellamy gave the press a lovely soundbite which must have had the CAMRA PR people spitting: “There’s nothing worse than a beer bore… The best thing to do is to drown them in the stuff.” (The Guardian, 4 September.)

See also: the development of the ‘all CAMRA members have beards’ stereotype. And does anyone else note that Richard Boston liked CAMRA before they were cool but really thought they’d gone mainstream when everyone else joined? (Hipster…)

21 thoughts on “A Brief History of CAMRA Bashing”

  1. Replace CAMRA with ” craft beer ” and you could print those articles today.
    Just like the organic food movement it has become a convenient label with which to sell expensive pong.

        1. That was “Danbert Nobacon”, who was named after a character in an underground comic. On the other hand, “Egbert Nobacon” is an actual pun. On the third hand, what are the odds that anyone came up with Danbert ditto first?

  2. I think what really, really gets the CAMRA bashers annoyed is that despite the jibes, insults, spittle flecked rants and predictions of impending doom and/or irrelevance CAMRA sails on regardless picking up members as it goes. It’s being ignored that gets their goat, I think.

    And of course the CAMRA bashing is only allowed to be one sided. Should the organisation have the temerity to bite back then all hell breaks loose (witness the furore over Colin Valentine’s comments last year).

    And for the avoidance of doubt I’m not saying the Colin was necessarily right in everything he said then, but he was no more wrong than is some of the anti-CAMRA stuff you see across the blogosphere.

    1. They shouild make proto-members who sign up at CAMRA fests take a breathalyser before they fill in the direct debit form.

      I’m sure Valentine was speaking to an audience he knew would be receptive. Still, it was intemperate and unbecoming for the chair of a 140,000+ member consumer organisation. He could have got his pet Alistair Campbell to have kept up the invective and be the lightning rod for the criticism that followed. That was the straw that broke my back and saw me dump my membership.

    2. Being a knobend to a knobend doesn’t bring justice or balance out the universe; it just means the rest of us have two knobends to deal with.

      only allowed to be one sided
      Aww, bless.

    1. The piece at that first link was worth re-reading. Quote:

      how difficult would it be to promote just good beer? Make a few definitions about cask conditioned ale, craft keg beers, and get people back into pubs

      Define craft keg! Simples! But I actually wish somebody would – I think it’s the only way we’ll ever get beyond “it’s not real ale”/”it’s great beer”/”but it’s not real ale!”/”but it’s great beer!”

      I’m guessing there aren’t any “craft” brewers using pasteurisation, for example. Is there anything else you absolutely must not do if you’re going to stick it in a keg (or a bottle) and call it “craft”?

    2. I’m amused to see I’ve been bashed as a CAMRA basher! For the record, as a CAMRA member and someone who cares about beer culture in Britain, I think we need a strong beer consumer organisation and CAMRA is best placed to take that role. It just occured to me that if I was on the CAMRA EC, I’d be identifying the emergence not only of BeerX but also IMBC in Manchester, increasing interest in beer books among other publishers, the European Beer Bloggers Conference and many other such examples as firmly in the ‘threat’ category of my SWOT analysis. My guess is the fact that the organisation does undoubtedly dominate the infrastructure of beer appreciation, most notably through festivals, is one of the key reasons for its growth, and unless the organisation gets its head round the real reasons people join (which for several thousand of them clearly don’t include signing petitions opposing the duty escalators), some years down the line the cracks will really start to show and seemingly unstoppable membership decline will follow.

  3. “But the “craft beer bore” is likely to be much skinnier, with “ironic” moustache and/or beard.”

    Indeed. But so were we (skinny that is) when we joined CAMRA. Give them twenty or thirty years more supping and we’ll see how that one goes.

    Back to CAMRA bashing – it is pointless to refute it in some ways, but you have to keep trying, just like the small geeky element that does it, tries to be the tail that wags the dog.

  4. His Lordship has a point, tough: ‘CAMRA bashing’ is actually just part of a longer trend of ‘beer bore’ prejudice, which is itself part of a general antipathy towards people who are ‘monomaniacal’ about their hobbies.

    1. Two iron rules of any social group anywhere:

      a) they look ridiculous to the outside world and/or newcomers; this image isn’t true of most members, although some members will fit it naturally and some will even play up to it
      b) they look ‘extreme’/’fanatical’/’obsessive’ to the outside world; this image isn’t true of most members either, and some will try to dodge it by pointing to a sub-group as the real extremists/fanatics/bores/etc

      (Did I mention I’m a folk singer?)

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