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. only allowed to be one sided
        Aww, bless”

        What?! Christ, how patro­n­is­ing can one man be?

  3. The thing that is real­ly unhelp­ful about spit­tle-flecked CAMRA bash­ing (and there is some) is that it makes it very hard to have a civilised dis­cus­sion about whether and where CAMRA might do things dif­fer­ent­ly.

    This is CAMRA bash­ing; this isn’t, but got framed as such here.

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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