In, we think, around 1970, Cyril Hughes entered and won a competition in left-wing magazine The New Statesman. His contribution was this couplet:Not turning taps, but pulling pumps, Gives barmaids splendid busts and rumps.
It is very much a product of the era when sexy barmaids were a marketing asset, and entered the beer geek’s arsenal of ‘beer quotations’ fairly promptly.
Beric Watson, first publisher of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, made it the basis of his preface to a 1971 book called Hand-Pulled Beer and Buxom Barmaids; Christopher Hutt quoted it in his The Death of the English Pub (1973); as did Richard Boston; and Michael Jackson, too. It was generally used as an illustration of the all round earthy splendidness of traditional draught beer, as opposed to the sterile coldness of big brewery keg.
In 1975, The Daily Mirror quoted Watson as a representative of CAMRA saying: “Pulling pints develops the chest muscles… Girls who serve beer from a pump are going to wind up with better bosoms than those who press a button or throw a switch.” The response from Watney Mann? “We can produce barmaids any time with busts of more than 38 inches–without them ever having pulled a pump.”(ADDED 17/10/2012.)
Michael Jackson expanded further upon the subject in 1976:
…there are two basic types of barmaid: surrogate mothers and surrogate bedmates. The types are quite distinct, though the pub-goer who drinks too much may eventually confuse them, especially if the barmaid in question is of the buxom mould characteristic to her occupation. Not only does beer inflame lust if taken to excess: heavy-beer drinkers are often male-chauvinists. In the days when Nice Girls Didn’t, it was popularly thought that barmaids did… Now that Nice Girls are out of style, so are blousy barmaids. Happily, there are still a few pubs which bulge with anachronisms.
The English Pub
Michael! Eew! (And let’s not bring Freud to bear on those opening lines…) It does seem to be true, however, that the role of barmaid was, in the nineteenth century, not so far removed from that of a sex worker, specifically a clip joint hostess:
Barmaids are a seductive study — a charming institution. Barmaids are born, otherwise they fail… B begins barmaid and B begins beautiful, but it does not therefore follow that all barmaids are beautiful — some are even plain… See the custom a good barmaid attracts!… how clever she is, and what a talanet she shows in making these swells provide her with… chains, rings, brooches, lockets and bracelets… what jealousies and heartburnings she causes among the golden youth by her guileless indecision in the matter of “Sundays out!”.
Fife Herald, 15 February 1872.
Do women working behind bars still feel the gaze of horny, half-legless customers? Probably, but less often, and it’s no doubt more discreetly done. Are they still expected to flirt? If so, then it’s more often couched these days in terms of ‘providing a welcome’, and male bar staff are expected to perform, too. Do publicans still hire bar staff based on how they look? We suspect that the answer is yes, sometimes, but that having the right hairstyle might have become more important than large breasts.
Pete Brown’s appreciation of a barmaid in Wales suggests that in some places, however, the idea of the ‘sexy barmaid’ lives on, and that where it does, male customers, and male beer writers, are still paying attention.