Talking to publishers about beer books, you quickly learn that there’s one writer they think has really nailed it in commercial terms: Pete Brown. They like his ‘high concept’, ‘pitchable’ approach; they like his titles; and most of all, they love the fact that his books appeal to ‘normals’ as much as they do to beer geeks.
Shakespeare’s Local is yet another step towards the mainstreaming of both Brown and beer, though, in fact, beer is hardly mentioned at all and even the pub of the title isn’t always centre-stage so much as it’s used as a lens through which to view London at various periods in its history.
It tells the story of the George Inn, Southwark – these days a tourist attraction, tourist trap, after work City hangout and chain pub, but long associated with Olde London, Shakespeare and Dickens.
The opening is reminiscent of – bear with us – a ‘history episode’ of Hartnell-era Doctor Who; a Powell and Pressburger film; one of those nostalgic shorts from Roll Out the Barrel; and a nineteen-eighties text adventure we really want to play: “April the nineteenth in the Year of Our Lord 1737… You quickly scan the front page news of shipping list on its way to the colonies and elsewhere…”
> TAKE TANKARD
> DRINK BEER
> GO EAST
The portrayal of the relationship between Southwark and the City of London is excellent and, throughout, there’s a sense of virtual reality – of being there, in the time and place described with carefully chosen details in 3D, surround-sound, smell-o-vision. We came away with a list of places to visit, things to see and things to look out for.
It made us laugh out loud here and there, too – a quality not to be undervalued.
It’s not perfect. With our mortarboards and scholarly gowns on, we regret the lack of footnotes, and wouldn’t cite it as a source in a Phd paper; but, on the other hand, in holiday reading mode, we found a few passages where Brown has, in publishing parlance, ‘been too generous to his research’, and so caught ourselves skimming. (Yes, that’s right – he can’t win.)
On the whole, though, it is a great read and (with a few shopping days to go…) the perfect gift for anyone in your family with a passing interest in London, history, pubs, architecture, the heritage industry, highwaymen, public transport or lewd poetry.
The single pub micro-history could become an interesting sub-genre: here’s a nice piece on a pub in Croydon by Kake.