Beer history

Beer bellies or blazers?

Fat CAMRA member cartoon.In a 1975 issue of its newsletter, What’s Brewing (WB), The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) ran an advertisement: T-shirts bearing their logo were being made available in extra large for the benefit of ‘members like the poor bloke on the left’. So, it seems, one of the earliest digs at CAMRA members and their supposed tendency towards beer bellies came from within the Campaign itself. (Note, though, that he has no beard…) But that wasn’t the only stereotype in play at the time.

An article entitled ‘Class Conscious CAMRA Must Use Every Available Weapon’, from WB in April 1975, was illustrated by in-house cartoonist John Simpson. His drawings depict two ‘types’ of CAMRA member — a bearded, apparently foul-smelling hippy on the one hand; and a bunch of middle class, blazer-wearing, loud-mouthed ‘connoisseurs’ on the other. (Yes, CAMRA pretty much invented the Real Ale Twats, getting in well before VIZ.)

The article itself, by Dave Bennett, addresses anxieties over CAMRA’s middle class membership:

The plain fact is that working-class drinking patterns are on the whole different from the various strands that make up the middle class. CAMRA members, especially the students among us, are resisting the middle class trend of drinking, if at all, in one’s own home… resisting the trend does not, however, make our drinking habits identifiable with those of the working class.

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.
John Simpson’s depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

A correspondent in the October 1977 issue wrote disdainfully of a number of CAMRA members as ‘trendies who seem to believe that they belong to some sort of Freemasonry’, and complaining of a real ale destination pub in Durham where ‘a suit and an Oxford accent are a must’.

There was something in that generalised view: Chris Bruton, CAMRA’s chairman from 1976 to 1978, was always pictured wearing a suit. With his dark hair cut short and neatly styled, he resembled a spare member of Kraftwerk. Bruton made a point of being reasonable and diplomatic at every turn: ‘There’s nothing nasty about keg ale, it’s just characterless.’ Not everyone bought into his clean-cut ‘brand’, though. Speaking to us recently, a long-time CAMRA activist rolled his eyes and growled disdainfully ‘Oh, you mean DOCTOR Bruton.’

Updated 28 March 2013. In November 1980, What’s Brewing ran the results of a survey which included the following summary of how CAMRA members were perceived.

The most popular model of a CAMRA member was the ‘poseur’ type, which centred around the idea that CAMRA was a trendy club, comprising mostly of young (under 25) smartly-dressed types with plenty of money to spend on beer, and plenty of spare time to spend it in. Most were called James, many drove W-reg cars and frequented free-houses which charged “exorbitant prices”… The second popular model was of ‘beer bores’ or ‘beer swilling oafs’. These are a little older than the ‘poseur’ model, less well dressed and with beard and beer gut.

The problem is, well-spoken, moderate, neatly-dressed people don’t make front pages, and CAMRA’s publicity machine couldn’t resist exploiting images like this portrait of a branch treasurer from October 1976.

Garth Nicholls, Sheffield branch treasurer, What's Brewing, October 1976.

The beards, beer bellies and and Morris Dancing image eventually won out but, if it hadn’t, members and activists would probably now spend their whole time saying ‘Oh, we’re not all clean-shaven, suit-wearing professionals you know — many of us have novelty waistcoats and facial hair!’

With thanks to CAMRA, and Tom Stainer in particular, for allowing us to access the What’s Brewing archive at head office in St Albans.

13 replies on “Beer bellies or blazers?”

In the only photo we’ve seen from around this time, Roger Protz was head-to-toe in denim.

Is Protz then the original of Keg Buster’s mate who is always seen wearing blue denim jeans and jacket?

On a more general note, as I said on Twitter yesterday, in the early days of CAMRA there was a distinct “rugger bugger” element which has largely disappeared now.

The third photo proves that CAMRA ‘invented’ interesting facial hair for drinkers well before Brewdog bar staff got in on the act.

CAMRA also invented moaning about being banned from a beer festival to generate headlines and sympathy.

That could actually be a photo taken yesterday in a craft beer bar, even the retro handled mug is 100% accurate.

I believe Bill Tidy did once admit that Kegbuster’s sidekick is based on RP, yes.

The jacket-and-tie-wearing but still under-30 Camra member was certainly quite common in the 1970s: strangely, many of them, I recall, had beards … neat beards, but the full naval, rather than the beer-writer’s goatee.

I believe we also had a nice line in flared trousers and sideburns – mostly just the men for the latter though.

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