Because beer and pubs aren’t, frankly, seen as terribly important (example…), lots of their history is depressingly poorly documented.
Everyone knows that Michael Young, later Baron Young of Dartington, described CAMRA in ‘the mid-seventies’ as ‘Europe’s most successful consumer movement’, right? But how do we know this? Because, from the late-seventies, it entered CAMRA folklore, and got repeated endlessly.
But how do we know he really said it? If he did, what were his exact words, in what context? We think we’ve pinned down the time and place — at the 1976 National Consumer Congress in Birmingham, on 17 September that year — but trying to find an official record is proving difficult. The National Consumer Council doesn’t exist any more and no-one at its successor organisation recalls seeing papers from as far back as the seventies in the archive. They were, we suspect, thrown in a skip during an office move.
All we have, so far, is this tantalising clue from coverage of the event by The Times:
Many agreed that they could best achieve their aims by working together, but a representative from CAMRA said his organisation had only been successful because it had adopted an entirely self-interested position.
Then there’s the radio programme on which members of the CAMRA National Executive appeared in the early seventies. After much digging, we have worked out when it was broadcast and on which station (BBC Radio London, in around May 1973, as part of the Platform strand) but no recording exists in the BBC’s collection (‘there was no policy of archiving output until much later’). We’d love to hear it, not least because John Young of Young’s Brewery, a fascinating character, was also on the panel.
Not everything can be preserved, we know that, but it’s sad that moments like these, almost in reach, and which played out in front of cameras and tape recorders, seem to have disappeared.