No Beer in the Archives, Please

1970s radio
Detail of pho­to by David Mar­tyn Hunt from Flickr Cre­ative Com­mons.

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.

3 thoughts on “No Beer in the Archives, Please”

  1. It’s worth men­tion­ing that local stud­ies libraries/centres/archives are often hap­py to accept rel­e­vant mate­ri­als from the pub­lic. For exam­ple, I take things like fly­ers and take­away menus in to mine, and oth­er peo­ple take in news­pa­per cut­tings. I even took a car­ri­er bag once, because I thought it was an inter­est­ing one (and they agreed with me). All these mate­ri­als are poten­tial­ly use­ful to his­to­ri­ans of the future — cer­tain­ly for my own research it’d have been very use­ful if there’d been some­one archiv­ing Croy­don’s take­away menus a cou­ple of decades ago.

    I have a feel­ing that there’s a list some­where of UK local stud­ies cen­tres, but I can’t find it. In any case, googling for some­thing like ‘[your area] local stud­ies library archive’ should be use­ful.

  2. That’s a very good ques­tion! I note Lord Young’s papers are deposit­ed for use of researchers in a cen­tre in Cam­bridge:

    http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0014%2FYUNG

    Per­haps the answer is there, in one of the box­es of mate­ri­als.

    The first time I read the reput­ed quo­ta­tion was in Michael Jack­son’s The World Guide To Beer (1977), but Jack­son did not cred­it the source or give fur­ther infor­ma­tion.

    The 70’s was when the con­sumer move­ment real­ly got going in the West, per­haps even ear­li­er in the U.S. via Ralph Nad­er and Rachel Car­son. (But the cam­paign­ing for nuclear dis­ar­ma­ment in Britain in the ear­ly 60’s was a kind of ana­logue, indeed one would think the word Cam­paign in CAM­RA’s name came from that). It’s inter­est­ing too (I think) that vary­ing nation­al con­di­tions dic­tat­ed the routes con­sumerist move­ments would take: the U.S. focused ini­tial­ly on auto­mo­biles, tar­get­ing safe­ty con­cerns and so-called planned obso­les­cence, and also envi­ron­men­tal issues. Beer nev­er made it to first base, in the sense that the revival of good beer came most­ly from the ground up (from ’77 on). Where­as in the U.K., beer has had an impor­tant place in the nation­al imag­i­na­tion, hence per­haps the ear­ly focus of con­sumerism on beer there but also the actu­al chang­ing of big brew­ery prac­tices, at least for some con­sid­er­able time.

    Gary

    1. Gary – we’d not­ed his col­lec­tion and had a nose through the cat­a­logue. It might be there if it was part of a speech, but if it was some­thing he said in dis­cus­sion, we’d need a copy of the minute, if one was tak­en. We might be able to jus­ti­fy a trip to Cam­bridge lat­er in the year to have a look, though.

      Kake – that’s a good point, at least when it comes to research­ing sub­jects with a defined local­i­ty.

Comments are closed.