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.

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