Pubwatching With Desmond Morris, 1993

Detail of a page from Pubwatching with Desmond Morris, 1993.

When Dave Tweeted the above at us last week, even before responding, we had ordered a copy of the 1993 book in question from Amazon for £2.81, delivered.

Pubwatching with Desmond Morris. (Cover)Pubwatching with Desmond Morris, despite his name and face on the cover, was actually written by anthropologist Kate Fox, based on research commissioned by the Brewer’s Society. It packs a lot of observations into its 64 pages: there are notes on types of pubgoer, games, typical pub conversations and etiquette, among other subjects. Of greatest interest to us, however, was an attempt to categorise pubs as they were at the turn of the 1990s.

Even if no such attempt can ever be definitive, every time someone tries, it is illuminating in some way. If nothing else, such exercises provide a snapshot of a particular point in time, and a particular perspective, as with the academic paper on pubs and bars in British cities c.2001 we stumbled upon last year.

The Morris/Fox categories from 1993 were:

1. The Serious-traditional pub, where ‘greater importance is attached to the authenticity of the ales’, customers are ‘middle class, and in the 25-50 age group’ and include ‘students… social workers, teachers, university lecturers and other dedicated non-profit-making professionals’, some of them ‘members of CAMRA… who are drinking for a cause, as well as for the taste’.

2. The Circuit pub, ‘Also known as “Trendy” pubs “Fun” pubs “Venue” pubs or “Disco-bars”’, where ‘bright lights are an essential feature’, along with ‘posing platforms’. Customers are 18-25, ‘spend the evening parading from pub to pub within a well-defined area, often staying long enough only for one drink’, and ‘will be in their very best “gear”’.

3. The Family pub, ‘a fairly recent phenomenon’, some of which ‘will be very easy to spot, even from a moving car full of frustrated kids’, and a good example of which will be ‘a real pub that welcome children, not a McDonald’s with horse-brasses’.

4. The Estate pub, ‘perhaps the most interesting of pub types, and… probably the most genuinely traditional’. They ‘cater to a particular local population rather than a “customer type” desired by the publican’. They have a ‘comfortable shabbiness’ and a ‘lived-in feel’, and service is ‘Friendly, but never ingratiating… there will be no… attempts to make you feel important’.

5. The Student pub: ‘Students do not so much visit a pub as occupy it. Their bags and coats will be strewn around over tables and chairs. When no seats are available, they will sit in circles on the floor’. The furniture is ‘robust and well-used’, the walls covered with both typical pub nick-knacks and ‘ill-printed posters’. (‘Poly students look like normal people’!)

6. The Yuppie pub (our favourite) is ‘to be found in most city centres, in the smarter areas of town’; customers will be ‘dressed in the latest upmarket fashions, some complete with mobile phones and slimline portable computers’. They drink wine and ‘the latest designer lager’. ‘You will find none of the ubiquitous “job-lot” Victoriana here’, says Fox, but you may well see ‘scrambled eggs with smoked salmon served in miniature frying pans’; ‘The decor… may appear to have few home-like features, but then many yuppie homes give the same impression.’

We’ve already given ourselves a headache trying to map those categories over today’s landscape: Serious-traditional still exists, of course, but where do BrewDog bars fit in? Part Yuppie pub, part Student pub, but with some well-hidden Serious-traditional tendencies?

13 thoughts on “Pubwatching With Desmond Morris, 1993”

  1. The “circuit pub” or “circuit bar” is still a term of art in the pub-and-bar business. The student pub is still enough of a solid market that several pub companies specialise in them, and install laptop charging docks and wi-fi linked printers for running off essays. The “yuppie pub”, of course, morphed into the gastro-pub. The “serious pub” is now the “ale pub”, but alongside it is the hipster pub, which overlaps with the craft ale bar. Up-and-coming term to watch out for: “chameleon bar”, one that acts more like a coffee bar dring the day, but gets much pubbier after 5pm.

    1. We were wondering if the family pub had divided in two: middle class family pub, i.e. informal gastro; and bog standard ball-pit and burgers joints, like Brewers Fayre. (Disclosure: my first job was as a waiter at a Brewers Fayre — pink bow tie, candy stripe shirt, “Can I tempt you with one of our delicious deserts?”, which we were told to ask in front of the kids to maximise pester power.)

    1. Have you got a link to Pete’s piece? It didn’t show up when we Googled and we can’t find it using the search on his blog. Would be nice to link to it above.

    1. Ah — that’s actually a different book by the same author, Kate Fox. From a quick glance, content looks similar, but not identical. No Yuppie pubs, for example. Based on the same research I’d guess, though.

  2. Looking back to 93 im questioning which category ferkins fit in. Part real ale traditional pub. Part student bar and part circuit. Guessing working men’s clubs whilst being category of their own are most closely related to estate pubs.

  3. Poly students? By 1993 they were all universities. (Only just – 1992 was the changeover year – so that’s a real nitpick.)

    Strange how the connotations of ‘student’ – and hence ‘student pub’ – have changed, even in 20 years. When 10% of kids went to university, they (we) spent three years living in genteel poverty; now that 40% go, they spend three years having it large. Seems the wrong way round somehow.

  4. There’s a section in Kate Fox’s book ‘Watching the English’ along similar lines. Might have a more up to date version of the Desmond Morris book.

    She also has some very interesting views on binge drinking culture in the UK and how it’s socialised by negative press coverage. Was an article on BBC website a while back…

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