We’re researching an article which has given us an excuse to chat to several Campaign for Real Ale veterans.
One of them, Anthony Gibson, was a press officer by trade and, through his London CAMRA branch, got involved in publicity for the Campaign in the 1970s. He told us this story as an aside:
I think it was the first or second day of the Great British Beer Festival at Alexandra Palace [in 1978]. We were all in the staff room trying to work out how to get more publicity – it was going well, but we needed a big crowd to make it viable. We’d already done things like stage a procession of brewers’ drays. Then I was walking back from the loo when I thought, why don’t we organise a competition? Let’s find out which is the favourite beer of all the people drinking here today.
The way we did was that I put together a short-list by asking people working on the bars which were their best-sellers. Then I went round and approached ‘specially selected’ members of the audience and got them up on stage to blind taste the beers on the short-list, which were organised into categories. We didn’t have specialist judges – just ordinary punters. We compered it and made a spectacle of it and it was very successful.
Within an hour of having the idea, I had a press release out. It was the start of something which is still going today.
The joint winners were Thwaites’s Dark Mild and Fuller’s ESB.
It’s funny to think that, these days, in the wake of the inevitably outrage-inducing result of the Champion Beer of Britain competition at GBBF, people crawl all over the process looking for evidence of impropriety, incompetence or bias. In 1978, they’d have had a field day.