Mrs Mullis on Types of Pub Customer, 1972

Title text from the cover of the book.

We’re hoovering up books about pubs at the moment and Behind Bars: straight facts about keeping a pub by Peggy Mullis got sucked in and clogged the filter.

Mrs Mullis was a free­lance coun­try lifestyle jour­nal­ist who, with her hus­band Bri­an, took on the Crown Inn, Worm­ing­ford, Essex, c.1970. (She doesn’t give a date – that’s a guess.)

We Tweet­ed some bits about beer last week but the best chap­ter, with­out doubt, is at the very end, where her accu­mu­lat­ed frus­tra­tions boil over, Basil Fawl­ty style: ‘The Cus­tomers’.

When we embarked on this ven­ture, I made the naïve mis­take of imag­in­ing that pub cus­tomers were ordi­nary mor­tals. They are not, of course. They are a unique race…

She goes on to explain the ten­sion in the rela­tion­ship: cus­tomers ‘pay your rent, your brew­ery bills, put the clothes on your back and the food on your table’, so they must be impor­tant. But they are also pains in the arse. (Not Mrs Mullis’s phras­ing.) It starts out fair­ly tame but gets weird­er as it goes, sound­ing like a tran­script of a ses­sion with a ther­a­pist by the end.

Country pub against a blue sky.
Detail from the cov­er. Pho­to by Christo­pher Drake.
1. The Locals

The true reg­u­lars, those for whom your pubs is their one and only ‘local’… [Their] instinct for self-preser­va­tion requires them to take their coats off and admin­is­ter rough jus­tice at the drop of a hat. Touchy to a degree, they nev­er­the­less show more con­sid­er­a­tion for us and our house than many a more sophis­ti­cat­ed crowd… Their capac­i­ty for ale and enjoy­ment is prodi­gious, their nat­ur­al wit exhaust­ing…

2. Social groups

[A] high­ly gre­gar­i­ous group of young cou­ples [who] dom­i­nat­ed the scene for sev­er­al months… Then we had our ‘cul­tur­al peri­od’ when I  felt we almost had the mak­ing of a salon, with writ­ers, painters, drama­tists and what-have-you among us… Sat­ur­day lunchtime has recent­ly devel­oped into a City ses­sion, with the younger local com­muters aggres­sive­ly relaxed in their jeans and sweaters, hav­ing laid aside their bowler hats.

3a. Solitary Drinker

First, there is the ‘soli­tary’ who, when he wants to be alone, makes sure that he is. After the ini­tial greet­ings, you will only suf­fer acute embar­rass­ment if you try and pur­sue the mat­ter. He will put up either smoke­screen or a news­pa­per, and it’s your job to make your­self as incon­spic­u­ous as pos­si­ble.

3b. Solitary but Talkative

[The] ‘soli­tary’ who wants to talk is… per­haps the hard­est… For the first few min­utes, your inter­est may be gen­uine­ly aroused… How­ev­er, they near­ly all over­do it, and before long your respons­es become auto­mat­ic and your smile mechan­i­cal. I hon­est­ly believe that we ren­der a valu­able social ser­vice by pro­vid­ing an out­let for so much from so many. But if you allow your­self to show signs of becom­ing involved, you will find your­self lum­bered for good with some­one else’s life, and by now I have learned to remain slight­ly detached…

4. ‘Experts’

[They] con­sid­er it is their mis­sion in life to tell you exact­ly how to do your job. This includes ram­ming the virtues of rival estab­lish­ments down your throat, and amaz­ing vir­tu­os­i­ty in dis­play­ing inti­mate knowl­edge of the trade as a whole. The inter­est­ing thing about these experts is that, almost with­out excep­tion, they have the most utter­ly ple­beian tastes you can imag­ine.

5. The Gregarious Type

[Anoth­er] thorn in the flesh… Anx­ious to be on the best of terms with every­body, the only way he can make his pres­ence felt is to make an extra­or­di­nary amount of noise – about noth­ing – and intrude with both feet in all direc­tions. The sad thing about this one is that he is no doubt the meek­est of hus­bands and as clay in the boss’s hands… All he suc­ceeds in doing in your bar is to make a per­fect ass of him­self…

6. Women

Why is it that per­fect­ly nor­mal, charm­ing, intel­li­gent, capa­ble women turn into prink­ing show-offs in the pub bar? One can for­give the very young, still delight­ful­ly under the illu­sion that a cer­tain style of man­ner and mood denotes matu­ri­ty. But when it comes to women of my own age, who sud­den­ly turn into tit­ter­ing exhi­bi­tion­ists, I’m baf­fled.

*

We won­der what Mrs Mullis’s cus­tomers thought when they read that lot? We might have been Num­ber Fours from time to time. We will heed the rap on the knuck­les and behave from now on.

12 thoughts on “Mrs Mullis on Types of Pub Customer, 1972”

  1. I’m intrigued by the thought of the reg­u­lars dis­pens­ing ‘rough jus­tice’ in their shirt­sleeves at the drop of a hat. I like “their nat­ur­al wit [is] exhaust­ing”, too – I’ve seen that look on many a barper­son.

    I won­der what those “ple­beian tastes” were – cask mild, maybe?

    1. The exam­ple she gives in the text is a bloke who bangs on about sher­ry for an hour and then doesn’t know the dif­fer­ence between dry and sweet when it comes to order.

  2. I won­der what Mrs Mullins would’ve made of:
    A – CAMRA branch in full cam­paign with leaflets to dis­trib­ute.
    B – Hip­sters
    I wish she was still around to set the record straight

    1. She was writ­ing a bit ear­ly for CAMRA to have been on her rad­er but she does say, else­where in the book, that ‘beer drawn straight from the wood… does appear to be a great attrac­tion to the ded­i­cat­ed beer drinker’ and men­tions with some bemuse­ment ‘cam­paign­ers for the preser­va­tion of draught beer [who are] pos­i­tive­ly pas­sion­ate about the whole thing, and have been known to tour the whole coun­try­side in coach-loads, seek­ing pubs where they can get what they con­sid­er is the only per­mis­si­ble beer’.

      And I reck­on hip­sters are under 2, above.

  3. Great read and rings true. I recog­nise and have expe­ri­enced all of these types. I would add the fol­low­ing also:

    7. Pub Crawl groups.
    Often on a stag, work out­ing or birth­day, most­ly male. They it invade the bar en masse and change ambi­ence com­plete­ly for the short time they are there. One man holds the mon­ey and makes the order, which often takes a while as he fig­ures out what every­one wants and tries to square that with what we sell. The best ring­lead­ers pick a drink and tell every­one else that they are drink­ing it, so it’s 12 pints of bit­ter please, very easy. The worst order one drink at a time and often dis­ap­pear when it comes to pay­ment. There will often be one wild card who wants to get a wedge or some shots. They will often be car­ry­ing one light­weight who is dead on his feet but swept along with the group and who must be recog­nised by bar staff as need­ing no more.

    8. Irreg­u­lar Pub Users.
    They ask for drinks that were pop­u­lar 10 or more years ago which we no longer stock. They quick­ly move to the lounge because the bar is to row­dy. One or more of type 5 will try and inter­fere with them and they often require pro­tect­ing. Con­fu­sion and fear are etched on their fea­tures and if you can turn that into a smile you are win­ning and may con­vert them to reg­u­lars.

    9. Cocaine Users.
    They have incred­i­bly weak blad­ders but maybe it’s the speed they drink at. Dou­bles get knocked back like med­i­cine for their snif­fles. They are very talk­a­tive and often over­step the mark when chat­ting up bar staff. The smart ones you can’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate from type 5, the dumb ones you can catch and bar. Let them save face and they will leave with­out fuss since they are rest­less for some­where with ‘more life’.

  4. Inter­est­ing, well-writ­ten in the mor­dant school. This lady was I think too ana­lyt­i­cal for the pub busi­ness. You need to be some­what insou­ciant (not blasé though), pleas­ant, always on, but Teflon. Like good sales­peo­ple are. The most suc­cess­ful I know in the genre aren’t intense per­son­al­i­ties.

    Gary

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