Bits we Underlined In… How To Run a Pub, 1969

Cover of book with illustration by Tim Jaques.

This 130-page hardback was written by Tony White of Evening Standard Pub Guide fame and acts as an interesting companion piece to Peggy Mullis’s similar how-to guide.

The style is breezy and fair­ly wit­ty – think Len Deighton – but is a prod­uct of its time: it is addressed entire­ly to men, women are a prob­lem to be dealt with, and the lan­guage around race might shock some mod­ern read­ers.

The book opens with the now cus­tom­ary attempt to put off wide-eyed ide­al­ists by shat­ter­ing their ‘pipe-dream’. This also pro­vides a help­ful glimpse into the Ide­al Pub as it was viewed 1969:

You are the genial land­lord of a small tim­bered coun­try inn where the warm August sun is mirac­u­lous­ly reflect­ed in the bur­nished horse-brass­es and mar­malade pans… There you are, your elbows propped on the scrubbed wood counter, swap­ping war sto­ries with the qual­i­ty in the Saloon and gen­tle bawdry with the locals in the Pub­lic, paus­ing now and again to draw a pint of amber-coloured bit­ter into a pewter tankard… At your side, your devot­ed lady wife… serene­ly dis­pens­es, with a pair of white plas­tic tongs, plump, smok­ing, home-made pasties… Some­where in the not-so-far-off dis­tance can be heard the clonk of leather on wil­low.

White’s next ques­tion is a good one: giv­en the dif­fi­cul­ty of run­ning a pub in real­i­ty, why does any­one both­er? He finds sev­er­al rea­sons the most inter­est­ing of which is the idea that being a pub­li­can is one of few careers you can start lat­er in life – a thought which still finds an echo in the words of Microp­ub guru Mar­tyn Hilli­er almost 50 years on.

And what makes a good pub­li­can? Here, White quotes Robert (Bob­by) Neame of brew­ery Shep­herd Neame: per­son­al­i­ty. No-one, Neame says, goes to The George because it’s a good pub, they go because ‘the guv’nor’s a bit of a char­ac­ter’. That is sure­ly much less the case today where an excess of char­ac­ter is the stuff of which bad Tri­pAd­vi­sor reviews are made. ‘Many suc­cess­ful pub­li­cans are to some extent, per­form­ers’, says White, ‘so if you have a bit of an exhi­bi­tion­is­tic streak… you can, instead of dri­ving your wife up the wall, put it to good use’.

Things then take a turn for the deep: ‘pub­li­cans are frus­trat­ed roman­tics’ he argues:

In fact one or two hard­ened ones even admit­ted to me that they had always want­ed to be writ­ers or explor­ers. In some way a pub seems to sat­is­fy or at least relieve such urges… [In] a pub there is always the unex­pect­ed.

He gives some con­sid­er­a­tion to mat­ters of class: an Old Eton­ian can­not run a pub down by the docks, he argues, but a work­ing class man can run a pub in Bel­gravia. (He must have been think­ing of Dan Far­son here.)

The roots of the present day bat­tle between pub­li­cans and pub com­pa­nies over the beer tie are explored: there are hard­ly any true free­hous­es, White says, men­tion­ing Becky’s Dive Bar as a rare excep­tion; and the more com­mon ten­an­cy arrange­ment is ‘sub­tle’ and full of pit­falls. As for the then nov­el idea of pub man­agers, he gives one inter­est­ing exam­ple we’d like to fol­low up:

Mr William Oost­er of the Bridge House, Can­ning Town, Lon­don… [is] an ex-US air­man, mar­ried to an Eng­lish girl [who] began as a part-time bar­man and is now prob­a­bly the only Amer­i­can man­ag­er of a pub – though there are sev­er­al Amer­i­can ten­ants.

An entire chap­ter is giv­en over to secur­ing a ten­an­cy which leads us to our first real­ly juicy bit of gen­der pol­i­tics:

It goes with­out say­ing that if you are mar­ried, your wife will be expect­ed to accom­pa­ny you to the inter­view [at the brew­ery]. Some pub­li­cans, the more cyn­i­cal ones, reck­ons that ‘it’s the wife who gets the pub’. Inevitably a mar­ried man stands far more chance than a bach­e­lor. For one thing he’s sup­posed to be stead­ier – though I dare say some publican’s wives would have some­thing to say on this sub­ject… She is nor­mal­ly expect­ed to super­vise the clean­ing, decor, and most impor­tant, the cater­ing, which in the age of the breathal­yser is becom­ing more and more impor­tant.

And here’s the next bit: keep an eye on your wife. Work­ing with your oth­er half day-to-day, White says, will expose ten­sions in your mar­riage and cus­tomers will try to take advan­tage of this:

Your wife and (and your­self) will be exposed to con­stant temp­ta­tion from [cus­tomers]. Some won’t hes­i­tate to use their per­sua­sions on her. This may begin in what seems the friend­liest and most inno­cent ways such as offer­ing her a lift to do the shop­ping or tak­ing her out when you are oblig­ed to remain on duty… Some pubs even acquire rep­u­ta­tions as grave­yards of mar­riages. One Chelsea pub… was so noto­ri­ous that it was unkind­ly dubbed The Cuckold’s Arms… Nat­u­ral­ly you can’t watch your wife like a sheep­dog, but it would unwise to embark on a career as a pub­li­can unless you feel that your mar­riage is a pret­ty secure one.

And a third, in this bit of advice on how to han­dle open­ing day: ‘If you can, enlist a bit of glam­our, even if the reg­u­lars will after­wards be served by the same old bag who has been there for years.’ The sug­ges­tion of this sec­tion more gen­er­al­ly is that your first day crowd should be bol­stered with a few friends and rel­a­tives, the ser­vice ought to be bet­ter then nor­mal (extra staff), and sand­wich­es must be plen­ti­ful. It’s a bit of a con trick, as he acknowl­edges.

Now, here’s the bit that will most inter­est beer geeks: a chap­ter enti­tled Keep­ing a Good Pint. Unlike c.1969 pub­li­cans with ‘reg­u­la­tion Marks and Spencer sweaters and Tery­lene trousers’ the pre-WWI land­lord, in pork-pie hat and cra­vat, ‘had to have a very sen­si­tive palate’ as he shopped around for his beer. He was an expert in the use of fin­ings in the cel­lar and in break­ing down spir­its with dis­tilled water:

In fact on retired land­lord of the old school dis­missed his present day coun­ter­parts sum­mar­i­ly and per­haps a lit­tle unkind­ly as ‘glo­ri­fied petrol pump atten­dants’.

This book was pub­lished two years before the found­ing of CAMRA and that shows in White’s asser­tion that ‘the trend is towards pres­sur­ized beer… Prob­lems of sed­i­ment will soon, for bet­ter or worse, be a thing of the past’.

We always enjoy find­ing evi­dence of beer geeks from before CAMRA exist­ed and How to Run a Pub has a love­ly depic­tion of the them-and-us dynam­ic:

Pub­li­cans aren’t expect­ed to be great con­nois­seurs of beer, though obvi­ous­ly it is bet­ter if you know some­thing… Some of your cus­tomers may fan­cy them­selves as experts and it has been known for a few a few of the pub’s reg­u­lars to test out a new licensee by com­plain­ing about his beer… If you think it is a try-on, your best bet is to pass it off with a wit­ty rejoin­der, such as: ‘Must be these new Chi­nese hops they’re using,’ and change the sub­ject.

(That last bit is odd­ly pre­scient.)

He goes on to sug­gest that seri­ous and per­sis­tent com­plaints must be dealt with or cus­tomers will walk. But he also cites the exam­ple of a pub­li­can who found grum­bles stopped when he mere­ly made a pre­tence of chang­ing the cask.

The water­ing of beer was still a live issue in the 1960s – only a few years before this book came out, says White, four­teen Man­ches­ter pub­li­cans were fined for doing so after a mys­te­ri­ous man (pos­si­bly a spy for a rival brew­ery) vis­it­ed twen­ty pubs and analysed the beer before report­ing to Cus­toms and Excise. Anoth­er sto­ry to look into, there.

A use­ful run-down of the stan­dard bar snacks of the time is giv­en (‘crisps, peanuts, jars of cock­les and mus­sels, pigs-trot­ters, etc.’) as a lead into a full chap­ter on pub meals. It starts with the now famil­iar claim that

Until quite recent­ly, com­par­a­tive­ly few pubs, espe­cial­ly locals, could offer you much in the way of food; in fact it was often a strug­gle to get a bar­man to fish you out a dusty bag of crisps from under the counter.

White goes on to describe a ‘rev­o­lu­tion in pub food’ that had been under­way for some time but was giv­en a boost by the intro­duc­tion of the breathal­yser, AKA Barbara’s bag, to test for drink-dri­ving, in 1967. The inven­tion of pub grub as we know it today is described (Levy & Franks, Chef & Brew­er, Ind Coope’s Hot Snack Hous­es, and so on). With food comes chil­dren (‘In spite of howls of protest from the purists’) and wine: ‘If you pro­vide table ser­vice, you are more or less bound to offer a small but well-select­ed wine-list.’

Then there’s the ques­tion of earn­ings. Based on con­ver­sa­tions with ten­ants White reck­ons some, with the biggest and best pubs, were tak­ing home as much as ‘a top exec­u­tive or aver­age com­pa­ny direc­tor’ (£7,000-£10,000 per year), but only with a sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal out­lay and a lot of hard work. Mean­while, a ‘small hus­band-and-wife team… after deduct­ing for the wife’s ser­vices… clear only about £15 a week’.

Here’s state­ment that seemed sur­pris­ing to us, from the chap­ter on legal mat­ters: ‘Many pubs fea­ture drag-shows, per­for­mances by female imper­son­ators.’ Many pubs? Real­ly? At any rate, these, along with the go-go dancers and strip­pers he also describes, seem to have dis­ap­peared almost entire­ly from the pub land­scape 50 years on.

Interior spread of book with illustration: 'Undesirables'.
A spread from the book with illus­tra­tion by Tim Jaques.

The sec­tion on deal­ing with trou­ble is a fun read with tales of fight­ing, spliffs, syringes and pro­tec­tion rack­ets. It takes a weird turn at the very end, though, when it gets to the ques­tion of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion:

Let us sup­pose for a moment you are the licensee of a local in an indus­tri­al town some­where… In walk half-a-dozen West Indi­ans and stand by the counter wait­ing to be served. The place goes dead qui­et. The reg­u­lars are watch­ing you like hawks to see which way you’re going to move. One of them even mut­ters: ‘You’re not going to serve them, are you, guvnor?’

What fol­lows is a frank unpack­ing of the issues which seems appalling by mod­ern stan­dards. If you serve them, he says, you’ll upset your reg­u­lars upon whom your busi­ness depends and they might defect to a pub ‘where the licensee serves Euro­peans only’, in which case (brace your­self) ‘you could acquire the rep­u­ta­tion of run­ning a “spade pub”’. On the oth­er hand, if you don’t serve them, you might be fined or lose your licence under the terms of the then still con­tro­ver­sial 1965 Race Rela­tions Act. He explains how some pub­li­cans deal with this dilem­ma by

pre­tend­ing not to hear orders, sud­den­ly get­ting very inter­est­ed in the work­ings of a beer engine, or sim­ply keep­ing coloured cus­tomers wait­ing until they get fed up and walk out. If they enter the Saloon Bar, there is anoth­er weapon: the charge them what is famil­iar­ly known in the trade as the ‘beatnik’s pint’, about dou­ble the nor­mal price.

He stops just short of rec­om­mend­ing these tac­tics but… weapon? Good grief. Anoth­er pub­li­can, White says, hired two or three ‘tame’ West Indi­ans to sit in a cor­ner and then barred all oth­er black drinkers: ‘If any­one object­ed, he sim­ply point­ed to the Uncle Toms.’ Oth­er trou­ble­some groups, accord­ing to White, are Gyp­sies, ram­blers (and, for bal­ance, pre­sum­ably) pro-Rhode­sian neo-Nazis. Lat­er in the book, sim­i­lar con­sid­er­a­tion is giv­en to the risk of your pub ‘becom­ing a sort of recog­nised meet­ing place for queers and les­bians’:

Of course it is true that in some pub they pack in the crowds by pro­vid­ing a kind of ‘spec­ta­tor-sport’. On the oth­er hand, even if they behave impec­ca­bly, some of your cus­tomers may… go else­where and cause you to lose a lot of trade, if word gets round that you are run­ning a ‘bent’ house.

There’s more dark­ness in the chap­ter on man­ag­ing bar staff:

Oth­ers reck­on that the best bar­men are those over whom you have some kind of hold, who owe you mon­ey or who have some rea­son to fear you. This pol­i­cy was car­ried to extremes, the sto­ry goes, by a Man­ches­ter pub­li­can dur­ing the war, who used to employ desert­ers from the Cana­di­an army. One squeak of com­plaint from any of them about the long hours of mis­er­able wages and he got straight on to the phone to the Red­caps to come and pick him up. They may even be a pub­li­can today doing the same thing with tru­ant au pair girls or Amer­i­can draft-dodgers.

That’s not every­thing, believe it or not – there are lots of oth­er details we could pick out, but 2,000 words is quite enough. We got our copy for a cou­ple of quid but they seem to be going for £40 now on Ama­zon, so keep your eyes peeled. And if you’re a researcher or writer and want us to look up any­thing in par­tic­u­lar, drop us a line.

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