Did you know about Tom Harrisson’s follow-up to 1943’s Mass Observation book The Pub and the People, entitled Britain Revisited and published in 1961?
We certainly hadn’t registered its existence until the other week when a Google Books search turned up a reference. We ordered it from Amazon for £7 delivered – a lovely looking edition in a bright yellow Gollancz dust-jacket.
The pub chapter runs to 27 pages and draws on the original Mass Observation work from the 1930s; a commercial follow-up project comissioned by Guinness in the late 1940s; and a new set of observations carried out by one of the original team in 1960. If you’re interested in pub history you won’t need much more than that to persuade you to get hold of your own copy.
We’re going to be referring to it substantially in product of The Big Project but here are a couple of interesting nuggets to be getting on with. First, here’s Harrisson on a substantial change in drinking habits:
[There] is an increase in midday drinking, including a smattering of reeling drunks around town in the early afternoon – something not seen at all in the thirties. This affected locally by the new system of shift work in the cotton mills, by which no one there works all day, as they did before… Affluence has enabled drinking to be more extended and produced the occasional midday drunk as a new phenomenon in the North.
This is a point he also picks up while summarising the difference between a typical young man of 1960 and his father:
You may wear a tie instead of a scarf, your second best suit instead of the working clothes that had once been your only best suit, drink ‘best mild’ instead of ordinary, twenty-two pints a week instead of twenty, and maybe put in an hour in the boozer dinner-time, which your dad in 1937 couldn’t afford.
Well, we think he’s picking up the same point anyway, assuming he’s using ‘dinner-time’ here to refer to the middle meal of the day, as in school dinners, as in breakfast-dinner-tea-supper.
So can we conclude that the lunchtime drinking culture it sometimes feels we’ve lost – The Pub Curmudgeon often mentions it – was another of those things we didn’t really have for long in the first place?
That section quoted above also starts us on another trail: which beers were people drinking in 1937, 1947 and 1960? The 1947 Guinness project notes, quoted in big chunks by Harrisson, record that:
About half of pubgoers usually drink mild or bitter or mild-and-bitter. Of the remainder about a third drink Guinness or stout. One drinker in the thirteen – even after prompting – can give no details about his usual drink beyond that it is ‘beer’.
But by 1960 a shift was underway:
[More] expensive beers are being drunk. More bitter (the rather costlier beer) and more bottled in the pubs.
Harrisson argues that this was part of a general narrative of what he calls ‘up-affluencing’ – a drift towards the better bars, away from the barebones vault or public; and a growing taste for Babycham, Cherry B, ‘a drop of gin dressed up’, and even cocktails among younger female drinkers, where their mothers would have been happy with stout. This quote from a pub landlord on the subject of flashy young men with money to burn contains a lot of meaning for a few words and might well apply to the craft beer scene of today:
[Lads] have always liked a drop of the best.