Bits We Underlined in… The London Spy, 1971

Cover of the 1971 edition of The London Spy. (Bright red, peering eye.)

This ‘discreet guide to the city’s pleasures’ naturally contains lots of details on pubs and beer, not only in the section on drinking but also scattered throughout.

It was edit­ed by Robert Allen and Quentin Guird­ham and was a fol­low up to a 1966 edi­tion edit­ed by Hunter Davies with the slight­ly dif­fer­ent title of The New Lon­don Spy, which we wrote about years ago.

In gen­er­al, the 1971 edi­tion is more sex-obsessed than the 1966 and, by mod­ern stan­dards, pret­ty obnox­ious in places. There’s an entire chap­ter advis­ing blokes on how to ‘pull’, for exam­ple, which is sup­posed to be cheeky but now just reads as incred­i­bly creepy. Con­ning your way into halls of res­i­dence for young women and stalk­ing around the cor­ri­dors harass­ing any­one you bump into is one par­tic­u­lar­ly socio­path­ic sug­ges­tion. There are few­er con­trib­u­tors than in 1966 but some big names still appear, not least Sir John Bet­je­man and Bruce Chatwin.

Any­way, let’s dive in.


The 1966 edi­tion has sec­tion on pubs which some­how avoids men­tion­ing beer alto­geth­er. By 1971, though, things had changed.  The Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) was well under­way and the Cam­paign for Real Ale was just wrig­gling into life. There was some­thing in the air, in oth­er words, which per­haps explains this very CAM­RA-esque pas­sage:

It is still pos­si­ble to get good beer in Lon­don. Two inde­pen­dent brew­eries are left, Young’s and Fuller’s, and while beers from the large nation­wide chains are dete­ri­o­rat­ing, some of them still pro­duce good pres­tige beers like Wor­thing­ton E and Whit­bread­’s Bri­tan­nia. The trou­ble with most bit­ters is sim­ply their ordi­nar­i­ness, they get clos­er each day to the class­less beer, hygien­i­cal­ly brewed, mas­sive­ly adver­tised, and as taste­less as the fizzy con­coc­tion of the rest of the world, laugh­ing­ly known as lager.

It’s good to add ‘pres­tige beer’ to the list of euphemisms employed over the years for The Beer We Drink And They Don’t, along with pre­mi­um, craft, bou­tique, design­er and all the oth­er favourites. There’s a bit more info on Bri­tan­nia, orig­i­nal­ly brewed for the pub of the same name, here.

The author goes on to sum­marise the sit­u­a­tion which gave rise to CAMRA:

The search for a good pub is now no longer based on atmos­phere, but on the qual­i­ty of its beer. This is quite sen­si­ble, for the pubs with the best atmos­phere are those where knowl­edge­able drinkers drink. Atmos­phere was always a doubt­ful cri­te­ri­on, since its qual­i­ty can only be appre­ci­at­ed in time, and those pubs with one obtru­sive enough to be not­ed at once tend to super­fi­cial or pre­ten­tious. What good drinker any­way cares for the sur­round­ings that mist before him as he savours the tang of a well-kept beer?

Now, let’s not read too  much into that word ‘tang’ although it is per­haps anoth­er bit of evi­dence to sup­port the idea that con­nois­seurs back then liked their beer a bit dirt­i­er than their coun­ter­parts today. (See also: cloudy beer in his­to­ry.) Oth­er­wise, that pas­sage is fas­ci­nat­ing because it sug­gests that some­thing fun­da­men­tal­ly changed between 1966 and 1971 – that you could no longer take for grant­ed that the beer would be at least decent (that is, tasty) in a char­ac­ter­ful Lon­don pub.

There then fol­lows a star­tling state­ment: ‘The beer-drink­ing heart­land is south of the riv­er.’ Here’s the list of pubs that accom­pa­nies this bold claim in case any­one (Des?) feels like under­tak­ing the field work:

  • The Coach & Hors­es, Barnes
  • The Coach & Hors­es, Rich­mond
  • The Char­lie But­ler, Mort­lake
  • The Spot­ted Horse, Put­ney
  • The Old Ship, Rich­mond
  • The White Cross Hotel, Rich­mond
  • The Crooked Bil­let, Wim­ble­don
  • The Dog & Fox, Wim­ble­don
  • The Rose & Crown, Wim­ble­don

Oth­er pubs are rec­om­mend­ed by dis­trict (Chelsea, West End, Hamp­stead, City & Isling­ton) with the odd pithy com­ment, e.g. of the Admi­ral Codring­ton, SW3, which has ‘the pub­lic school young… All the pale young men with their pale young girls.’ And we’d like to know more about the Ship & Shov­el’s ‘arche­typ­al bacon and kid­ney sand­wich­es’.

Gambrinus Waltz ’71

A chap­ter on squares and stat­ues pro­vides a walk­ing route which sug­gests a refresh­ment stop:

Turn down Soho Street and pause per­haps for a litre of Lowen­brau in the Bier Keller on the right. A tasty drink but rather pricey and stronger than it looks. Expa­tri­ate Japan­ese gath­er here to sing ‘It’s a long way to Tip­per­ary’. If you don’t like leder­ho­sen slap­ping yodellers keep away.

There’s the odd men­tion of this place online from which we gath­er it was at num­ber 7 and… that’s it. How has it avoid­ed the atten­tion of the Lon­don retro wal­low­ers? There must be a pho­to or two out there at least. Any­one?

Pubs, Assorted

The Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street: ‘If, as occa­sion­al­ly hap­pens, you are per­form­ing the offices of nature in the Gen­tle­mens and you notice a fig­ure beside you in dou­blet, hose, buck­led shoes and pow­dered wig do not take fright. It hap­pens to be the head wait­er who wan­ders about in peri­od cos­tume.’

Sketch of two people at a pub bar.
Kaffe Fas­sett 1966 illus­tra­tions were reused in 1971 but this is one of the hand­ful of addi­tion­al pic­tures con­tributed by Vici Williams.

Green­wich Mar­ket: ‘If you’re around at dawn there is a pub inside the mar­ket which enjoyed unusu­al licens­ing hours. Take along a bag of sprouts and look bona fide.’

Thomas a Beck­ett, Old Kent Road: ‘You can see good box­ers train in the gym above the bar and there are always tick­ets to be had.’

The Underworld

Like the 1966 edi­tion the 1971 Lon­don Spy has a sec­tion on crim­i­nals and gang­sters. The pas­sage of time, how­ev­er, means that the lat­er edi­tion can be more frank in dis­cussing the Kray twins. The author of this chap­ter makes a good point about the Lon­don vil­lain’s rela­tion­ship with pubs:

The phys­i­cal organ­i­sa­tion of such empires is baf­fling. They still con­duct their busi­ness in pub­lic, more specif­i­cal­ly in pubs. It has been the undo­ing of many, even if a well patro­n­ised saloon bar half-an-hour before clos­ing time with the TV or juke-box blar­ing is about the least promis­ing envi­ron­ment for eaves­drop­ping, human or elec­tron­ic, yet devised. But guilt by asso­ci­a­tion is still the prin­ci­ple weapon of detec­tion in these fields and it is hard to explain the con­tin­u­ance of this prac­tice, stretch­ing back to the mer­can­tile cof­fee hous­es of the sev­en­teenth and eigh­teenth cen­turies, by any­thing more pro­found than the desire to invest an essen­tial­ly bor­ing way of life (long peri­ods between jobs) with the excite­ment engen­dered by being known and recog­nised as a strong man among the oth­er strong men at the bar.

Of the Krays specif­i­cal­ly the author of this sec­tion writes: ‘The tran­script of the first Old Bai­ley tri­al of the broth­ers and their asso­ciates in 1969 must hold the record for the num­ber of pub names it con­tained.’ The pubs asso­ci­at­ed with the Krays, in case you want to attempt some ver­sion of that crawl, are:

  • The Blind Beg­gar, Whitechapel, obvi­ous­ly
  • The Lion AKA The Wid­ows, Beth­nal Green (already gone in ’71)
  • The Che­quers, Waltham­stow (trendied up but still there)
  • The Prince of Wales, South­wark (gone)
What’s It All About, Alfie?

The chap­ter on pulling (the creepy one, men­tioned in the intro above) men­tions pubs, of course, and there’s some inter­est­ing stuff in between the ick­i­ness. This bit on the macho val­ue of pints vs. half-pints is inter­est­ing, for exam­ple:

Much cheap­er than the dis­cothe­ques, obvi­ous­ly, and even cheap­er than the dance halls. Because all you need to work your­self into a strik­ing posi­tion is a half pint of bit­ter in your hand (though it is a fact that top pullers tend to be turps ban­dits too and, as such, are rarely seen with half pints in the hand).

Pubs are par­tic­u­lar­ly good places to meet mid­dle class girls, he observes, because they are from fam­i­lies used to scrimp­ing to pay school fees and so don’t object to a cheap night out on half-pints of bit­ter: ‘Yes, they’ll even drink beer too!’

What’s more, mid­dle class birds can also be found in mid­dle class pubs on their tod, in lit­tle groups of two or three flat­mates… So you’ve often the choice between exe­cut­ing a crafty switch and snatch from under the boyfriend’s nose… or intro­duc­ing your­self to an unescort­ed team with a view to abduct­ing the tasti­est.

The sad coun­ter­part to all this is in the brief sec­tion advis­ing women on how to deal with men:

What­ev­er the time of day, do not go into a pub or licensed club alone… You may be thirsty, but nobody, nobody, will believe you.

Long-Haired Dachsunds

One of the most inter­est­ing chap­ters, which must have seemed quite brave at the time, advis­es gay men on how to find each oth­er: ‘Well, the first things to do are the pubs.’

There’s a direc­to­ry of pubs each of which has a brief descrip­tion of the scene and the kind of per­son you might pick up:

COLEHERNE, 261 Bromp­ton Road, SW10
Per­haps the most famous, par­tic­u­lar­ly for leather. But a dol­ly friend who accept­ed a par­ty invite of this genre swears that, on arrival, only the long-haired dachsunds were randy. Because it’s so famous, lots of tourists or provin­cial lovelies who knows no bet­ter at the time…

It’s inter­est­ing to see the Sal­is­bury on St Mar­t­in’s Lane on the list, even with the dis­claimer that it was ‘mixed and tense’. The full list, which might make for an inter­est­ing study in the loss of Lon­don’s gay nightlife, is:

  • The Cole­herne, Bromp­ton Road
  • Bolton’s, Earls Court/Brompton Road (‘More gen­uine­ly butch than the Cole­herne’)
  • The Cham­pi­on, Bayswa­ter Road (‘Butch-ish but a dif­fi­cult ambiance to define’)
  • The Peg O’Was­sail (Pig & Whis­tle), Lit­tle Chester Street (‘Young, pret­ty and piss-ele­gant’)
  • The Sal­is­bury, St Mar­t­in’s Lane
  • Tat­ter­salls, Knights­bridge Green (‘The oth­er place to watch the Chang­ing of the Guards’)
  • The William IV, Heath Street (‘arty, youngish and smar­tish… Usu­al­ly mixed’)
  • The White Bear Inn, Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus (‘World infa­mous.’)
  • The Admi­ral Dun­can, Old Comp­ton Street (‘very butch, very pret­ty, very Guard­ed.’)
  • The Gold­en Lion, Dean Street (as above)
  • The Vaux­hall Tav­ern, Ken­ning­ton Lane (‘tourists’)
  • Union Tav­ern, Cam­ber­well New Road (‘for fun rather than frol­ic’)
In Conclusion

Of course much of this sounds fas­ci­nat­ing and roman­tic, and of course we’d love a time machine to see it for our­selves but… Don’t Lon­don drinkers maybe have it a bit bet­ter now than then, on bal­ance?

Our slight­ly tat­ty copy of the book cost £3 at a sec­ond-hand book­shop in Bris­tol. Thanks, Ewan – this one was on you, via your much-appre­ci­at­ed patron­age!

5 thoughts on “Bits We Underlined in… The London Spy, 1971”

  1. +1 on bacon & kid­ney – may have to try that one myself.…

    On the tang thing – one might pre­sume that was asso­ci­at­ed with wood­en casks, pre­sum­ably there are good records of when Fullers & Youngs migrat­ed to stain­less steel casks (and in par­tic­u­lar dif­fer­ent clean­ing regimes asso­ci­at­ed with same?). I can imag­ine them being lat­er than some oth­ers, so the move to stain­less steel might have hap­pened between ’66 and ’71?

    Thanks for the arti­cle – always use­ful to be remind­ed that maybe things weren’t so much bet­ter in the Good Old Days, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you weren’t a white, straight man.

  2. turps ban­dits” – what, rag­ing alco­holics? I sup­pose we’re not that far away from a time – and a cul­ture – which roman­ti­cised peo­ple with seri­ous and some­times life-threat­en­ing drink­ing prob­lems, treat­ing them at worst as quaint eccentrics (think Oliv­er Reed, Jef­frey Bernard, George Best). But the casu­al­ness of that ref­er­ence – as if to say that every social group has one – brought me up short. Dif­fer­ent times.

    1. Exag­ger­a­tion for com­ic effect – just means they put away the pints. Some of those CAMRA founders and pio­neers we inter­viewed a few years ago told ter­ri­fy­ing sto­ries of all day, every day drink­ing on Fleet Street.

  3. Must get a copy of this – and you’re right, would make for some good ‘where are they now’ pieces.

    The rec­om­mend­ed beer pubs are not just all south of the riv­er, they’re all south­west and, unsur­pris­ing­ly giv­en the ter­ri­to­ry all Young’s. Still open apart from the Char­lie But­ler. The Rose and Crown was in the first edi­tion of my guide as a good beer rec­om­men­da­tion close to the All Eng­land Club but it would­n’t be my top choice for a Young’s pub in that part of town today.

    Miss­ing from the list of Kray-con­nect­ed pubs is the Car­pen­ters Arms E2 which was the pub the twins bought for their old mum. It’s actu­al­ly rather a pleas­ant pub today and has been in both edi­tions of my guide.

    The gay pubs list is par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Three of the twelve are still gay venues today: the Admi­ral Dun­can, the King William IV and the Roy­al Vaux­hall Tav­ern. I put the (ahem) ‘Pink Willie’, as it’s known local­ly, in the first edi­tion of my guide as a rec­om­men­da­tion for that rare beast, a gay pub that has decent cask, though could­n’t real­ly jus­ti­fy it for the sec­ond edi­tion. The Union Tav­ern in Cam­ber­well is a huge and fas­ci­nat­ing pub – last time I went past it was Por­tugese-themed. Cam­ber­well was a bit of a focus for the ear­ly gay scene for some rea­son – Lon­don’s first reg­u­lar gay dis­co took place in the now-closed Father Red­cap on Cam­ber­well Green.

    The Sal­is­bury on St Mar­t­in’s Lane is of course a notable her­itage pub. It was long pop­u­lar with peo­ple from the near­by the­atres and was not­ed as ‘the­atri­cal’ and tol­er­ant of gay clien­tele in Oscar Wilde’s day. I don’t know if that has any­thing to do with the unar­guably camp makeover it received at the turn of the cen­tu­ry, bronze nymphs and all. It was used as a loca­tion for Basil Dear­den’s ground­break­ing 1961 film Vic­tim star­ring Dirk Bog­a­rde as a gay lawyer who is black­mailed. When I was first out in Lon­don in the mid-1980s it was known as ‘tol­er­ant’ rather than ‘gay’, and I gath­er that there was sub­se­quent­ly a delib­er­ate man­age­ment effort to dri­ve out the queer cus­tomers and make it respectable.

    Both the Earls Court pubs men­tioned, the Cole­herne and the Boltons, are now thor­ough­ly trans­formed and gas­tro’d up. My ex-part­ner, who grew up in Ful­ham, favoured the Boltons for the same rea­son as the writer of this guide. I remem­ber it as a very dodgy place, also used by peo­ple who weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly gay but found it a con­ve­nient venue for illic­it activ­i­ties such as drug deals. I have a very clear mem­o­ry of a bizarre con­ver­sa­tion in there with a rather ine­bri­at­ed trans Glaswe­gian ex-ship­yard work­er in a Dorothy-style ging­ham frock with a thick crop of chest hair sprout­ing from her cleav­age. Those were the days.

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