Beer history

Bits We Underlined In Whitbread Way No. 13, 1979

"Ideal Suit in Lager" -- a hand with playing cards depicting lager brands.
Detail from the cover of Whitbread Way No. 13.

Whitbread Way was a magazine published by the mega-brewery for the education of its licensees. This issue from the summer of 1979 is all about lager and pub grub.

Actually, we had to work out the date from various clues — for some reason, it isn’t given anywhere in the publication — so don’t quote us on it. The magazine is glossy and professional looking, in that boring trade-mag way.

It starts with a news round-up by Graham Kemp which betrays some political bias in the wake of the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister:

There is undoubtedly a groundswell of opinion towards a more pragmatic, commercial approach to life in Britain… The mood of the country over the past decade has been to go for the highest possibly incomes without considering where the money is to come from or what we have to earn nationally to sustain our present standard of living.

What goes around comes around and all that. This statement comes in the context of pressure from the Price Commission which wanted to keep beer prices down to avoid consumer discontent. ‘Prices ought to go down even costs go up’, says Mr Kemp sarcastically, oddly presaging last week’s Cloudwater blog post. What goes around… Oh, we’ve done that one.

Three men raising pints over a video recorder.
Licensee William Garside of the Dog & Partridge, Ashton-under-Lyne, is presented with the Phillips N1700 video recorder he won in a magazine competition.

The first substantial feature, by John Firman, is fascinating and if we’d got round to reading this earlier might have informed our big piece on lager louts. It is entitled ‘Violence — is it necessary?’ and concerns the stalling of what they refer to as the Ban the Thug Bill. It was proposed by Conservative MP Anthony Grant and was intended to ban convicted ‘hooligans’ from entering pubs for up to two years at a time. Violence in pubs was felt to be on the rise and damaging the trade, as supported by quotes from interviews with licensees. Again, the article is openly political: the last government, Firman asserts, didn’t like to do anything and so blocked Grant’s bill, but he expresses a hope that the new Conservative government might be more open to the idea. (They were; the bill passed in 1980.) It’s interesting with hindsight that nowhere in this discussion was lager mentioned, but then…

Heldenbrau Lager

The next chunky piece is product education for licensees on Whitbread’s new range of lagers. It commences with the now familiar summary of the rise in lager sales, from nothing to almost 30 per cent in 20 years, and to 45 per cent of the canned and bottled beer market. It then goes on to say:

But with this growth has come sophistication. The lager market ha segmented with products taking positions in different ‘leagues’. The number of brands has increased by 50 per cent since 1973… In Stella Artois and Heineken, Whitbread has two products which are leaders in their ‘leagues’. Stella dominates the high gravity sector and has a reputation as a lager of supreme quality at the very top of the UK market. Heineken is a mainstream lager and the undisputed leader of such brands in the take home market.

But Whitbread needed more lager brands and so, in June of (again, we think) 1979 it launched Heldenbrau and Royal Kaltenberg in the UK. The former was brewed at Samlesbury (Preston) and was primarily a bottled product, but available on draught in a few pubs up north. It was a low-carb or ‘diet’ lager, then a fashionable sub-sector of the market, fermented out more fully to reduce the amount of residual sugars. They decided on the faux-German branding having established that ‘Britain’s lager drinkers associate quality lager with Germanic-style names’.

Kaltenberg, on the other hand, was a genuine German brand and the bottled Diat Oils was actually imported from Bavaria. Royal Kaltenberg Pilsner, on the other hand, was another Preston product, brewed (aren’t they always?) under the strict supervision of the German brewery from which the name had been licensed. Not that the public would guess that from the TV advertising which (the magazine says — we couldn’t find them on YouTube) featured Fyffe Robertson wandering round Kaltenberg Castle and other parts Bavarian.

An interlude: after he has had his own say on the Ban the Thug Bill (it should have been passed and the outgoing Labour government knew nothing about pubs or beer) staff writer Alan Fry offers some non-advice on dealing with graffiti in pub toilets, somehow stretching it out to 500 words. Short version? You can’t stop it; use elbow grease to clean it up. Thanks, Alan!

A spread of pub grub surrounding Egon Ronay's new book.

The next feature sees two heavyweights collide: Derek Cooper, late of BBC radio’s Food Programme and author of one of our favourite beer books, 1970s’s The Beverage Report, interviews restaurant guru Egon Ronay. This one is actually a great read because Ronay is so blunt and incisive:

Today [pubs] concentrate on lunches and completely ignore the evening — the just abandon what could be the most profitable part of the day, write if off… I think the trouble is that brewers when they think about catering think about an elaborate menu and a variety of choice. But I’m sure that in pubs people don’t look for that… Anybody can learn to use a grill in three days unless they’re an absolute moron. I mean what skill is there in pub catering? All that’s really needed is that the management should have good taste…

He dreams of a time when ordinary people will pop to the local pub for dinner once a week, which seems 40 years on (mileage may vary) to have come to pass.

Ronay’s other bugbear is the stodginess and sameness of pub food, summarised by Cooper as ‘mounds of instant mashed potato, the baked beans and bangers, the imbalance of carbohydrates’. Why, Ronay asks, can’t pubs cash-in on ‘slimming’, the hot trend of the late 1970s. He also says this, which we rather like:

However little you are doing it should be of the best. If a couple are only doing bread and cheese at lunchtime then the bread ought to be the best within miles and the selection of cheeses ought to be outstanding. That not difficult to achieve, it only calls for good taste, not a great degree of skill.

His final big prediction? Centralised food supplies and better quality frozen food. Nailed it, Egon — nailed it.

Later in the magazine comes a companion piece in which Bill Jeffery asks various Whitbread licensees across the country to share their regional speciality dishes. Once again, the special qualities of period photographic practice renders some of these photos pretty unsettling, especially that See Your Doctor Now black pudding:

Licensees with their signature dishes: black pudding, vauxhall pie, meat and potato pie, Barnsley Chop.
Black pudding, Barnsley chop, meat and potato pie and Vauxhall pie. Egon Ronay rolling his eyes from several pages back.

The rise in take-home sales was worrying for the pub trade which couldn’t compete with dedicated low-cost off-licences such as Thresher, or supermarket bargains. An article by Denis Clark tackled this issue and offered some tips on how to lure customers into buying their take-away beer from the pub:


We’ll skim over a few less interesting articles — beer mat flipping is all the rage; the difficulties of running a seasonal pub; and a commemorative quilt on display at the brewery head office — and cut to an unexpected treat — a profile of film director Alan Parker, who directed a series of Heineken commercials for Whitbread. Parker, it turns out, started his career as an advertising copywriter producing material for Whitbread Pale Ale and Mackeson’s stout, among many others. He went on to direct various famous TV commercials including the Leonard Rossiter/Joan Collins Cinzano campaign. His last Heineken commercial before going off to direct Midnight Express was this one:

His particular contribution, the article says, was to save hundreds of thousands of pounds by deciding not to show the ship going round in circles.

The Ludgate Cellars

Finally, the magazine closes out once again on the subject of pub grub with a review by journalist Elizabeth Benn of the Ludgate Cellars near Blackfriars Bridge in the City of London, run by Brian Vincett:

The successful formula was to avoid standard Fleet Street area pub food in the way of lukewarm sausages, greasy heated up factory pies and sausage rolls, mashed potato covering a thin layer of mince or is it soya that passes for shepherd’s pie, so-called quiche consisting of thick cardboard topped with cheese and onion, and India rubber sandwiches… Instead the Ludgate Cellars concentrates on cold fare with fresh cold meats and smoked fish, a marvellous selection of pâtés and cheeses, with just one hot dish of the day and a couple of sweets… Roast beef and ham are the most popular of the cold meats… all at £1 for a generous portion with green or mixed salad at 45p.

Ms. Benn is keen to establish that she is not part of the ‘liberated gaggle’ and never goes into a pub alone, except the Ludgate Cellars, because it is so genteel. Brian Vincett:

Anyone coming in here not wearing a suit looks completely out of place so I immediately keep an eye on them. Touch wood, I’ve had no hint of trouble since we opened.

Can you imagine how it would kick off if a publican said that in 2017? No, they have to be more subtle these days…

One last nuggget: the publisher’s launch party for Fungus the Bogeyman took place at the Ludgate Cellars, for which Mr Vincett dyed the wine green.

We only have this one copy of Whitbread Way. If you want to read more there’s a partial set available at the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes.

2 replies on “Bits We Underlined In Whitbread Way No. 13, 1979”

Yes, the “pubs as everyday eating places” thing has come to pass, even if the wet trade has gone down the pan. But, forty years ago, many pub menus are just as samey and unimaginative as they were then.

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