Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide

Illustration: 1974 in 3d text.

In 1974 the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was published. We spoke to those who were involved in its genesis to find out how it came to be. Here is the story in the words of those who were there, a version of which first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of BEER magazine.

John Hanscomb
Ear­ly CAMRA mem­ber, and first edi­tor of the Good Beer Guide
We all knew we liked prop­er beer but the prob­lem was, we didn’t know where to drink – we didn’t know where the pubs were. There was Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion but that was all about the brew­eries, not the pubs, although it did give you an idea of their trad­ing areas. And the brew­ers… The brew­ers wouldn’t give me any infor­ma­tion! I rang up one and asked them which were their pubs and which sold prop­er beer and they wouldn’t tell me because they thought I was from Watney’s or Whit­bread: ‘We don’t know who you are.’

Michael Hard­man
Co-founder and first chair of CAMRA
John Young [of Young’s brew­ery] was cham­pi­oning cask ale in a very seri­ous way, and had been hold­ing out for a decade before CAMRA came along. He thought of him­self as the only one left. Young’s had nev­er been a par­tic­u­lar­ly prof­itable com­pa­ny. They had some pret­ty dingy pubs, and a very ‘bit­ter’ bit­ter that was going out of fash­ion. In 1963, he’d been approached by Derek Pee­bles, a for­mer naval offi­cer, who said: ‘What you need is a PR cam­paign, and I’m the man to do it!’ What he did was put togeth­er the first ever com­pre­hen­sive list of Young’s pubs under the title ‘Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It’.

Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It

John Hanscomb
The Young’s guide was undoubt­ed­ly an influ­ence, very much so. With Young’s you could guar­an­tee that all their pubs would have prop­er beer. John Young deserves a lot of cred­it.

Ter­ry Pat­tin­son
Jour­nal­ist, CAMRA Nation­al Exec­u­tive mem­ber
[The Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Beers from the Wood] were too cosy with the big brew­ers, they didn’t want to rock the boat. They thought we were a bunch of hot-blood­ed young trou­ble­mak­ers. When we were putting togeth­er the Good Beer Guide, they were appalled at the idea. I remem­ber one pin-striped lawyer say­ing ‘Lis­ten, old boy, if we have a list [of real ale pubs] we’ll be sued by the brew­ers.’ But we want­ed the bas­tards to take us to court!

John Hanscomb
The first CAMRA Good Beer Guide, the 1972 edi­tion, was a loose leaf pub­li­ca­tion with 300 pubs and 18 pages. We sold it in pubs for 25p.

Michael Hard­man
It was type­writ­ten and pho­to­copied, and the pages were assem­bled in fold­ers by half a dozen of us. The job was done on a wall­pa­per table in my flat in North Finch­ley.

Bar­rie Pep­per
CAMRA cam­paign­er and beer writer
I paid about £11 for my copy at auc­tion. It’s a slim, blue, spi­ral-bound fold­er and it is titled Where to find Real Draught Beer. This orig­i­nal guide is a real mish-mash with only six pubs in the whole of York­shire and all of those in the Hud­der­s­field area, which was the home of the first CAMRA branch. There were 16 entries in Hen­ley-on-Thames all serv­ing Brakspear’s ales and oth­er small towns well rep­re­sent­ed were Sal­is­bury with eight and Amer­sham, Devizes and Great Mis­senden with six each. Even Lit­tle Mis­senden had a cou­ple. Lon­don and Man­ches­ter had the largest num­ber of entries but there were none at all for Bris­tol, Birm­ing­ham, Leeds, Liv­er­pool and Sheffield.

John Hanscomb
We didn’t have many branch­es then so I spent hours and hours of my life vis­it­ing areas try­ing to find pubs. I’ve some­times said that I was doing so much of the work myself that I was a one man branch. In those days there was no breath­a­lyz­er and there was lit­tle traf­fic com­pared to today so I’d get in my car and go out to fill in gaps myself. The only source of infor­ma­tion I had was talk­ing to peo­ple in pubs – where else is there that has good beer? It was a dodgy old sit­u­a­tion back then. I went out one evening to Hen­ley-on-Thames with my note­book and a few sug­ges­tions and vis­it­ed no less than ten or twelve dif­fer­ent pubs. Then we missed a year in 1973 while we worked on the com­mer­cial ver­sion.

Michael Hard­man
I read some­thing about Beric Wat­son, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Wadding­ton of Kirk­stall Ltd, a print­ing sub­sidiary of Wadding­tons of Leeds, which pro­duced Monop­oly and Clue­do, among many oth­er board games. Beric was described as a beer lover and I arranged to meet him in The Guinea, a won­der­ful old pub in May­fair. He imme­di­ate­ly offered to pub­lish the guide, which removed any finan­cial risk for CAMRA. The Cam­paign appoint­ed John Hanscomb to be the edi­tor because of his amaz­ing knowl­edge of real ale, pubs and brew­eries. I was the pro­duc­tion edi­tor, respon­si­ble for over­see­ing the guide’s print­ing, and a Man­ches­ter-based com­mer­cial artist, Trevor Hatch­ett, was cho­sen to design it. In addi­tion, Tom Lin­foot, anoth­er pas­sion­ate ale drinker from Kent, was assis­tant edi­tor, help­ing Hanscomb to com­pile lists of suit­able pubs. Cov­er­age of some areas of the coun­try was patchy and just before the dead­line, we dis­cov­ered that one coun­ty, Hunt­ing­don­shire, had no pubs rec­om­mend­ed at all. With typ­i­cal enthu­si­asm, Hanscomb and his wife Rose set off in their car on a Sun­day morn­ing to put mat­ters right. They returned with sev­en pubs, six of them serv­ing Charles Wells beers and one offer­ing Greene King ales. A glance at the map in the guide shows that all the pubs were along a fair­ly straight line, cor­re­spond­ing to the A1 trunk road, which Hanscomb explained was the only way that he and Rose could com­plete their task in the two hours pubs were allowed to open on Sun­day lunchtime back then.

The cover of the 1974 Good Beer Guide.

Christo­pher Hutt
CAMRA chair 1972–73
I was the out­go­ing chair­man of CAMRA at the York AGM in spring ’74. That’s when the row with the pub­lish­er blew up: Waddington’s were spooked by their lawyer telling them that the orig­i­nal Wat­ney com­ment was action­able.

John Hanscomb
I penned that famous line about Watney’s: ‘Avoid like the plague’.

Ger­ald Mil­ward-Oliv­er
PR exec­u­tive at Wat­ney Mann & Tru­man Brew­ers
Nine­teen-sev­en­ty-four start­ed with the three-day week, last­ing through Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary, when the Gov­ern­ment man­dat­ed that busi­ness­es could only oper­ate for three days a week, in order to save pow­er. I well remem­ber whole areas of Lon­don going com­plete­ly unlit for hours at a time at night, includ­ing street lights. Obvi­ous­ly, the pub trade suf­fered. At one point, I think the share price for Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan [Watney’s par­ent com­pa­ny from 1972] dropped to 19p, and I recall being told that Wat­ney Mann & Tru­man Brew­ers was run­ning at a severe loss. Quite a num­ber of staff lost their jobs and there was a real feel­ing of not know­ing if you would be next. The old Wat­ney Mann mar­ket­ing and PR peo­ple were vocif­er­ous­ly opposed to CAMRA and every­thing it stood for, so it would not sur­prise me if the pub­lish­ers were right to have con­cerns over the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Wat­ney Mann suing.

Christo­pher Hutt
Beric Wat­son, a bit of a stooge, was dis­patched by his broth­er Vic­tor, who called the shots, to tell us that we need­ed to agree to change the com­ment or the GBG could not be pub­lished. Wadding­ton wasn’t an expe­ri­enced book pub­lish­er and did not han­dle the sit­u­a­tion very pro­fes­sion­al­ly. I always felt that they should have spot­ted the prob­lem ear­li­er or tak­en a stance to pub­lish and be damned. But they didn’t do either and instead made the hos­pi­tal pass to CAMRA’s Nation Exec­u­tive. The sit­u­a­tion was pret­ty gut-wrench­ing for us. On the one hand we felt that our free­dom of opin­ion and expres­sion were being cur­tailed and, in those ear­ly days, they were real­ly the only cam­paign­ing weapons we had. On the oth­er hand, fail­ure to pub­lish would have had seri­ous cam­paign­ing and finan­cial reper­cus­sions which might even have been cat­a­stroph­ic. There was as much heat as there was light in the NE’s debate on what to do for the best. It was not a pleas­ant meet­ing to chair. When I left York, I remem­ber feel­ing that it had been the most tir­ing week­end of my life. I don’t think that feel­ing has been sur­passed in the 42 years since. I was so relieved to give up the chair to Gor­don Massey.

Trevor Unwin
CAMRA vol­un­teer
The plague edi­tion Guide was deliv­ered to the De Grey Rooms in York which was the venue of the 1974 AGM. I had agreed to help unload the van so that the con­tents could be made avail­able on the morn­ing of the first ses­sion. Waddington’s had appar­ent­ly agreed to reprint at their expense and would we mind awful­ly if we just loaded them all back onto the van again so that they could be sent back to Leeds for pulp­ing? In our annoy­ance and frus­tra­tion it is just pos­si­ble that some of the pack­ets were ‘acci­den­tal­ly’ dam­aged and the con­tents lib­er­at­ed. I still have my extreme­ly dog-eared copy and my wife the cen­sored ver­sion, and I think that any oth­er copies of the orig­i­nal ver­sion must have must have seen the light of day in the same way.

What’s Brew­ing, April 1974
‘But the fol­low­ing week, Wat­son pre­sent­ed new plans to CAMRA for res­cu­ing the guide. These involved chang­ing only one phrase in the whole book: advis­ing drinkers to avoid Wat­ney pubs “at all costs” instead of “like the plague”.’

From the 1974 CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Christo­pher Hutt
Michael [Hard­man] was our head of pub­lish­ing. Ulti­mate­ly, after much soul search­ing, he decid­ed it was best to com­pro­mise and agreed the revised word­ing with Waddington’s. I thought he was right and backed him, and the deci­sion to run with the revised word­ing was ulti­mate­ly agreed by the NE.

John Hanscomb
I didn’t like the change at all. I was so upset at what Watney’s were doing, out in places like Nor­folk espe­cial­ly.

Michael Hard­man
The dis­agree­ment, although tedious, result­ed in a huge wave of pub­lic­i­ty for the guide and when it was even­tu­al­ly released, it quick­ly began to sell out.

John Hanscomb
I had quite a few jour­nal­ists from nation­al news­pa­pers ring me at home to ask, ‘Why should we avoid them like the plague?’

Michael Hard­man
The irony was that the dis­put­ed words were print­ed in news­pa­pers and repeat­ed on radio and tele­vi­sion and not one of them was issued with a writ for defama­tion. The upshot was that Watney’s were avoid­ed like the plague.

Ron Pat­tin­son
CAMRA mem­ber, beer his­to­ri­an
Flick­ing through the 1974 guide I realise it was real­ly crap for me local­ly [in Newark] and Not­ting­hamshire in gen­er­al. No pubs list­ed at all in my bit of Notts. But I looked at it a lot, just to learn about the dif­fer­ent brew­eries around the coun­try. There weren’t many sources at the time. It was great to have con­cise and rea­son­ably com­plete infor­ma­tion in one place. It opened my eyes to what was around – so many dif­fer­ent beers around the coun­try.

John Lamb
CAMRA mem­ber
In 1974 I was work­ing on a con­struc­tion site – the M42 motor­way in the Mid­lands. I recall being giv­en a copy of the Guide by a col­league when I was 17-years-old. It was the first guide to pubs that I had seen. Cov­er­age was far from com­pre­hen­sive – there was only one pub in Birm­ing­ham – but I can recall that a pub near to my par­ents’ house was list­ed, the Rail­way in Dor­ridge, which prompt­ed me to vis­it.

Paul Bai­ley
CAMRA mem­ber
I bought mine after see­ing a friend’s copy. I was a stu­dent at Sal­ford Uni­ver­si­ty at the time and I couldn’t wait to start using it. A friend and I went on a mis­sion to track down and sam­ple as many beers as pos­si­ble. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. The often pithy, one-line com­ments were enough to con­vey all you need­ed to know about a pub.

Steve Bar­ber
CAMRA mem­ber
At the time I thought that it was won­der­ful­ly use­ful in spite of the rel­a­tive­ly poor cov­er­age by mod­ern stan­dards. There was noth­ing else worth hav­ing. By the time of its replace­ment in 1975 I had marked off quite a few pubs that had fall­en vic­tim to the ongo­ing fizzi­fi­ca­tion of cask beers at the time.

John Robin­son
CAMRA branch organ­is­er, South Lan­cashire
Local­ly the Guide was a bit of a dis­as­ter. I don’t know who did the sur­vey but the only pub in the cen­tre of St. Helens referred to in the guide sold bit­ter from cel­lar tanks via elec­tric pumps. Need­less to say in was removed from the Guide almost imme­di­ate­ly.

Bombed pub in Guildford, 1974.
SOURCE: Tdv123, CC BY-SA

Richard Keal
CAMRA mem­ber
I was a Med­ical Stu­dent in Lon­don and going out with a nurse. One week­end we were vis­it­ing her par­ents in Guild­ford with her broth­er and his girl­friend. He was a [keg] Wor­thing­ton E drinker and I was try­ing to con­vert him to real ale. I had the Good Beer Guide and chose a Gale’s pub just out­side the town, which we hadn’t vis­it­ed before. We set off at about 8 o’clock and as we drove through Guild­ford we heard a dull thump. We thought we had dri­ven over a loose man­hole cov­er and drove on to the pub. On leav­ing, we tried to dri­ve back but the town was in lock-down and all roads were closed. We got home about an hour lat­er to find our par­ents in an almost hys­ter­i­cal state know­ing only that we had gone out for a drink in a pub in the town. I lat­er worked out that we had dri­ven past The Horse & Groom about five sec­onds before it was hit by the IRA bomb. If I hadn’t had the Guide with its com­ment about Gale’s – ‘Good choice of excel­lent beers’ – we may have well been in the town that night. I mar­ried the nurse and I have bought the Good Beer Guide every year since then.

James Lynch
CAMRA activist, chair in 1978
It is easy for some lat­ter day CAMRA mem­bers to knock what the very ear­ly years pro­duced in terms of pub­li­ca­tions, beer fes­ti­vals, and so on, but we were pio­neers. There were no crib sheets, no owner’s hand­books, no work­shop man­u­als. When those first guides appeared they should have been hailed unre­served­ly as suc­cess­es, not knocked. They paved the way for many more won­der­ful pub­li­ca­tions, and gave careers to beer writ­ers.

John Hanscomb
I wasn’t involved in edit­ing the next edi­tion. It was a dif­fi­cult time in my life – I was work­ing in the print trade and doing fun­ny shifts – so I wasn’t sad to hand it on to Michael Hard­man. I knew him well and he was a good man and I knew he’d look after it. I still get it every year – I have a reg­u­lar order and get one of the first copies off the press­es though my door.

* * *

The above was com­piled from inter­views and cor­re­spon­dence between 2012 and 2016, with some light edit­ing for clar­i­ty and length. Thanks, as always, to Uncle Adri­an who let us bor­row his copy of the 1974 Good Beer Guide.

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