Watney’s Red on Film, 1971

The above film was made by Watney Mann (Watney’s) to help their staff understand Watney’s Red, which replaced Red Barrel as the firm’s flagship keg bitter in 1971.

It was unearthed by Nick Wheat who col­lects British doc­u­men­tary and indus­tri­al films and writes occa­sion­al beer arti­cles for Dron­field CAMRA’s Peel Ale mag­a­zine. The copy above was made by pro­ject­ing the 16mm film onto a wall and point­ing his phone at it but it doesn’t look bad for all that.

From an arti­cle Nick dug up from Film User for July 1971 we know that it was one of three films pro­duced to help with the roll-out of the new prod­uct as part of what Watney’s called ‘Oper­a­tion Che­ka’ in ref­er­ence to the Bol­she­vik secret police. The suit of films cost £5,500 pounds to make (about £80k in today’s mon­ey) and this one is ‘Che­ka 2’ ‘Che­ka 3’, high­light­ed in this info­graph­ic from Film User:

Infographic depicting the roll-out of Operation Cheka.

The film itself is an amaz­ing rel­ic. It fea­tures var­i­ous plum­my senior exec­u­tives explain­ing, rather stilt­ed­ly, the think­ing behind the change, accom­pa­nied by footage of lor­ries and brew­ing plants around the coun­try (our empha­sis):

You see Red Bar­rel has been with us now for fif­teen years and is still the same. In the mean­time oth­er beers have come along in keg with new flavours, and meet­ing new ideas of taste. There­fore Red Bar­rel might be said to be old fash­ioned. So what we did was to study the whole sit­u­a­tion in great detail with our col­leagues in the group mar­ket­ing depart­ment. We want­ed to find out just what it was the cus­tomers liked, what their ideals were, what were the faults, per­haps, in ear­li­er beers, and alto­geth­er how we could make it right for the sev­en­ties.

What we’ve done is to give the beer a new smooth pleas­ant taste. We’ve also giv­en it a much bet­ter head and alto­geth­er a more attrac­tive appear­ance. Gone is any sug­ges­tion of bit­ter after palate; instead, there is a pleas­ant malty meali­ness.… We’ve stud­ied flavour, stud­ied people’s reac­tion to flavour, and pro­duced exper­i­men­tal beers, test­ing out all the vari­a­tions we can think of in such things of sweet­ness or bit­ter­ness.

That con­firms what we’d heard from oth­er sources, and what we said in Brew Bri­tan­nia: that Red Bar­rel and Red were quite dif­fer­ent beers, with the lat­ter an alto­geth­er fizzi­er, sweet­er beer. But this would seem to sug­gest that, unless they’re out­right fib­bers, that peo­ple in the com­pa­ny gen­uine­ly believed they were respond­ing to pub­lic demand rather than cut­ting cor­ners for the sake of it.

There’s some sol­id his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion in all this, too. It tells us, for exam­ple, that Red was devel­oped pri­mar­i­ly at the Watney’s plant in Northamp­ton, for­mer­ly Phipps, and that the beer and point-of-sale mate­r­i­al was sched­uled to hit pubs in March and April of 1971.

There is also an awk­ward inter­view with Mr Hors­fall, a pub­li­can in… Eldon? Old­ham? Answers on a post­card. He had been tasked with sell­ing the new Red on the qui­et to gauge cus­tomer reac­tions to the refor­mu­la­tion and, though hard­ly jump­ing for joy, seemed to think his cus­tomers pre­ferred it, on the whole.

Arguably the most excit­ing part comes at the end: a reel of orig­i­nal TV ads from the time star­ring (we think) Michael Coles as a hard-boiled counter-intel­li­gence oper­a­tive tasked with stop­ping ‘the Red Rev­o­lu­tion’. These ads seem to us to be par­o­dy­ing Callan, a pop­u­lar TV pro­gramme of the day star­ring Edward Wood­ward, with the seedy side­kick ‘Friend­ly’ clear­ly a ref­er­ence to Callan’s ‘Lone­ly’.

Thanks so much for shar­ing this, Nick! And if any­one else out there has this kind of mate­r­i­al, we’d love to see it.

Updat­ed 22/03/2018 after Nick got in touch to say he thinks this is actu­al­ly Film 3.

11 thoughts on “Watney’s Red on Film, 1971”

  1. Great find. The place name at 6:13 I ini­tial­ly heard as “Eldum” but on sec­ond lis­ten­ing I think that “d” might just be a “th” – Eltham – it would make sense to tri­al it in the Lon­don sub­urbs.

    Inter­est­ing com­par­ing with your pre­vi­ous piece on recipes, where RB->Red saw 12% of the bar­ley replaced by sug­ars. But even 80% bar­ley for the start­ing point of Red is noth­ing com­pared to what John Keel­ing men­tioned in the new GBH arti­cle about Fuller’s, where he says that at Wat­ney in Man­ches­ter :
    “We were mak­ing beer with only 40 per­cent bar­ley, using buck­ets of enzymes to effec­tive­ly con­vert the sug­ar,” Keel­ing recalls. “We had to wear gauntlets and pro­tec­tive equip­ment. I remem­ber think­ing, ‘This is strange, that we’re adding some­thing to beer that we’re too afraid to splash on our skin.’ How nat­ur­al is that beer?”

    He joined Fuller’s in Jan­u­ary 1981 so pre­sum­ably that was dur­ing the crises of the late 1970s.

    I’ve not seen any­thing def­i­nite on it but it’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion whether the deci­sion to refor­mu­late was not dri­ven by mar­ket­ing, but by the process engi­neers. It was a time when Big Beer was devel­op­ing con­tin­u­ous fer­menters and the like, and one can imag­ine that if one had a (very much cost-dri­ven) change to process of that mag­ni­tude, then it would make sense to refor­mu­late.

    See­ing them rolling it out on 22 March made me think “I bet East­er was late that year” and it was, 11 April. Get it in front of all the part-time pub­go­ers.

    1. The oth­er thing I thought was inter­est­ing was the com­ments about the new-fan­gled medi­um of tele­vi­sion, which had been with them “10 years” and was where “heroes are made”. Weird par­al­lels with cor­po­rates try­ing to under­stand the inter­web and social media.

    2. Re: Mr Keeling’s com­ments, ten years is a long time. By 1981 Watney’s had ditched Red/Red Bar­rel and was push­ing Spe­cial as its keg beer, along­side some new cask ales. We don’t know much about Spe­cial, TBH, but that might be the one John has in mind.

      1. I see John on Twit­ter has clar­i­fied that by “bar­ley” he means unmalt­ed bar­ley as opposed to malt, so they were skip­ping the malt­ing process by using pre­sum­ably amy­lases to break down the starch in unmalt­ed bar­ley. It was the way of the future.…

  2. Def­i­nite­ly “Old­ham”, albeit said in a rather clipped RP way. Wilsons Brew­ery in north Man­ches­ter which appears in the film would have been only a few miles down Old­ham Road from the pub and the land­lord has a Lan­cashire accent too.

  3. I note that one of the objec­tives in pro­duc­ing ‘Red’,presumably in the inter­ests of mod­erni­sa­tion or revi­tal­i­sa­tion, was to elim­i­nate the bit­ter after taste which the drinker had with Red Bar­rel and replace it with a ‘malty sweet­ness’ it is per­haps this char­ac­ter­is­tic which turned off a lot of drinkers in the ear­ly 1970’s,I,for one,was not impressed with it. One of the side effects of the change is that ‘Red Bar­rel’ a prod­uct of the 1950’s has even today,see cor­re­spon­dence in the Dai­ly Telegraph,got the rep­u­ta­tion as being the prime exam­ple of a most unpleas­ant beer when the real cul­prit was ‘Red’.Perhaps it is time for Red Bar­rel to be brewed again to restore its maligned rep­u­ta­tion.

    1. These are not uno­rig­i­nal thoughts, rebrew­ing Red Bar­rel has become a bit of a cult activ­i­ty, I’m sure both B&B and Ron Pat­tin­son have writ­ten about it. Orig­i­nal­ly Red Bar­rel was a pre­mi­um prod­uct, in the same way that keg ale is now, but it seems to have suf­fered the same fate as “Nou Camp” and “Robin Reliant” as get­ting estab­lished in the pub­lic mind regard­less of the facts. I guess “Red Bar­rel” is more mem­o­rable than just “Red”, and the bar­rel logo did stick around for a long time.

    2. Red Bar­rel has been rebrewed. I’ve pub­lished a recipe, based on a doc­u­ment sup­plied by B+B, that at least two brew­eries have made. One of them being owned by my school­friend Hen­ry. He left a firkin of it at my brother’s when I vis­it­ed with the kids last sum­mer. We emp­tied it in four days. The kids – who usu­al­ly drink Pils – seemed to quite like it, judg­ing by how quick­ly they slurped it down. It was cask, mind. And there wasn’t any ullage in it.

      I liked it. Any easy-drink­ing Bit­ter. But, if you pas­teurised the hell out of it and fizzed it up like crazy, it wouldn’t be so nice.

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