Davey Jones, the Man Behind the Real Ale Twats

Header image: "The Real Ale Twats".

The ‘Real Ale Twats’ strip first appeared in the adult comic Viz in 2001 and has a cult following among beer enthusiasts, because they recognise in it either themselves, or The Enemy.

We’re long-time Viz sub­scribers and spent a bit of time research­ing the RATs, as they are abbre­vi­at­ed, when we were writ­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia. A cou­ple of peo­ple had sug­gest­ed to us that the RATs might be the source of the pop­u­lar stereo­type of the beard­ed CAMRA mem­ber, assum­ing incor­rect­ly (as did we) that it had first appeared as far back as the 1980s. That proved to be a dead end for the book but gave us a fresh appre­ci­a­tion for the strip, espe­cial­ly on those occa­sions when it felt as if the author was eaves­drop­ping on beer social media.

Then, when we hap­pened to con­nect via Twit­ter with its cre­ator, Viz vet­er­an Dav­ey Jones, ear­li­er this year, we took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask him some ques­tions about how the strip came to be, and the source of its often painful­ly accu­rate obser­va­tions.

The fol­low­ing Q&A was con­duct­ed by back-and-forth of emails with some light edit­ing for clar­i­ty and flow.

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What prompt­ed the idea of the Real Ale Twats? Was there some spe­cif­ic inci­dent or per­son you had in mind?

I’ve always been a fan of the band Half Man Half Bis­cuit and they had done a song called ‘CAMRA Man’ which made me want to draw a strip along those lines. It’s got lyrics like “Week­end vin­tage car show, Dr Who afi­ciona­do” and so on.

Also I’ve spent quite a lot of time in pubs and the char­ac­ters are sort of com­pos­ites of types that I encoun­tered. There was a bloke who used to come into my local in New­cas­tle who had a big beard and a beret and always seemed to be car­ry­ing sev­er­al shoul­der bags. He may not even have been a real ale enthu­si­ast – I don’t think I ever heard him speak – but he had the right look, so I drew him. Prob­a­bly very unfair­ly.

How did the edi­to­r­i­al team react to the idea when you pitched it?

Back then I was part of the edi­to­r­i­al team – there were five of us at the time, I think. I’ve since gone back to being a free­lancer, work­ing on my own. But in 2001 we were sat around in someone’s back gar­den, try­ing to come up with ideas, and I men­tioned want­i­ng to do this strip about real ale drinkers. As we were chat­ting about it, Simon Don­ald, who did the Sid the Sex­ist strip, start­ed talk­ing in this stu­pid ‘stout yeo­man of the bar’ voice – “Hith­er bar­lord, a foam­ing tankard of your finest” and all that, and that seemed to fit.

The first strip involved the three char­ac­ters going to a pub called The Murderer’s Arms by mis­take, and ends with the main char­ac­ter get­ting a pint glass shoved in his face. Which is some­thing that hap­pens quite often in Viz car­toons.

A panel from the strip about Christmas pubgoers.

How does a strip typ­i­cal­ly come togeth­er? How do you go about find­ing the seed for a sto­ry?

I just try to think of a pub-relat­ed theme that I haven’t done yet – vap­ing, or pub grub, or what­ev­er. I enjoy doing ones that are vague­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, or at least are exag­ger­a­tions of thoughts that I’ve had myself. For instance, I’ve caught myself inward­ly grum­bling about all the peo­ple who only go to the pub over Christ­mas, crowd­ing the place out and not know­ing the cor­rect rules of behav­iour at the bar. So I got a cou­ple of strips out of that, with the Twats pon­tif­i­cat­ing about “ama­teur drinkers” and so on. It can be quite sat­is­fy­ing to make fun of your­self, espe­cial­ly if you’re the only one who knows that you’re mak­ing fun of your­self.

That’s inter­est­ing. It makes it seem a bit less ‘mean’, for want of a bet­ter word.

Yes, I do regard myself as being a bit of a Twat. It takes one to know one, to some extent.

But what about real ale – have you ever been a CAMRA mem­ber your­self?

I nev­er got round to join­ing CAMRA. I don’t know why. I love pubs. When I was younger I spent a lot of time sit­ting in pubs on my own, and there’s noth­ing quite like it. You just sit there drift­ing from thought to thought, and tun­ing in and out of con­ver­sa­tions going on around you, as the drink set­tles in. As I’ve got old­er I do less soli­tary drink­ing, but some­times think I should go back to it a bit more, because you get to observe all these weird social dynam­ics and pow­er games going on around the bar. All the boast­ing and one-upman­ship. When you’re hav­ing a socia­ble drink with friends, you tend to miss all that, prob­a­bly because you’re doing all those things your­self.

I drink real ale and like it, but I’m not knowl­edge­able about it. If it’s about 4 to 4.5 per­cent, and got ‘sum­mer’ or ‘blonde’ or ‘gold­en’ in the name, I’ll prob­a­bly give it a go. But by the time I get home, I’ll have for­got­ten what I was drink­ing. Hav­ing said that, my favourite beer is Wye Val­ley Brewery’s But­ty Bach. I’m from Here­ford, where Wye Val­ley Brew­ery is based, and when­ev­er I go back to vis­it fam­i­ly I’ll have a few pints of that. Part of the rea­son they’re my favourite is that they sent me a free box of their HPA when I men­tioned them in a RATs strip. I also like Wylam Brew­ery who are based in the North East, and who once sent a cou­ple of crates of their assort­ed beers to the Viz office.

One of our local pubs in Bris­tol, a fair­ly down-to-earth place that doesn’t tend to have real ale on offer, has one of your RAT strips pinned on the wall, and that’s some­thing we’ve seen a few times up and down the coun­try. It feels a bit like a warn­ing to us, or per­haps just an expres­sion of frus­tra­tion on the part of pub­li­cans. How do you feel about that kind of thing?

Yeah, I’ve occa­sion­al­ly seen them pinned up in pubs. I don’t think it’s nec­es­sar­i­ly a sign that they hate real ale enthu­si­asts. I’ve nev­er worked behind a bar, but I imag­ine it’s a job that often involves putting up with bores. Not all pub bores are real ale bores of course, by any means. But the main RAT char­ac­ter with the beard is def­i­nite­ly a bore, and I quite often have him hold­ing forth to the bar staff, because they’re a cap­tive audi­ence. And as you say it must get quite frus­trat­ing to be sub­ject­ed to someone’s pompous opin­ions for hours. But in gen­er­al the strips are intend­ed as a fair­ly affec­tion­ate piss-take, so I hope they’re pinned up in the same spir­it.

What has been the feed­back from read­ers over the years?

Read­ers will some­times send in pic­tures of looka­likes who they’ve spot­ted in the pub. Some of them are, er, quite remark­able.

And CAMRA mem­bers? Have you ever received any com­plaints?

I don’t think CAMRA has ever com­plained, as far as I know. The Real Ale Twats are doubt­less CAMRA mem­bers but they’re not real­ly sup­posed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive. They’re stereo­types of a cer­tain kind of pub-goer, real­ly.

On a relat­ed note, what do you make of the num­ber of real life real ale drinkers who iden­ti­fy them­selves as Real Ale Twats?

It’s quite odd. I recent­ly became aware of a Real Ale Twats group on Face­book, which has thou­sands of mem­bers. Which felt strange. I don’t sup­pose they’re all famil­iar with the Viz car­toon, but if they’re hap­py to laugh at them­selves that’s prob­a­bly a good thing. I think.

"One does yearn for the days when womenfolk were not permitted in pubs."

In recent years it’s felt as if the strip has fall­en into sync with ideas around ‘mansplain­ing’ and the latent sex­ism of a cer­tain type of know-all bloke. How con­scious­ly have you set out to make that kind of point?

It was nev­er a con­scious attempt to make a point, I don’t think. The char­ac­ters just lend them­selves to those atti­tudes. The types of peo­ple the RATs are based on are ones I’d see in the pub, a bit social­ly inept, com­ing out every night and mak­ing ham-fist­ed attempts at flirt­ing with the bar­maid. I’d imag­ine that a lot of women who do bar work can feel their hearts sink when they see a par­tic­u­lar reg­u­lar com­ing in through the door – some­one who is going to spend the whole night on a barstool regal­ing them with wit­ty ban­ter, and spray­ing crisp crumbs in their face. And blokes going on and on about their divorces – “Best thing that ever hap­pened to me!” repeat­ed over and over through­out the evening. I think the RATs are scared of women but try to cov­er that up with brava­do, which is fuelled by booze. A bit like Sid the Sex­ist in that respect, come to think of it.

Do you still think, in 2018, that real ale drinkers are a tar­get worth satiris­ing? Is there any chance of the RATs mor­ph­ing into the Craft Beer Twats at any point, for exam­ple?

That’s a good ques­tion. I don’t know if the beardy, pot-bel­lied stereo­type is a bit out­dat­ed. Maybe it is. Viz has always dealt with quite broad­ly-drawn stereo­types, but the char­ac­ters some­how devel­op lives and per­son­al­i­ties of their own. To some extent it becomes more about the char­ac­ters than about satire. So as long as you keep think­ing of sit­u­a­tions to put them in, you keep draw­ing the strips. Actu­al­ly there was a strip a few years ago which had the RATs look­ing down their noses at craft beer-drink­ing hip­sters. I think it end­ed with the RATs start­ing up a ‘Cam­paign for Real Real Ale Cam­paign­ers’ or some­thing.

Hipsters in the pub.

Of all the RAT strips you’ve pro­duced over the years are there any you think stand up par­tic­u­lar­ly well?

I think my per­son­al favourite was one where the RATs set off to their local, talk­ing about the wide range of fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters you meet in the pub, and then there’s a big pic­ture of the pub inte­ri­or and all the cus­tomers look, and talk, just like the Twats. The rea­son I like that one is that I spent quite a long time on the draw­ing and was quite pleased with how it turned out. Which doesn’t always hap­pen.

Have you ever thought about a Real Ale Twats book? We sus­pect all of us beer bores would buy it.

Yeah, I’d like the idea of doing a col­lect­ed book, but all the copy­right belongs to Viz and the pub­lish­ers, so it would be up to them, real­ly. (I retired from the edi­to­r­i­al six years ago, and went back to being free­lance). I’m not sure there’d be enough mate­r­i­al to jus­ti­fy a book just yet. But cheers for the vote of con­fi­dence.

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You can read ‘The Real Ale Twats’ in Viz on an irreg­u­lar basis, in the Christ­mas annu­als, and there is a sam­ple on the offi­cial web­site. Images in this post were sup­plied by Dav­ey Jones.

5 thoughts on “Davey Jones, the Man Behind the Real Ale Twats”

  1. The key to the suc­cess of the RATS is that it’s a sym­pa­thet­ic, affec­tion­ate par­o­dy that springs from an under­stand­ing of the cul­ture it satiris­es. I’m sure many of us can iden­ti­fy with some aspects of it – for exam­ple, their hor­ror on enter­ing a pub and find­ing it full of noisy chil­dren.

    Stil wait­ing for “The Craft Beer Hip­sters”, though – sure­ly well over­due for a good send-up!

  2. I have spo­ken to at least one Nation­al Exec­u­tive mem­ber who thinks the strip is hilar­i­ous. I was ask­ing if the rumour was true that it was on the wall at CAMRA HQ, and the response was “I don’t know, but if it isn’t it should be!”

  3. Fun­ny: I thought the RATs col­umn was old­er than that. I haven’t come across any real ale drinker who was offend­ed by it, prob­a­bly because it’s not a vicious attack – more a gen­tle rib­bing. It’s also fun­ny, but then see­ing pompous, although harm­less, idiots get their come­up­pance often is.

  4. Well I knew it didn’t date back to the ear­ly 80s, or start the beardie stereo­type because I used to read it back then and the beardie stereo­type was already well-estab­lished. That said, I thought it came in in the 90s, when the pub we used most­ly had reclaimed fur­ni­ture (includ­ing one seat that was a bath) and copies of Viz stuck to the walls of the toi­lets. I could have sworn that RATs was one of the strips on dis­play, but it can’t have been, as we moved away in 1999, and by the time we moved back in 2002 the pub had been refur­bished. (Inci­den­tal­ly, we used it because it had a decent beer range back then for Whit­bread – it’s a GK house now…)

  5. A mem­ber of CAMRA’s staff team asked me many years ago, when I was a fair­ly new mem­ber of CAMRA’s Nation­al Exec­u­tive, if CAMRA should do any­thing about the RATs strip. Yes, I said, we should laugh along with it oth­er­wise we will look like RATs. There are no RATs strip on the walls of the CAMRA office. Peo­ple who are offend­ed by the RATs should get our more, prefer­ably to the pub.

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