Bits we underlined in ‘They’re Open!’, 1950

The cover of They're Open, 1950.

Every time we think we’ve at least heard of every substantial book about beer or pubs, a new-to-us specimen pops up. This weekend, we came across They’re Open! by Ronald Wilkinson and Roger Frisby, with illustrations by Neville Main, from 1950.

It’s fluff, really – the kind of thing the chaps at the golf club would buy for another chap known to like the odd pint of bitter on the occasion of his birthday. Still, it’s a revealing time capsule, as throwaways often are.

The gimmick, as with T.E.B. Clarke’s What’s Yours? from 12 years earlier, is that the book claims to be a manual for those keen to learn the mysterious ways of the pub:

The student should on no account embark upon the theory of Serious Drinking without first pausing to consider certain fundamental concepts and general principles… It should be clearly understood from the outset that the subject must not be approached in a light or frivolous vein…

Another section from the introduction is probably meant to be a joke but it’s hard to tell from this side of the real ale revolution, when we’re used to this kind of thing being uttered in earnest:

It may strike the sceptic as odd that the word ‘serious’ is applied in this context. However, the word is not chosen at random. It is, in fact, the keystone of the whole arch of Alcohology. For the Serious Drinker drinks not to be sociable; neither does he drink to drown his sorrows, nor for want of anything better to do. Above all, it cannot be too strongly impressed upon the student that drunkenness in any shape or form must never be the aim, nor indeed must it be the concomitant of Serious Drinking. The Serious Drinker drinks on a rational basis. He drinks for no other reason that that he likes drinking. One would never ask a stamp-collector why he is serious about collecting stamps…

This introductory section also sets out the book’s stall on the issue of women and beer:

In all the authors’ experience, they have never encountered a woman who held forth even the remotest promise of successful development into a Serious Drinker. Her very make-up prevents it. Charming, lovable, fascinating as women may seem, all attempts on their parts to become Serious Drinkers have so far been but empty threats.

(That’s me told. – Jess.)

Bottled beer.

There’s disappointingly little about beer in the book, of course, beyond a warning against foreign beer, where foreign has the broadest possible definition: “For the Serious Drinker is a drinker of beer, and beer is only to be found in England.”

There is a chapter on what to wear in the pub: thick-soled shoes to raise you above the sawdust, with beer-coloured uppers to conceal stains; and drinking trousers with expanding waistline and a deep left-hand pocket for change.

The bit that really grabbed our attention, with 20th Century Pub still ringing in our brains, is an attempt to classify different types of pub:

The Roadhouse… Construction in concrete… Design frequently of the pseudo-Tudor or bogus-rustic…

The American or Cocktail bar… Neon signs… Stools… A plethora of chromium… Preponderance of women… It is difficult to find words adequate to condemn this type of abomination…

The Chain House… This is a large establishment usually of brick which sports a car-park. It is by far the least offensive of the non-serious types of drinking establishments, and at a pinch it is perfectly correct for the Drinker to enter it…

The Pub or Local… The is the ideal locus bibendi for the Serious Drinker. Now, the true pub is not always easy to recognise… it will in all probability be tucked away in some side-street, mews or alley…

There are then pages and pages on the subject of pub doors  – the various types, their actions, how to operate their handles  – and then a whole lot more on where to sit once you’re inside for optimum efficiency. There’s a section on posture, one on how to grip your glass, and on how to chat up barmaids. All of this is more or less tedious.

A crowd in a pub.
Detail from the endpaper of the book.

Things pick up again with an attempt to categorise types of drinker:

The Serious Drinker…

The Solitary or Introspective Drinker… unshaven… unethical ties…

Barmaid-Chaffing Drinker… faintly furtive, confidentially bombastic tone…

The Quasi-serious or Competitive Drinker…

The Crypto-serious or Miscellaneous Group… This group includes inter alia, the dart-players, the shove-halfpenny boys, the domino kings, the cribbage enthusiasts, the bar-billiards men and the pin-table fiends…

The Celebratory of Extrospective Drinker… a noteworthy hazard to the Serious Drinker…

The Social or Gregarious Drinker…

The Medicinal or Therapeutic Drinker… On no account should he be engaged in conversation, because this inevitably consists of an interminable repetition of his morbid ailments, past and present…

The Casual or Intermittent Drinker… He looks at the clock between gulps and speaks in an anxious tone of voice…

All in all, this is a minor work, perhaps of greatest use to those with an interest in attitudes to women in pubs.