20th Century Pub pubs

Comus Elliott’s 10,000 pubs

You don’t forget a name like Comus Elliott so when we came across it in an article from 1971, we remembered the story at once: he was arguably post-war Britain’s most famous pub crawler.

From that article, which appeared in brewing industry publication A Monthly Bulletin for May 1971, here’s his own account of how his quest began:

I first set foot inside a pub in August 1954. I have now been inside 4,250 different inns, pubs and hotels, the majority of them since 1957, when I started my hobby of visiting a new and different pub every day… Not long ago I visited once more my first pub, The White Lion at Aston Clinton, in Buckinghamshire. Over my pint, I recalled the midday break when inside a pub for the first time, I self-consciously drank ginger beer, in what, until then, had been forbidden territory… I do not often have time for second visits to pubs on my list so I doubt that a similar incident will occur again, if only because pubs everywhere in the country have changed so drastically during the past few years.

A new pub every single day! This made for a good story and was covered in various American newspapers during 1971.

Jeff Morgan’s ‘Dining with wine’ column in the Oakland Tribune from 6 January that year, for example, included more detail on Elliott’s approach to ticking:

Comus Elliott, a 30-year-old bank clerk who lives in Braintree, England… carries a notebook with him on his pub crawls and carefully notes the name and address of each, and the time of day the pint was consumed.

And it turns out this was a family business. The same article says he inherited this hobby from his father, Charles Elliott, who, in 1971, had visited more than 8,000 pubs. A brief entry in the 1971 edition of the London Spy reveals that Charles Elliott generally confined his pub crawling to London and, as of that year, had visited 4,500 pubs in the city – that is, more or less all of them.

Another American newspaper column from 7 January 1971, mining the same United Press wire, introduces us to yet another member of this pub crawling family:

Life for Rosemary Elliott, 25, has become one long pub crawl since she married Comus Elliott, 30, three years ago. “My husband is determined to drink a pint of beer in each one of Britain’s 70,000 pubs,” she explained. “It’s a fun hobby, you know.” So far Mrs. Elliott has been to 1,657 pubs and gets an autograph from each proprietor. “Comus has passed the 5,000 mark in 14 years,” she reported. “It will take us forever to do them all, but it’s nice to have a lifetime ambition.”

On 22 July 1983, Mr Elliott (or Elliot – we’ve seen it spelled both ways) held a party at the Leather Exchange, a Fuller’s pub in Bermondsey, to celebrate his 10,000th pub visit. (Liverpool Echo, 19.07.83.)

The 1971 article from A Monthly Bulletin that nudged us to look into this story is interesting because it reflects Elliott’s observations of how pubs had changed during the 1960s. In it, he expresses his delight at the emergence of pub grub – well, you would, wouldn’t you, if you’re visiting a new one every day? – and dismay at the loss of local beers in favour of national brands.

This is our favourite bit, which captures the voice of a pub ticking bank clerk perfectly:

To attract and hold the new young trade, brewers have started to offer something more than a pint or a ‘short’ in arid surroundings. To become part of the new swinging scene, many pubs are run almost as mini-music halls where young musical ‘groups’ have ousted ancient pianists. We can now see ‘go-go’ girls dancing, and, if we know where to go, can even see ‘drag’ or strip-tease shows. Some pubs have been restyled as Birds Nests which have, among other things, real life Disc Jockeys, dancing girls, soft lights and numbered tables with telephones so that in the good old Continental fashion you can order your beer, request a song or ‘chat up’ a blonde sitting at a distant table without having to get up… In saying this, one cannot always sound as enthusiastic as one would wish.

Birds Nest pubs are interesting – we’re going to write something about that brief craze another time.

Now, here’s a final interesting point. Until recently, Mr and Mrs Elliot were based in the North East of England and still contributing to the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. So, if anyone happens to be in touch with them, do drop us a line.