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Will you buy us a drink if we tell you?

There’s a famous photo of the Fitzroy Tavern in London which is full of lovely details, including a sign that reads ‘WYBMADIITY’.

We got to know this photo quite well because for many years, it was blown up across one wall of the Fitzroy itself – very meta, a pub whose theme was its own history.

It was taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1939 and you can see a nice high resolution version via Google’s Arts & Culture portal.

For years, we tried to work out what WYBMADIITY stood for, in the days before everyone had Google on their phones. We got as far as ‘Will you buy me a drink if I _____ you?’

What ITMA, Max Miller, Round the Horne naughtiness might that missing word suggest?

Then we left London, the pub got refurbished, and we forgot about this unresolved mystery.

It popped back into our heads as we read Eoghan Walsh’s piece about a Belgian café preserved as art, with its overwhelming collection of tat. The WYBMADIITY sign would fit right in.

And, of course, having let our brains stew on it for a decade or so, we immediately realised what it stood for: ‘Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?’

At this point, we also got the joke.

Imagine one dozy punter after another seeing that curious sign.

“I say, what does WYBMADIITY stand for?”

“Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?”

“Well, OK – what’ll you have?”

It was apparently a stock, standard gag in British pubs, American bars, Australia, South Africa… everywhere – and of a similar ripeness to ‘Please do not ask for credit because a smack in the mouth often offends’.

Another variant was apparently the more specific ‘Will you buy me a double if I tell you?’

One newspaper article from the 1940s connects it with the craze for acronyms such as SWALK (‘sealed with a loving kiss’) on correspondence between servicemen and their sweethearts but the earliest reference we can find is in a London restaurant review from 1935.

Which brings us to our blogging challenge for November 2020, or, rather, blogging challenges.

First, what’s something about beer or pubs that’s always puzzled you?

Now’s the time to find out, and write a quick blog post or Twitter thread sharing your newfound knowledge. Let us know and we’ll do our best to share whatever you write.

Or ask us and we’ll do it – we like answering questions.

Secondly, we’re going to dig deep into the world of pub tat. We’ve already explored pump clips, beer mats, coin stacks and bell pushes, but what about all that crap gathering dust on the back bar and useless shelves? The stuff that gives a pub texture.

What springs to mind when you think of pub tat, cheap gags and advertising junk?

4 replies on “Will you buy us a drink if we tell you?”

Toby jugs or mugs certainly come to mind as classic …… with some pubs making quite a collection either along the top of the back bar or on some of the shelves. Can they ever have been anything other than decorative, at least since the early years appearances sometime in the mid-18th century? I have never been tempted – I have one or two pewter tankards that get regularly used, including one kept behind the bar at the Harp (there are others, ones that I donated for various members of the staff team to use), and there’s been a good few pubs that also have collected these, but generally just for decoration …… https://www.tobyjugcollecting.com/history-of-toby-jugs.html

The Toby Jug of course is most clearly associated with London brewer Charringtons though it came with the takeover / merger of/with Hoare and Co. https://protzonbeer.co.uk/features/2015/12/16/cockney-classic-ipa-recreated-in-burton

There are still pubs with Toby Jug signs, even glazed lanterns, that have survived, and I might have some photos somewhere. There are plenty of examples in the Brewery History Society collection eg http://www.breweryhistory.com/Defunct/Pics/LondonSE11Tankard.htm

Just to add, perhaps one shouldn’t surprised to find that there’s a museum dedicated to toby jugs …….. https://www.tobyjugmuseum.com/toby-jugs and that they were used as pitchers …. I also vaguely recall water jugs bearing the Charringtons toby jug logo but not that they would necessarily be toby jug shaped.

“Toby Jugs quickly became common pouring vessels at local pubs and taverns. The jugs were filled from barrels of stingo (a strong alcoholic brew) and the tri-corn removable crown served as a cup. Two hundred years later, due to loss and breakage, a Toby still sporting its crown is a rare find.”

“Duck or Grouse”, long deemed quite sufficient warning in low beamed pubs, seems to have mostly been replaced in these more safety conscious (and perhaps litigious) times by longer-winded messages backed up with yellow & black tape.

Tat more than mystery: I’ve got a soft spot for the “FREE BEER TOMORROW” sign – generally cast in brass, to emphasise its permanence as a fixture and give anyone who’s seeing it for the first time a nudge towards getting the joke.

Minor mystery, getting into the related topic of Stuff That Says You’re In Somebody’s Local (Although Not Necessariy Yours), elaborate scoreboards and wall-charts for a regular game of chance or quiz or raffle or… something that you can’t quite work out… with at least ten different names written on in different hands.

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