Australian drinking culture in London, 1966–1970

One of the perks of having been blogging for as long as we have is that people find us via Google and send us interesting things without us having to make the slightest effort.

At the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary, Sal­ly Mays emailed us ask­ing for help track­ing down infor­ma­tion about a pub she remem­bered vis­it­ing years ago, the Sur­rey, just of the Strand in Lon­don:

I went there a num­ber of times with my boyfriend when I was a very young woman, around 1970. We were plan­ning to trav­el to Aus­tralia as Ten Pound Poms and Aus­tralia House (where we were inter­viewed) was just around the cor­ner from the Sur­rey – well, actu­al­ly on the oth­er side of the Strand, on a cor­ner oppo­site Sur­rey Street.

I’m not sure quite how we became aware of the pub but it was main­ly fre­quent­ed by Aussies and New Zealan­ders and served most­ly (per­haps only) Foster’s beer (or lager, I should say). I think it was the only peri­od of my life where I imbibed the amber nec­tar.

It didn’t look much like a pub – it was housed in one of the build­ings on the right hand side of Sur­rey Street, as you walk down it towards the Embank­ment. Its décor was very basic – plain, I seem to remem­ber, with lots of beer spilled onto the floor, and a rau­cous ambi­ence.

Those were days when it was still pos­si­ble for [incom­ing] trav­ellers to park their Com­bi vans down by the Thames for the pur­pos­es of sell­ing [them on to out­go­ers].

[The pub] was a very male-dom­i­nat­ed place – the sort that wore shorts and flip flops no mat­ter what the weath­er!

Sal­ly also point­ed us to one of the few sources she’d been able to find – a 1966 diary by a young Aus­tralian trav­eller in Lon­don shared on a blog – but we think it’s now been hid­den from pub­lic view.

The good news is that the first book we reached out for, Green and White’s 1968 Guide to Lon­don Pubs, had a detailed entry on the Sur­rey that con­firmed Sally’s mem­o­ries:

The Sur­rey, just off the Strand, is the first vis­it­ing-place of the new­ly arrived Aus­tralian; though they don’t actu­al­ly serve schooners of beer, you can get two home-brewed vari­eties: Swan’s Lager on draught and Foster’s in the bot­tle. The present house dates back to the turn of the cen­tu­ry and had, until a recent fire, a fine col­lec­tion of Aus­traliana; this was reduced to a cou­ple of boomerangs and pho­tographs of vis­it­ing crick­eters. It is the sort of place in which the lone Pom­mie, towards clos­ing time, feels rather uncom­fort­able; there is a lot of back-slap­ping and singing and rather too much noise. Oth­er­wise, it is a per­fect­ly nor­mal pub, serv­ing lunch and snacks all day. The upstairs bar is a tri­fle small, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it gets crowd­ed at lunch-time, but there is plen­ty of room down­stairs, and even a dart­board. A vis­it­ing Cana­di­an pro­fes­sor once refused to buy his pub­lish­er a box of match­es here, but the staff oblig­ing­ly accept­ed a 2d cheque, which must prove some­thing. Being handy for Aus­tralia House, the prospec­tive migrant, har­ried by bad weath­er, hous­ing and tax­es, might well take a drink in the Sur­rey to see how the natives dis­port them­selves.

Since Jan­u­ary, we’ve also man­aged to find our copy of The New Lon­don Spy, edit­ed by Hunter Davies and pub­lished in 1966. Its sec­tion on ‘Aus­tralian Lon­don’ men­tions the Sur­rey repeat­ed­ly as some­thing of a cen­tre of Aus­tralian life in Lon­don:

Here, on a Fri­day night, elbow to elbow, sur­round­ed by boomerangs and famil­iar accents, London’s Aus­tralians sip their Fos­ters (Mel­bourne) and Swan (Perth)… and com­plain about jobs (‘lousy bloody sev­en quid a week’), food (‘I haven’t had a decent steak since I got here’ and the weath­er (‘How can you ever get a tan in this place?’).

The pace of drink­ing is, by British stan­dards, express-like, but even so it is unlike­ly you will see that well-known Aus­tralian sight, rare in Britain, the-face-on-the-bar-room-floor. (You can, by the way, pick out the old Aus­tralian from the new­ly-arrived. The sea­soned man drinks iced Eng­lish beer instead of iced Aus­tralian.)

This book, though, also lists oth­er notable Aus­tralian pubs: the Zambe­si Club and the Ifield, both in Earls Court, then known as ‘Kan­ga­roo Val­ley’ because of its sup­posed pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 row­dy Aussies.

An arti­cle by Rod­ney Burbeck in Tatler for 7 May 1966, avail­able in full via to sub­scribers to the British News­pa­per Archive, puts this influx down to the open­ing of the Over­seas Vis­i­tors Cen­tre (OVS) in Earls Court in 1955. It also has notes on the cul­ture clash between British drinkers and Aus­tralians:

Bill Robert­son, 28-year- old farmer, strolling along Earls Court Road on his sec­ond night in Lon­don [said] ‘We went to Wim­ble­don last night to see how the oth­er half live. Walked into a pub and every head turned round. We were strangers, for­eign­ers. And what’s more they didn’t drink as quick­ly as Aus­tralians.’ In Earls Court you can walk into a pub and be the only Eng­lish­man there. Col­league John McLeod, who writes the Lon­don Life drinks col­umn, doesn’t like Aus­tralians in pubs. He thinks they are row­dy and boor­ish and drink too much. I have a friend who says you can always tell an Aus­tralian in a pub because when he has fin­ished drink­ing he falls flat on his face… One girl liv­ing in Earls Court says ‘The only Aus­tralians I have met have only been inter­est­ed in two things: rug­ger and beer.’

The 1972 film The Adven­tures of Bar­ry McKen­zie includes a scene set in an Aus­tralian pub in Lon­don, with Bar­ry dis­gust­ed by Eng­lish beer and demand­ing ‘a decent chilled Foster’s’. It might be satire but it prob­a­bly cap­tures to some degree how these pubs real­ly felt. (For now, you can see it here, at 14:46.)

It feels as if there’s a lot more to be explored here. If you’re an Aus­tralian who lived in Lon­don in the 1960s-70s with mem­o­ries of pubs and of hunt­ing ‘iced beer’, do drop us a line.

Kenton’s Secret Preparation for Export Porter

The Crown and Mag­pie Tav­ern had, besides its wine trade, been long not­ed for the expor­ta­tion of beer to the East and West Indies; the prin­ci­pal being in the pos­ses­sion of a secret prepa­ra­tion, which pre­vent­ed the too great fer­men­ta­tion of malt liquor in warm cli­mates, con­se­quent­ly it ren­dered the liquor more palat­able and estimable.”

This pas­sage comes from a ref­er­ence book called the Biographia Curiosa pub­lished in Lon­don in 1827 and refers to a not­ed pub­li­can, Ben­jamin Ken­ton.

We came across it in A Scrap­book of Inns, a com­pi­la­tion of pub-relat­ed snip­pets from 1949, but the full orig­i­nal text is here.

The sto­ry is that Ken­ton, born 1719, grew up in Whitechapel in the East End of Lon­don and at 14 became an appren­tice at the Old Angel and Crown near Goul­ston Street. Excelling as an appren­tice, he became a bar­man-wait­er, before defect­ing to anoth­er near­by pub, the Crown and Mag­pie.

Here’s the Curiosa bit, we sup­pose: the land­lord of the C&M, Kenton’s boss, had tak­en the mag­pie off the sign, after which point the export beer sud­den­ly lost its mag­ic qual­i­ty. Only when he died and Ken­ton, tak­ing over the pub, put the mag­pie back on the sign did it return to its for­mer excel­lence.

Ken­ton ran the C&M until around 1780 when he retired from the trade, though he kept up the whole­sale busi­ness from a premis­es in the Minories. He out­lived his chil­dren, and all oth­er rela­tions, and died in 1800, worth £300,000 – about £25m in today’s mon­ey.

The good news is, we don’t need to rely on this one after-the-fact source for infor­ma­tion on Ben­jamin Ken­ton and his excel­lent export beer because Alan McLeod has already com­piled a slew of con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ences from an Amer­i­can colo­nial per­spec­tive. Kenton’s name was appar­ent­ly a val­ued brand – a mark of qual­i­ty worth men­tion­ing in adver­tise­ments for import­ed British beer that appeared in news­pa­pers in New York City in the late 18th cen­tu­ry. Here’s a pass­ing men­tion from a 1787 book, as quot­ed by Alan:

On tak­ing leave he invit­ed me to dine with him the fol­low­ing day, at his plan­ta­tion, where I was regaled in a most lux­u­ri­ous man­ner; the tur­tle was supe­ri­or to any ever served on a lord mayor’s table; the’oranges and pine-apples were of the high­est flavour; Ben Kenton’s porter sparkled like cham­paign, and excel­lent claret and Madeira crowned the feast.

Which brings us back to the main ques­tion: what was the trick to the supe­ri­or qual­i­ty of the export beer from the Mag­pie and Crown, which Ben Ken­ton inher­it­ed and made his name from?

In his 1959 aca­d­e­m­ic mas­ter­work The Brew­ing Indus­try in Britain 1700–1830 Peter Matthias gives a straight­for­ward expla­na­tion:

Ben­jamin Wil­son and Samuel All­sopp often advised cus­tomers to bot­tle the ale which they want­ed to sur­vive into the sum­mer, leav­ing the bot­tles uncorked for a time to allow the ale to get flat. This was exact­ly the pro­ce­dure adopt­ed by a Lon­don wine mer­chant, Ken­ton, who is said to have first shipped porter suc­cess­ful­ly to the East Indies. Once ‘flat’, it was corked and sealed so that the sec­ondary and ter­tiary fer­men­ta­tion on the voy­age brought it up to the nec­es­sary state of ‘brisk­ness’ by the time it reached India.

We bet that beer was pret­ty funky by the time it reached its final des­ti­na­tion.

Guinness: a nice, interesting drink for nice, interesting women, 1977–79

In 1977–78, grappling with falling sales and quality problems, Guinness commissioned yet another marketing strategy in the hope of turning things around. One idea was to appeal to young women.

We’ve just fin­ished scan­ning and cat­a­logu­ing the col­lec­tion of Guin­ness mate­r­i­al we wrote about a few times last year. These mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy doc­u­ments (there are sev­er­al) are full of fas­ci­nat­ing details, not least in the anno­ta­tions in pen­cil by (we assumed from con­text) Alan Cox­on, the head brew­er at Park Roy­al to whom these doc­u­ments belonged.

Here’s what the 1977–78 doc­u­ment says under ‘Strat­e­gy & Objec­tives – Women’:

i) To recruit to more reg­u­lar drink­ing the younger female drinker who iden­ti­fies with the assur­ance, matu­ri­ty and inde­pen­dence asso­ci­at­ed with Guin­ness for women.

ii) To reduce defec­tion from Guin­ness by rein­forc­ing the loy­al­ty of exist­ing fre­quent and less fre­quent users.

The sec­ond group were like­ly to be ‘old­er and poor­er’, the kind of peo­ple who’d tra­di­tion­al­ly drunk Guin­ness, but the oth­er group were a new tar­get:

[Younger], social­ly active and bet­ter off. Guin­ness may already be a part of their drink­ing reper­toire, though remote. These are like­ly to be C1 C2 women aged 25 to 44.

Here, though, Alan Cox­on had some thoughts of his own, neat­ly marked in the mar­gin:

I just do not believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of this. It is not a young woman’s drink, sure­ly. If we get it right it will have the wrong image for young women & sure­ly we can­not expect them to like it!!

The pro­posed cre­ative approach for appeal­ing to young women was inter­est­ing, too, based on ‘the cor­rect blend­ing of four key ele­ments’:

i) The user-image of a self-assured woman who is inde­pen­dent, socia­ble and healthy; equal­ly at ease in both a man’s and woman’s world.

ii) The prod­uct as a unique, attrac­tive, long drink, nat­ur­al and enjoy­able.

iii) The mood as one of relaxed and socia­ble enjoy­ment.

iv) The qual­i­ty and style of the adver­tis­ing as attrac­tive, cred­i­ble and con­tem­po­rary (rather than fash­ion­able or trendy).

The brand posi­tion reached as a result of this cre­ative approach should be:

Guin­ness is the drink for the self-assured woman.”

Final­ly, there were sug­ges­tions on how to reach women. With tele­vi­sion reserved for male-ori­en­tat­ed adverts, the idea was to place ads tar­get­ing women in mag­a­zines – ‘their per­son­al medi­um’.

How did all this go? For­tu­nate­ly, we have some handy fol­low-up infor­ma­tion, from the next year’s mar­ket­ing plan, cov­er­ing 1978–79. It sug­gests that dou­ble-page spreads did run in women’s mag­a­zines (we’d love to track some of these down) and that they were felt to be suc­cess­ful enough to con­tin­ue with.

An amus­ing punch­line, though, is a restate­ment of the mar­ket­ing objec­tive:

The pri­ma­ry task of the adver­tis­ing is to change atti­tudes about the kind of woman who drinks Guin­ness: to over­sim­pli­fy, ‘Guin­ness is a nice, inter­est­ing drink which is drunk by nice, inter­est­ing women.’

UPDATE 08/03/2019: Jon Urch, who works for Guin­ness, sent us a copy of one of the ads, which we’ve now added as the main image above.

The History of Home-brewing in the UK

This arti­cle first appeared in issue 9 of Hop & Bar­ley mag­a­zine, a home-brew­ing spe­cial pub­lished in 2018, and avail­able to buy at £10 from the web­site.

Before 1963 if you wanted to make your own beer in Britain you either had to pay the government for the privilege, or do it secretly, thanks to the lingering effects of Victorian legislation.

In 1880 Prime Min­is­ter William Glad­stone, seek­ing to appease the farm­ing lob­by and urgent­ly raise mon­ey, replaced the long­stand­ing malt tax with a duty on the fin­ished prod­uct – beer. As a side effect, house­holds that brewed their own beer for ‘domes­tic use’ (that didn’t sell it) were sud­den­ly sub­ject to reg­is­tra­tion, reg­u­la­tion and inspec­tion, and were required to pay for a licence.

This didn’t stop home-brew­ing alto­geth­er, espe­cial­ly not in cas­es where it was part of com­mu­ni­ty life, as at Blax­hall in Suf­folk where, accord­ing to the rec­ol­lec­tions of one elder­ly vil­lager, almost every house­wife brewed her own beer before World War I. They shared equip­ment and formed a ‘yeast chain’ with each woman col­lect­ing yeast from whichev­er of her neigh­bours had brewed most recent­ly. [1]

But as the 20th cen­tu­ry wore on, and peo­ple were dragged into court for mak­ing beer at home with­out licences, home-brew­ing as a vital tra­di­tion all but dis­ap­peared. Offi­cial num­bers sug­gest­ed that by 1961–62 only 250 peo­ple in the entire coun­try had licences to brew beer at home. [2]

Of course there was plen­ty going on with­out licence behind closed doors and one 1963 news­pa­per col­umn described a home brew­er ‘who wish­es to remain anony­mous for obvi­ous rea­sons’ run­ning a sub­stan­tial brew­ery out of his garage to which ‘the Cus­toms and Excise have nev­er found their way’.  [3]

The cost of inves­ti­gat­ing and pros­e­cut­ing hard­ly seemed worth the effort which is why, on 3 April 1963, Con­ser­v­a­tive Chan­cel­lor Regi­nald Maudling announced the abo­li­tion of the 1880 law, with its ragged Vic­to­ri­an trousers, in his bud­get speech to the House of Com­mons. On the day of Regi­nald Maudling’s announce­ment, the garage home-brew­er men­tioned above drank a toast to the Chan­cel­lor, rais­ing a mug of his own strong ale. Free­dom, at last.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The His­to­ry of Home-brew­ing in the UK

Watney’s Red Barrel – how bad could it have been?

You can’t have cops without robbers, or Batman without the Joker, and so the story of the revitalisation of British beer needs its bad guys too. Enter Watney’s.

Watney’s (or Wat­ney Mann, or Wat­ney Combe Reid) was the Evil Cor­po­ra­tion which sought to crush plucky small brew­ers and impose its own ter­ri­ble beer on the drink­ing pub­lic. It acquired and closed beloved local brew­eries, and it closed pubs, or ruined them with clum­sy makeovers.

Its Red Bar­rel was par­tic­u­lar­ly vile – a sym­bol of all that was wrong with indus­tri­al brew­ing and nation­al brands pushed through cyn­i­cal mar­ket­ing cam­paigns.

This, at least, was the accept­ed nar­ra­tive for a long time, formed by the pro­pa­gan­da of the Cam­paign for Real Ale in its ear­ly years, and set hard through years of rep­e­ti­tion.

But does it stand up to scruti­ny? What if, con­trary to every­thing we’ve heard, Red Bar­rel was actu­al­ly kind of OK?

This long post was made pos­si­ble by the kind sup­port of Patre­on sub­scribers like Matthew Turn­bull and David Sim, whose encour­age­ment makes us feel less daft about spend­ing half a week­end work­ing on stuff like this. Please con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a pint.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Watney’s Red Bar­rel – how bad could it have been?”