Reasons to be Cheerful

We don’t generally cast ourselves as cheerleaders but today, with the sun shining, we wanted to take a minute to ac-cen-tu-ate the positives.

1. There are loads of great pubs and bars still to dis­cov­er. We’re 143 pubs into our #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol mis­sion and still find­ing gems like The Beau­fort

2. And new ones are open­ing or re-open­ing all the time in unex­pect­ed places, such as The Pur­suit of Hop­pi­ness in Exeter, or the Bar­rel at Bude.

3. Even with our Every Pub mis­sion, and hav­ing been in var­i­ous small towns, sub­urbs and vil­lages, we haven’t had a real­ly rank pint in months. We can’t recall the last time we felt the need to com­plain and ask for a replace­ment.

4. There’s more choice of beer and beer styles than most of us have the time to do any­thing about, even out­side the hippest cen­tres of craft beer cul­ture. For exam­ple, Marks & Spencer announced a new beer range this week which includes a Sai­son from St Austell, and our local CO-OP has a choice of canned ses­sion IPAs, all per­fect­ly decent. The aver­age small-town Wether­spoon can usu­al­ly do you a dou­ble IPA, a choice of stan­dard IPAs, a choice of wheat beers, one or two Trap­pist beers, and that’s with­out even look­ing at the taps.

The beer garden at The Pirate.

5. It’s near­ly beer gar­den sea­son! The evenings are draw­ing out, the grass is grow­ing over the mud­dy patch­es, and the pic­nic tables are being sand­ed down. If we don’t get to sit in the sun drink­ing pints of lager in the next fort­night, some­thing will have gone dread­ful­ly wrong.

6. There are people out there just dis­cov­er­ing how inter­est­ing and excit­ing beer can be, drift­ing towards the thrill-ride of becom­ing a Five. Some­one out there will drink their first West­malle Tripel today! (Fur­ther read­ing: ‘Dare I Say Wine for Wives?’)

7. Adnams, Fuller’s, Harvey’s, St Austell, Tim­o­thy Tay­lor and a ton of oth­er respect­ed fam­i­ly brew­eries are not only still going strong but (a) con­tin­u­ing to brew clas­sics such as ESB and Land­lord and (b) brew­ing gen­uine­ly inter­est­ing side project beers, includ­ing a flood of porters.

8. There is beer on TVIt seemed impos­si­ble a few years ago but now there’s beer most week­ends on Chan­nel 4’s Sun­day Brunch, brew­er Jae­ga Wise has joined the crew on ITV’s The Wine Show, and ‘Jol­ly’ Olly Smith is cur­rent­ly work­ing on series 3 of Ale Trails for the Trav­el Chan­nel.

9. Every week­end for the past few years we’ve man­aged to find enough inter­est­ing writ­ing about beer and pubs to pop­u­late a blog post with links. There’s more good stuff in 2018 than there was in 2014, cov­er­ing a wider range of top­ics from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Recent­ly, for the first time, there was so much going on we had to resort to bul­let points to get it all in.

10. Beer in gen­er­al con­tin­ues to be real­ly tasty, and get­ting tip­sy with friends and fam­i­ly is still great fun.

Com­ments are turned off on this post but feel free to email or Tweet at us if there’s some­thing you need to say.

Watney’s Red on Film, 1971

The above film was made by Watney Mann (Watney’s) to help their staff understand Watney’s Red, which replaced Red Barrel as the firm’s flagship keg bitter in 1971.

It was unearthed by Nick Wheat who col­lects British doc­u­men­tary and indus­tri­al films and writes occa­sion­al beer arti­cles for Dron­field CAMRA’s Peel Ale mag­a­zine. The copy above was made by pro­ject­ing the 16mm film onto a wall and point­ing his phone at it but it doesn’t look bad for all that.

From an arti­cle Nick dug up from Film User for July 1971 we know that it was one of three films pro­duced to help with the roll-out of the new prod­uct as part of what Watney’s called ‘Oper­a­tion Che­ka’ in ref­er­ence to the Bol­she­vik secret police. The suit of films cost £5,500 pounds to make (about £80k in today’s mon­ey) and this one is ‘Che­ka 2’ ‘Che­ka 3’, high­light­ed in this info­graph­ic from Film User:

Infographic depicting the roll-out of Operation Cheka.

The film itself is an amaz­ing rel­ic. It fea­tures var­i­ous plum­my senior exec­u­tives explain­ing, rather stilt­ed­ly, the think­ing behind the change, accom­pa­nied by footage of lor­ries and brew­ing plants around the coun­try (our empha­sis):

You see Red Bar­rel has been with us now for fif­teen years and is still the same. In the mean­time oth­er beers have come along in keg with new flavours, and meet­ing new ideas of taste. There­fore Red Bar­rel might be said to be old fash­ioned. So what we did was to study the whole sit­u­a­tion in great detail with our col­leagues in the group mar­ket­ing depart­ment. We want­ed to find out just what it was the cus­tomers liked, what their ideals were, what were the faults, per­haps, in ear­li­er beers, and alto­geth­er how we could make it right for the sev­en­ties.

What we’ve done is to give the beer a new smooth pleas­ant taste. We’ve also giv­en it a much bet­ter head and alto­geth­er a more attrac­tive appear­ance. Gone is any sug­ges­tion of bit­ter after palate; instead, there is a pleas­ant malty meali­ness.… We’ve stud­ied flavour, stud­ied people’s reac­tion to flavour, and pro­duced exper­i­men­tal beers, test­ing out all the vari­a­tions we can think of in such things of sweet­ness or bit­ter­ness.

That con­firms what we’d heard from oth­er sources, and what we said in Brew Bri­tan­nia: that Red Bar­rel and Red were quite dif­fer­ent beers, with the lat­ter an alto­geth­er fizzi­er, sweet­er beer. But this would seem to sug­gest that, unless they’re out­right fib­bers, that peo­ple in the com­pa­ny gen­uine­ly believed they were respond­ing to pub­lic demand rather than cut­ting cor­ners for the sake of it.

There’s some sol­id his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion in all this, too. It tells us, for exam­ple, that Red was devel­oped pri­mar­i­ly at the Watney’s plant in Northamp­ton, for­mer­ly Phipps, and that the beer and point-of-sale mate­r­i­al was sched­uled to hit pubs in March and April of 1971.

There is also an awk­ward inter­view with Mr Hors­fall, a pub­li­can in… Eldon? Old­ham? Answers on a post­card. He had been tasked with sell­ing the new Red on the qui­et to gauge cus­tomer reac­tions to the refor­mu­la­tion and, though hard­ly jump­ing for joy, seemed to think his cus­tomers pre­ferred it, on the whole.

Arguably the most excit­ing part comes at the end: a reel of orig­i­nal TV ads from the time star­ring (we think) Michael Coles as a hard-boiled counter-intel­li­gence oper­a­tive tasked with stop­ping ‘the Red Rev­o­lu­tion’. These ads seem to us to be par­o­dy­ing Callan, a pop­u­lar TV pro­gramme of the day star­ring Edward Wood­ward, with the seedy side­kick ‘Friend­ly’ clear­ly a ref­er­ence to Callan’s ‘Lone­ly’.

Thanks so much for shar­ing this, Nick! And if any­one else out there has this kind of mate­r­i­al, we’d love to see it.

Updat­ed 22/03/2018 after Nick got in touch to say he thinks this is actu­al­ly Film 3.

The Original Beer Podcast, 1975

If you tuned the radio to BBC Leeds at 18:45 on a Wednesday in 1985 you’d hear What’s Brewing, a programme dedicated to beer and pubs.

It was estab­lished dur­ing the height of real ale mania, in 1975, by a local jour­nal­ist and CAMRA activist, Bar­rie Pep­per, who worked in the news­room at Radio Leeds and would go on to become a well-known beer writer. In a lat­er ret­ro­spec­tive in the CAMRA news­pa­per, also called What’s Brew­ing, for March 1985, he recalled its ori­gins:

[The radio show] made its first appear­ance… after pres­sure from mem­bers of the Leeds branch of CAMRA. In that pro­gramme, though to be a one-off, Tom Fin­cham and I made the first of our ‘rur­al rides’ in search of good ale, we defined real ale and Eddie Lawler sang his now famous ‘We’re all here for the real thing’.

Famous’ might be over­stat­ing it but Eddie Lawler told us in an email that he has per­formed the song at the CAMRA AGM. He was kind enough to share the ver­sion he record­ed under the title ‘CAM­RAn­them’ for his 2007 album The Bail­don Sky Rock­et with 1970s ref­er­ences to ‘big-bust­ed bar­maids’ and the ‘nat­ter­ing spouse’ removed. As you might guess, it’s a folky pub sin­ga­long with a piano back­ing:

We’re all here for the Real Thing.
That’s why we’re singing this song, just to show all those
Fan­cy TV pro­mo­tions
That the customer’s not always wrong, so you’d bet­ter not
Give us pale imi­ta­tions
Or gas us with chem­i­cal beer.
So just give us a pint of the Real Thing land­lord
’Cos that’s why we’re bloody well here.

Off the back of that first pro­gramme the pro­duc­er, David Camp­bell, com­mis­sioned a year’s-worth of month­ly pro­grammes. In his 1985 ret­ro­spec­tive Bar­rie Pep­per described the dif­fi­cul­ty in find­ing top­ics for dis­cus­sion and, in par­tic­u­lar, the chal­lenge of find­ing a Pub of the Month every month. (The first was The Grey­hound at Sax­ton.)

1970s portrait photograph, candid and grainy.
Bar­rie Pep­per.

There was also a ‘real ale soap opera’ called Tap Room Tales writ­ten by Ger­ry Gar­side from Brad­ford which was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the rib­ald, pan­tomime humour that char­ac­terised ear­ly CAMRA cul­ture. There’s an extract from the first episode, broad­cast in August 1977, in Bar­rie Pepper’s 1990 anthol­o­gy of beer writ­ing The Bed­side Book of Beer:

Episode one – the Price of a Pint

The scene is the tap room of The Plas­tered Par­rot, a real ale pub in a work­ing sub­urb of a West Rid­ing town. The time is half an hour before clos­ing time on a week­day evening.

Let me intro­duce you to the cast.

Nora Nock­ers is an occa­sion­al bar­maid; Yorkie Bale is a retired shod­dy mer­chant, Shuf­flem Round is the pub domi­no cap­tain and Barum Hall is the land­lord. Char­lie Chock, Gor­don Spile, Andrew Mal­let and Peter Bar­rel are mem­bers of the Cam­paign for Real Ale. Girling­ton Ger­tie is an aging ex-cho­rus girl and we present Lars Torders, a Swedish Steel work­er.

In his 1985 ret­ro­spec­tive Bar­rie admit­ted that Tap Room Tales ‘might have seemed a bit facile… but it had a seri­ous pur­pose and was great fun to take part in’.

From 1980 What’s Brew­ing went week­ly and Bar­rie took over as pro­duc­er with Mike Green­wood host­ing. There was home­brew advice from Bob Blag­boro, pro­files of York­shire brew­eries, and cam­paigns against pub clo­sures. ‘[In] the case of the Spring Close Tav­ern in East Leeds we were able to secure the reprieve by Leeds City Coun­cil live on our micro­phone,’ Bar­rie recalled in 1985.

Though Bar­rie insist­ed the show was inde­pen­dent of CAMRA he was at var­i­ous points on the Campaign’s Nation­al Exec­u­tive and it cer­tain­ly seems to have giv­en the local branch what amount­ed to a mouth­piece fund­ed by the licence pay­er.

The last episode was broad­cast in June 1986 for rea­sons Bar­rie explained in an email:

I moved on from the news room at BBC Radio Leeds to become Head of Press and Pub­lic Rela­tions with Leeds City coun­cil. Ray Beaty, the sta­tion man­ag­er, wasn’t keen on a non-staffer pro­duc­ing – he didn’t mind a free­lance (unpaid) pre­sen­ter but wor­ried about some­one ‘speak­ing out of turn’ as he called it. In any case I couldn’t find any­one to do the job and the coun­cil wouldn’t allow me to do it.

So, that was that.

Thir­ty-odd years on, though BBC radio only touch­es on beer occa­sion­al­ly, in the cur­rent pod­cast boom there’s no short­age of beer-relat­ed audio. For exam­ple, we recent­ly lis­tened to Fer­men­ta­tion Radio for the first time and thor­ough­ly enjoyed it. We’ll send Bar­rie Pep­per the link.

Main image incor­po­rates ele­ments of ‘Philips Radio from the 1970s’ by David Mar­tyn Hunt under Cre­ative Com­mons via Flickr.

The Short Pub Documentary – A New Artform?

Pub culture lends itself to film-making thanks to its quirks, eye-catching details, and characters.

We’ve been pick­ing up the odd video here and there over the years but hadn’t checked Vimeo for a while. We were lured there this time try­ing to answer a ques­tion about seafood hawk­ers in pubs which turned up this gem direct­ed by Matthew Daunt:

Then, fol­low­ing the bread­crumbs, we found this recent por­trait of the Steve, land­lord of Ye Olde Vic in Stock­port:

(Of his fists: ‘Let me just tell you that they’re only rest­ing, not retired.’)

This next film, The Reg­u­lars, by Grant Hod­geon, is actu­al­ly eight years old but it’s the first time we’ve come across it. It’s an eccen­tric piece in some ways, switch­ing styles, stop­ping and start­ing, but there’s no deny­ing the charm of the raw footage:

And, final­ly, anoth­er Stock­port pub (is every­one there a doc­u­men­tar­i­an?) filmed by Jake Park­er in 2013:

You can real­ly smell the booze and the sticky car­pets in that one, can’t you?

The sim­i­lar­i­ty in tone of these films and oth­ers – wist­ful, slight­ly sad – says some­thing about how the pub is viewed in 21st Cen­tu­ry Britain. We sup­pose it’s because it feels frag­ile or endan­gered as an insti­tu­tion that peo­ple feel moti­vat­ed to doc­u­ment it, while they still can.

Is it a new art­form? The exis­tence of Peter Davis’s 1962 film Pub, avail­able on the BFI DVD of Lon­don in the Raw, would sug­gest not.

Holding the Fort: a Sitcom With Added Beer

From 1980 to 1982 one of London Weekend Television’s top-rated sitcoms was Holding the Fort in which Peter Davison played a microbrewer. We spoke to the writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, to find out more.

We were first tipped off to the exis­tence of Hold­ing the Fort by a com­ment from ‘Dvo­rak’ on some­thing we post­ed back in Sep­tem­ber. We watched as much as we could find on YouTube and were amazed by how accu­rate­ly it por­trayed the then embry­on­ic British micro­brew­ing scene. On the off-chance, we emailed Marks & Gran via their web­site just as the suc­cess of their revival of Good­night Sweet­heart hit them and they became very busy. We heard noth­ing until this week when we got an apolo­getic reply and an invi­ta­tion to phone them at their office.

Because the way the tim­ing worked out Bai­ley made the call, speak­ing to Lau­rence Marks while Mau­rice Gran made muf­fled inter­jec­tions some­where in the back­ground. We’ve slight­ly edit­ed the tran­script for clar­i­ty and to remove some umm-ing and er-ing.

Two young men with facial hair.
Lau­rence Marks (right) and Mau­rice Gran in the 1970s. SOURCE: Marks & Gran.

From what we’ve been able to see Hold­ing the Fort is a pret­ty accu­rate por­tray­al of what was going on in British brew­ing at the time.

Micro­brew­ing had just start­ed and we had met the man… What was his name? This was 40 years ago, our very first com­mis­sioned sit­com, so it’s hard to remem­ber. He was the man who start­ed a chain of pubs… What were they called?

David Bruce – the Firkin chain?

That’s him! He was always our advis­er on brew­ing and, in fact, he pro­vid­ed all the brew­ing equip­ment for the pro­duc­tion which was in the base­ment of our fic­tion­al brewer’s house in Tufnell Park, North Lon­don.

Our cen­tral char­ac­ter, our male cen­tral char­ac­ter, who we join in the first episode, is a brew­er. The brew­ery where he works is clos­ing and mov­ing to the North. He and his wife, played by Patri­cia Hodge, have just had a lit­tle baby and they don’t want to move North, so she goes back to her old job as an Army Cap­tain and he decides he can run a small brew­ery from his house.

And his assis­tant, played by Matthew Kel­ly, he’s a kind of stereo­typ­i­cal real ale drinker with the beard and so on.

No, Fitz, he’s not a brew­er – he’s just kind of a layabout, but he starts to learn to brew. Peter Davi­son, who’s the brew­er, is very clean cut. David Bruce always looked alright to me! Very smart.

Peter Davi­son was in Doc­tor Who at the same time you were mak­ing this series – is that right?

Well, yes and no. We made the first series in 1980 then he got cast as Doc­tor Who between series, so he was alter­nat­ing between our series at LWT and Doc­tor Who at the BBC.

It’s odd that you’re so well-known but that this show is so obscure – we’d nev­er heard of it and it’s quite hard to get to see. But there were three series so it must have been pop­u­lar.

Oh, yes – huge­ly suc­cess­ful. It was, at one time, LWT’s top-rat­ed com­e­dy show. I have no idea why it’s out of cir­cu­la­tion – I don’t under­stand the machi­na­tions of TV net­works.

Were you into beer your­selves? Were you CAMRA mem­bers or any­thing like that?

I was a jour­nal­ist at the time, in the mid-1970s, and was invit­ed along to the first CAMRA beer fes­ti­val at Covent Gar­den in 1975. I went along to what is now the Lon­don Trans­port Muse­um and there was every beer in the entire coun­try, bar­rels every­where. Peo­ple were walk­ing around vom­it­ing, falling over… It was the clos­est we’d come to the Munich Okto­ber­fest, I sup­pose.

I was with a friend who was a much more learned beer drinker than me, and we worked our way round decid­ing which was the best beer there. We both agreed it was Hook Nor­ton. In fact, we loved it so much, we found out where the brew­ery was, took a day off work and drove out there. There were three pubs near the brew­ery, sup­plied direct­ly, and we drank in all of them. And fun­ni­ly enough, it’s now my local brew­er.

* * *

Marks & Gran are still writ­ing togeth­er. You can read more about their long career at their web­site, Marks & Gran, and they are also on Twit­ter @marksandgran.