Dreadful welcome: pubs on film

Old Hollywood was a town overrun with homesick British expats, making films that reflected a particular vision of the old country – nostalgic, parodic and often with a Gothic tint. That was reflected in its portrayal of pubs, too, skewing their image for decades to come.

Con­sid­er 1943’s Sher­lock Holmes Faces Death, one of the bet­ter entries in the run of Sher­lock Holmes films star­ring Basil Rath­bone and Nigel Bruce, which gives us The Rat & Raven.

The film is set in Northum­bria, not that you’d know that from the cast of assort­ed Brits, Antipodeans, Irish­men and Amer­i­cans, all speak­ing stage cock­ney or Transat­lantic Eng­lish.

The pub, which appears 35 min­utes in, is locat­ed in the coun­try town of Hurl­stone – instant­ly recog­nis­able to stu­dents of hor­ror film as the stand­ing ‘Euro­pean vil­lage’ set at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, built c.1920 and reused end­less­ly to stand in for every­where from the West­ern Front to Wales to the fic­tion­al ‘Vis­aria’ where Frankenstein’s mon­ster ram­paged in his lat­er post-Karloff career.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Dread­ful wel­come: pubs on film”

Pubs in novels: The Vodi, John Braine, 1959

John Braine’s 1959 novel The Vodi is set in a fictional northern town where every other conversation takes place over a beer, or in a pub.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is the por­tray­al of a large, mod­ern pub – a theme you might remem­ber comes up in anoth­er social real­ist nov­el from the same year, Kei­th Water­house­’s Bil­ly Liar.

Braine’s treat­ment is suc­cinct and direct:

[He] did­n’t like the Lord Rel­ton very much. It was a fake-Tudor road-house with a huge car park; even its name was rather phoney, an attempt to iden­ti­fy it with the vil­lage of Rel­ton to which, geo­graph­i­cal­ly at least, it belonged. But, unlike the Fru­men­ty, unlike even the Ten Dancers or the Blue Lion at Sil­bridge, the Lord Rel­ton belonged nowhere; it would have been just as much at home in any oth­er place in Eng­land. It even smelled liked nowhere; it had a smell he’d nev­er encoun­tered any­where else, undoubt­ed­ly clean, and even anti­sep­tic, but also dis­turbing­ly sen­su­al, like the flesh of a woman who takes all the deodor­ants the adver­tise­ments rec­om­mend.

Pubs in gen­er­al are pre­sent­ed as a kind of erot­ic play­ground, all flir­ta­tious bar­maids and “goers” – frus­trat­ed wives, lone­ly war wid­ows and oth­er women no bet­ter than they should be. It’s no won­der, then, that the (angry) young men in the book prac­ti­cal­ly live there, talk­ing end­less­ly about sex­u­al adven­tures, ambi­tions and the rel­a­tive attrac­tions of the women they know.

A black and white image of a roadhouse type pub.
The Three Tuns at Mir­field, ‘A Famous York­shire Road­house’. SOURCE: A Sec­ond Look at Mir­field.

As for old­er peo­ple, though, Braine also gives notes on the lads’ par­ents’ drink­ing habits. Here’s a bit about the pro­tag­o­nist’s fam­i­ly:

[Dick­’s] father [pre­ferred] the Lib­er­al Club (one pint of mixed, one large Lam­b’s navy rum, every evening at nine-twen­ty pre­cise­ly, except Wednes­day and Sun­day) and his moth­er rarely touched alco­hol at all, much less vis­it­ed a pub.

(‘Mixed’ is a blend of mild-and-bit­ter.)

There’s also a sur­pris­ing amount of drink­ing at home, giv­en the idea some­times con­veyed in com­men­tary that this is a new and dis­turb­ing phe­nom­e­non threat­en­ing pubs.

Dick and his father share bot­tles of Fam­i­ly Ale after they’ve done the week­ly accounts for the shop, and Mr Cov­er­ack, Dick­’s best friend Tom’s Dad, is an expert pour­er of bot­tled Tet­ley’s Bit­ter:

He opened anoth­er bot­tle of beer and filled his glass with his usu­al com­pe­tence; none frothed over and there was exact­ly the right amount of head on it to make it imme­di­ate­ly drink­able. Tom had once com­ment­ed to Dick with some bit­ter­ness on this trait of his father’s. “My Old Man,” he said, “can do any lit­tle thing you can men­tion, from mend­ing a switch to pour­ing a glass of beer, like a pro­fes­sion­al. It’s the big things, the impor­tant things, he mess­es up.”

There is even a brief descrip­tion of a spe­cif­ic beer – quite unusu­al in fic­tion gen­er­al­ly. It’s in a pas­sage set in a pub which is fill­ing up with the evening crowd, devel­op­ing a warm atmos­phere and buzz:

The sun was set­ting now; the faces at the far side of the room glim­mered pale­ly, the faces near­est the fire were dra­mat­i­cal­ly lit in red and black, the bit­ter in the tankard of the old man at the table next to Dick­’s was changed from straw-yel­low to near-amber sown with glit­ter­ing specks of gold; when the girl, bring­ing in Tom’s round, switched on the light there was an ele­ment of annoy­ance in the glances direct­ed for a split-sec­ond towards her; the tran­si­tion from an atmos­phere as cosy as a Vic­to­ri­an bal­lad had been too abrupt and the room seemed, dur­ing that tran­si­tion, drab and mean.

Straw-yel­low is inter­est­ing with the his­to­ry of north­ern beer in mind but this pas­sage is also a reminder of the impor­tance of light in both the mood of a pub and the appear­ance of any giv­en beer.

We won’t go through every pint, bot­tle and saloon bar in the book, but take our word for it, there are plen­ty – fur­ther evi­dence that acknowl­edg­ing the pubs exis­tence of pubs was a key fac­tor in giv­ing post-war British fic­tion its sense of star­tling real­ism.

For more on inter-war pubs, road­hous­es and the post-war response to them, check out our book 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.

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.