Bits we underlined in ‘They’re Open!’, 1950

Every time we think we’ve at least heard of every substantial book about beer or pubs, a new-to-us specimen pops up. This weekend, we came across They’re Open! by Ronald Wilkinson and Roger Frisby, with illustrations by Neville Main, from 1950.

It’s fluff, real­ly – the kind of thing the chaps at the golf club would buy for anoth­er chap known to like the odd pint of bit­ter on the occa­sion of his birth­day. Still, it’s a reveal­ing time cap­sule, as throw­aways often are.

The gim­mick, as with T.E.B. Clarke’s What’s Yours? from 12 years ear­li­er, is that the book claims to be a man­u­al for those keen to learn the mys­te­ri­ous ways of the pub:

The stu­dent should on no account embark upon the the­o­ry of Seri­ous Drink­ing with­out first paus­ing to con­sid­er cer­tain fun­da­men­tal con­cepts and gen­er­al prin­ci­ples… It should be clear­ly under­stood from the out­set that the sub­ject must not be approached in a light or friv­o­lous vein…

Anoth­er sec­tion from the intro­duc­tion is prob­a­bly meant to be a joke but it’s hard to tell from this side of the real ale rev­o­lu­tion, when we’re used to this kind of thing being uttered in earnest:

It may strike the scep­tic as odd that the word ‘seri­ous’ is applied in this con­text. How­ev­er, the word is not cho­sen at ran­dom. It is, in fact, the key­stone of the whole arch of Alco­hol­o­gy. For the Seri­ous Drinker drinks not to be socia­ble; nei­ther does he drink to drown his sor­rows, nor for want of any­thing bet­ter to do. Above all, it can­not be too strong­ly impressed upon the stu­dent that drunk­en­ness in any shape or form must nev­er be the aim, nor indeed must it be the con­comi­tant of Seri­ous Drink­ing. The Seri­ous Drinker drinks on a ratio­nal basis. He drinks for no oth­er rea­son that that he likes drink­ing. One would nev­er ask a stamp-col­lec­tor why he is seri­ous about col­lect­ing stamps…

This intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion also sets out the book’s stall on the issue of women and beer:

In all the authors’ expe­ri­ence, they have nev­er encoun­tered a woman who held forth even the remotest promise of suc­cess­ful devel­op­ment into a Seri­ous Drinker. Her very make-up pre­vents it. Charm­ing, lov­able, fas­ci­nat­ing as women may seem, all attempts on their parts to become Seri­ous Drinkers have so far been but emp­ty threats.

(That’s me told. – Jess.)

Bottled beer.

There’s dis­ap­point­ing­ly lit­tle about beer in the book, of course, beyond a warn­ing against for­eign beer, where for­eign has the broad­est pos­si­ble def­i­n­i­tion: “For the Seri­ous Drinker is a drinker of beer, and beer is only to be found in Eng­land.”

There is a chap­ter on what to wear in the pub: thick-soled shoes to raise you above the saw­dust, with beer-coloured uppers to con­ceal stains; and drink­ing trousers with expand­ing waist­line and a deep left-hand pock­et for change.

The bit that real­ly grabbed our atten­tion, with 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub still ring­ing in our brains, is an attempt to clas­si­fy dif­fer­ent types of pub:

The Road­house… Con­struc­tion in con­crete… Design fre­quent­ly of the pseu­do-Tudor or bogus-rus­tic…

The Amer­i­can or Cock­tail bar… Neon signs… Stools… A pletho­ra of chromi­um… Pre­pon­der­ance of women… It is dif­fi­cult to find words ade­quate to con­demn this type of abom­i­na­tion…

The Chain House… This is a large estab­lish­ment usu­al­ly of brick which sports a car-park. It is by far the least offen­sive of the non-seri­ous types of drink­ing estab­lish­ments, and at a pinch it is per­fect­ly cor­rect for the Drinker to enter it…

The Pub or Local… The is the ide­al locus biben­di for the Seri­ous Drinker. Now, the true pub is not always easy to recog­nise… it will in all prob­a­bil­i­ty be tucked away in some side-street, mews or alley…

There are then pages and pages on the sub­ject of pub doors  – the var­i­ous types, their actions, how to oper­ate their han­dles  – and then a whole lot more on where to sit once you’re inside for opti­mum effi­cien­cy. There’s a sec­tion on pos­ture, one on how to grip your glass, and on how to chat up bar­maids. All of this is more or less tedious.

A crowd in a pub.
Detail from the end­pa­per of the book.

Things pick up again with an attempt to cat­e­gorise types of drinker:

The Seri­ous Drinker…

The Soli­tary or Intro­spec­tive Drinker… unshaven… uneth­i­cal ties…

Bar­maid-Chaffing Drinker… faint­ly furtive, con­fi­den­tial­ly bom­bas­tic tone…

The Qua­si-seri­ous or Com­pet­i­tive Drinker…

The Cryp­to-seri­ous or Mis­cel­la­neous Group… This group includes inter alia, the dart-play­ers, the shove-half­pen­ny boys, the domi­no kings, the crib­bage enthu­si­asts, the bar-bil­liards men and the pin-table fiends…

The Cel­e­bra­to­ry of Extro­spec­tive Drinker… a note­wor­thy haz­ard to the Seri­ous Drinker…

The Social or Gre­gar­i­ous Drinker…

The Med­i­c­i­nal or Ther­a­peu­tic Drinker… On no account should he be engaged in con­ver­sa­tion, because this inevitably con­sists of an inter­minable rep­e­ti­tion of his mor­bid ail­ments, past and present…

The Casu­al or Inter­mit­tent Drinker… He looks at the clock between gulps and speaks in an anx­ious tone of voice…

All in all, this is a minor work, per­haps of great­est use to those with an inter­est in atti­tudes to women in pubs.

Hilltop, “a new venture in public houses”, 1959

All pic­tures and text from Guin­ness Time, Autumn 1959.

Guin­ness have, in the past four years, been priv­i­leged to take part in a project which has now result­ed in the open­ing of a new pub­lic house which, both in its phys­i­cal lay­out and in the method of its plan­ning, exhibits sev­er­al new fea­tures.”

Modern pub windows.
The exte­ri­or of Hill­top.

The new pub is called Hill­top , and is in the South End neigh­bour­hood of Hat­field New Town. It is owned and oper­at­ed by Messrs. McMul­lens of Hert­ford, and it came into being after a most unusu­al piece of co-oper­a­tion.”

A crowd around the ale garland.
“Once the ale was pro­nounced good the Ale Gar­land was hoist­ed.”

It began when we found that the Hat­field Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion had no pub­lic funds avail­able to pro­vide the meet­ing place it had planned for the new pop­u­la­tion of this rapid­ly grow­ing neigh­bour­hood. The cen­tral site which had been reserved for this com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre would remain emp­ty and the only social build­ing would be a small pub­lic house which could not be expect­ed to meet all the needs of the local­i­ty. We thought this sit­u­a­tion offered a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty for an exper­i­ment.”

1950s pubgoers.
“The busy scene in the Saloon Bar after the offi­cial open­ing.”

We approached the Cor­po­ra­tion and asked them if they would con­sid­er per­mit­ting a brew­er to pro­vide the ameni­ties they had planned to include in their com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre. They agreed. We asked Messrs. McMul­lens if they would con­sid­er expand­ing the plans of the pub­lic house they were to build in the neigh­bour­hood to pro­vide these ameni­ties, and they read­i­ly agreed.”

A bland looking modern cafe.
The cafe.
A group of families and children.
“The chil­dren, too, had free drinks (and buns) on open­ing night.”

Hill­top offers the usu­al facil­i­ties of a pub, three bars and an off-licence where alco­holic refresh­ment is avail­able dur­ing licens­ing hours. It also has an unli­censed cafe where soft drinks and light meals are served. Then there is a large hall for use as a the­atre or for danc­ing or din­ners, and three com­mit­tee rooms. All these rooms may be attached either to the licensed or unli­censed part of the build­ing… by lock­ing the nec­es­sary doors. In addi­tion­al the Hert­ford­shire Health Author­i­ties have two rooms allot­ted to them in which they run a local Health Clin­ic.”

Cool looking young men with guitars and cowboy hats.
“A local skif­fle group enter­tains cus­tomers on open­ing night.”

Notes: Hill­top was designed by Lionel Brett, opened on 11 August 1959, and is still trad­ing as a pub under McMul­len’s, albeit renamed The Har­ri­er. Here’s how it looks today:

GALLERY: Guinness Time in the 1950s – design of the times

The set of Guinness papers we’ve been sorting through for their owner includes a fairly complete two-decade run of Guinness Time, the in-house magazine for the brewery at Park Royal.

While the con­tents is on the whole fair­ly dull (egg and spoon races, meet the toi­let atten­dants, and so on) the cov­ers are works of art, redo­lent of the peri­ods in which they were pro­duced.

Those pre­sent­ed below are all from the 1950s and so there are a cou­ple of ref­er­ences to TV, the hot trend of the day.

Guinness Time Summer 1956 -- a topiary seal.
Sum­mer 1956. Illus­tra­tor: Tom Eck­er­s­ley.
A man uses a giant bottle of Guinness as a telescope.
Autumn 1956. Illus­tra­tor: John Gilroy.

Con­tin­ue read­ingGALLERY: Guin­ness Time in the 1950s – design of the times”

Ted Ray on Pubs: Wet Bars, Sodden Jackets, Dry Throats

My Turn Next, published in 1963, is an unreliable memoir of the life of a variety comedian viewed through the bottom of a beer glass.

Ted Ray was born as Charles Old­en in Wigan, Lan­cashire, in 1905, but was brought up in Liv­er­pool. His father was a come­di­an, also called Charles Old­en, and Ray entered the fam­i­ly busi­ness in 1927. He was per­form­ing in Lon­don by 1930 and by 1949 was a big enough name to have his own radio show, Ray’s a Laugh, which ran until 1961.

Like many come­di­ans of this era, Ray has all but dis­ap­peared from the pub­lic con­scious­ness, though the BBC run occa­sion­al repeats of the radio shows on 4 Extra. Here’s a snip­pet of him in per­for­mance, giv­ing what we gath­er was his trade­mark vio­lin schtick:

The book con­veys a sense of whim­sy, the gift of the gab, drift­ing here and there into Wode­hou­sian wit. We think it’s sup­posed to be obvi­ous that the bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion is false or exag­ger­at­ed, and there’s cer­tain­ly no men­tion of Aunt Lucy in any of the oth­er sources we’ve seen:

I lived with Aunt Lucy because my father and moth­er could­n’t stand chil­dren. I near­ly said moth­er could­n’t bear chil­dren, but that would­n’t be true because she had six before she realised she did­n’t like them. Some of the oth­ers lived in oth­er parts of the coun­try, and I did­n’t see them again. They were con­stant­ly in my mind, how­ev­er, and I won­dered if their pub door­ways were as draughty as mine.

And with that bit of dark humour (ha ha, child neglect!) we get to what drew us to this book: its focus on beer and pubs. Ray’s Wikipedia entry refers to “golf­ing and alco­hol, two of his pas­sions” and My Turn Next cer­tain­ly con­veys his inter­est in the lat­ter.

For a throw­away book, per­haps designed to give Dad for Christ­mas, the writ­ing about booze is star­tling­ly evoca­tive, almost intox­i­cat­ing in its own right. He has a par­tic­u­lar tal­ent for con­vey­ing the phys­i­cal aspect of beer – it spills, it gets you wet, it stains your clothes, infus­es your kiss­es.

Uncle Reuben
One of the many George Houghton illus­tra­tions from the book.

Ear­ly in the book Ray describes learn­ing about pubs from Aunt Lucy’s hus­band:

My Uncle Reuben was a mag­nif­i­cent drinker. He would remain per­pen­dic­u­lar from open­ing time until just before he was slung out three min­utes after they closed. His left elbow on the wet counter, his feet in the saw­dust, he would shift twen­ty-five or thir­ty pints with­out a stag­ger… My Aunt Lucy did­n’t drink and I nev­er told her where Uncle Reuben spent his time when he was sup­posed to be tak­ing me for a walk. Some walk. I was left in the pub door­way with an out­size bis­cuit while Uncle joined the oth­er Sons of Suc­tion in “The Grapes”.

Sons of Suc­tion! Mar­vel­lous.

He goes on to tell the unlike­ly sto­ry of how he, after Uncle Reuben’s death, kept return­ing to the pub out of habit, like an aban­doned dog, before final­ly pluck­ing up the nerve to enter:

I remem­ber forc­ing my way past a very smelly cor­net play­er, attempt­ing a liq­uid ver­sion of ‘Nir­vana’. The bell of his green and gold instru­ment was squashed – prob­a­bly as a result of push­ing it too far into the pub as some­body slammed the door… I entered the bar and stopped. The smoke was deep pur­ple and the per­spir­ing peo­ple all seemed to be talk­ing at once.

Sweat, smells, beer-soaked whiskers every­where.

Two men at a pub bar.
By George Houghton.

It’s hard to tell with­out foren­sic study whether the beer-based gags Ray rolls out were hack­neyed when he used them or if he orig­i­nat­ed some or all of them. Suf­fice to say the sto­ry of his first pint of beer elic­its a roll of the eyes in 2018:

Slow­ly I raised the glass to my lips. My palate revolt­ed at the earthy bit­ter­ness. But it went down, and I kept on suck­ing until I saw through the bot­tom of the glass. I put the glass down, filled my lungs again, and returned the Major’s stare.

Well, my boy?” he wheezed. “How’s that?”

Hor­ri­ble,” I said. “Can I have anoth­er?”

Which brings us to anoth­er nugget that grabbed our atten­tion: the ubiq­ui­ty of The Major. The ear­li­est ver­sion of this bit of pub wis­dom we know is from T.E.B. Clarke’s 1938 book What’s Yours? but Ray attrib­ut­es it to fel­low come­di­an (and famous mous­tache wear­er) Jim­my Edwards:

Jim­my Edwards has a the­o­ry that you can walk into any pub in Britain and say “Has the Major been in?” and the bar­tender will say “yes” or “no”. In oth­er words Jim­my believes that there is at least one Major to every pub.

With a friend I tried this out. We entered a pub in Finch­ley and inquired of the chap behind the bar if he had recent­ly seen the ‘Major’. The man gave me a blank look. “Major?” he replied. “I don’t know no rud­dy major.”

I was dis­ap­point­ed, but five min­utes lat­er the bar­man reap­peared with the lounge bar­man.

Here,” he said, “Char­lie knows the Major. He’ll tell you.”

Ray’s descrip­tions of the sad, des­per­ate char­ac­ters who hung around the­atri­cal pubs cadg­ing free drinks, booz­ing them­selves to death, are played both for laughs and sen­ti­ment:

There were times when Cyril found him­self short of cash, and some­times the land­lords of the pubs he fre­quent­ed had to close cred­it. But if noth­ing else, he was resource­ful. Once he went into the Gents, removed the light bulb from the its sock­et, insert­ed a half­pen­ny, and replaced the bulb. The first per­son to switch on the light pro­duced a short cir­cuit and plunged the whole house into dark­ness. It was the eas­i­est thing for Cyril to grope a bit and gob­ble up some­ones else’s pint.

Prob­a­bly the most quotable chunk of the book comes when Ray attempts to sum up the char­ac­ter of the British pub by giv­ing a bril­liant­ly spe­cif­ic descrip­tion in lieu of vague gen­er­al­is­ing:

Every pub, I mean when they’re com­fort­ably full, has nine men in suits, or sports jack­ets – six are bald, but they all keep their heads cov­ered; and ten woman – eight fair­ly home­ly, two rav­ish­ing.

There’s near­ly always an old man in a long over­coat, a cloth cap, and a cig­a­rette (near­ly all ash) that nev­er leaves his mouth, even when he coughs. His name is Bert and he can get you any­thing. Then there are two men in tril­bies and rain­coats who look like TV detec­tives, and are detec­tives.

Often you’ll find a rad­dled bejew­elled blonde who says she used to be an actress. She car­ries a snif­fling pekinese that must be kept away from a black tom­cat sleep­ing at the end of the bar…

Most reg­u­lars sup­port the bar as if they are afraid it will fall down. They like to be near the drink source. Oth­er cus­tomers shout their order over “the front line”, pass cash, and take ale as it is hand­ed over, like water buck­ets at a fire.

Counter drinkers are eas­i­ly spot­ted. The shoul­ders of their jack­ets are yel­low from drip­ping of beer on the over­head route.

Is all this per­haps a joke at the expense of Mass Obser­va­tion? Maybe.

There’s lots more to dig out but we can’t quote the whole book. Let’s just have one more line, though:

The best descrip­tion I know of an Eng­lish pub is a place where you get wet change.

How’s that for pithy?

Bristol and the Berni Inns

The Berni Inn chain is fascinating for various reasons, not least because it originated here in Bristol.

This is some­thing that only real­ly dawned on us recent­ly as, tak­ing an inter­est in the his­to­ry of Bris­tol pubs as we do, we kept com­ing across ref­er­ences to Berni Inns in old guide­books and local his­to­ries:

HOLE IN THE WALL
Free House *** F
Queen Square
A Berni Inn, but don’t be putt off. Just make for the back bar, The Tav­ern Pub­lic. Here find beau­ti­ful­ly served Wad­worth 6X (yes, in a Berni) and Wor­thing­ton E in peak con­di­tion – both on hand­pumps. Sand­wich­es at rea­son­able prices also avail­able. Quite small friend­ly bar with com­fort­able seats, thick car­pet and jovial old locals.

Inso­far as we were much aware of Berni Inns at all, this kind of thing was not what we had imag­ined. For decades they were the punch­line to jokes about the tack­i­ness of aspi­ra­tional lifestyles in post-war Britain, famous for bring­ing prawn cock­tail and black for­est gateau to the mass­es. For exam­ple, here’s a song from Vic­to­ria Wood’s 2011 musi­cal That Day We Sang which hits all the famil­iar ref­er­ences:

There are no short­age of arti­cles sum­maris­ing the his­to­ry of the Berni Inn chain but – this one by Bris­tol-based writer Eugene Byrne is good, for exam­ple. The sto­ry is also cov­ered, with some love­ly archive footage, in this 2015 edi­tion of the BBC’s Timeshift.

To save you a click, though, here’s a pre­cis, based on Mr Byrne’s piece, the obit­u­ar­ies of Aldo and Frank Berni in the Guardian for 17/10/1997 and 01/08/2000 respec­tive­ly, and var­i­ous oth­er sources.

Frank Berni was born in Bar­di near Par­ma in Italy in 1903. He was brought up pri­mar­i­ly by his moth­er because his father was abroad in South Wales run­ning tem­per­ance bars. When he came of age, Frank joined his father in the fam­i­ly busi­ness in the UK. He was soon joined by his broth­ers, Aldo, born 1909, and Car­lo.

Frank and Aldo Berni.
Frank and Aldo Berni from Hotel and Cater­ing Review, March 1968, via Face­book.

In 1929, Aldo and Frank used a £300 inher­i­tance from their moth­er to buy a cafe in High Street, Exeter, which was suc­cess­ful enough to fund expan­sion into Ply­mouth and Bris­tol.

Dur­ing World War II Frank and Car­lo were interned as ‘ene­my aliens’ while Aldo, who had a British pass­port, was at first called up, and then assigned to Home Front work because of his poor health.

After World War II Frank and Aldo acquired Hort’s, an upmar­ket cock­tail bar and restau­rant in Bris­tol. Tom Jaine sug­gests in his obit­u­ary of Frank Berni that they might have got the mon­ey to fund this bold move from repa­ra­tion pay­ments for Blitz dam­age to their pre-war prop­er­ties which just hap­pened to be in the most heav­i­ly bombed cities in the West Coun­try.

Like motel entre­pre­neur Gra­ham Lyon the Ber­nis sensed that there were inter­est­ing things going on in Amer­i­ca that British peo­ple, exhaust­ed and bored by wartime aus­ter­i­ty, might be ready to wel­come.

Frank Berni vis­it­ed the US in the ear­ly 1950s and came away inspired by Amer­i­can steak bars which made mon­ey by care­ful­ly con­trol­ling mar­gins while main­tain­ing the appear­ance of gen­eros­i­ty and good val­ue. He was also impressed by the con­sis­ten­cy of chain restau­rants which were capa­ble of serv­ing iden­ti­cal steak meals in iden­ti­cal sur­round­ings any­where in the US.

When meat rationing end­ed in Britain in 1954, they pounced, tak­ing on The Rum­mer, a his­toric pub in cen­tral Bris­tol.

Berni Inns logo, 1964.

In a short essay for The 60s in Bris­tol (ed. James Belsey, 1989) Mary Ack­land offers some details we’ve not come across else­where:

The Rum­mer is a rab­bit war­ren of a place with cel­lar bars and rooms large and small as well as a his­to­ry as an inn which dates back to the 13th cen­tu­ry. They called in a clever design­er, Alex Waugh, who cre­at­ed sev­er­al restau­rants and bars under one roof and cul­ti­vat­ed an olde worlde, lived-in, almost shab­by look. No-one need feel out of place in this atmos­phere! Alex Waugh made a famous remark to the Ber­nis when he arrived. “If you’ve got cob­webs, keep ’em. If you haven’t, I’ll make you some.” Now that was very clever for 1955.

The Rum­mer was the pro­toype”, she writes; “The Rev­o­lu­tion quick­ly fol­lowed.” There were nine Berni Inns in Bris­tol by 1964, clus­tered around the city cen­tre.

The Berni Inn mod­el seemed to answer a need for acces­si­ble lux­u­ry. On the one hand, steak and wine felt sophis­ti­cat­ed and posh British peo­ple brought up on fish’n’chips and brown ale. On the oth­er hand, every­thing about The Rum­mer was designed to make eat­ing out unin­tim­i­dat­ing.

The Rummer, 2018.

For starters, the fact that they her­mit-crabbed their way into pubs, retained a pub-like char­ac­ter, and called them­selves Inns, gave peo­ple some­thing to latch on to. (See also: gas­trop­ubs.)

Then there was what Mar­tin Wain­wright called “the cru­cial role played by chips as a bridge between tra­di­tion­al fare and the glam­orous… world of sir­loin and black for­est gateau”.  (Even if they did call them ‘chipped pota­toes’ on the menu.)

Final­ly, there was the sim­plic­i­ty of the offer as sum­marised by Mary Ack­land:

The broth­ers planned down to the last detail. They were deter­mined that every last wor­ry about eat­ing out would be removed… The fixed-price, lim­it­ed item menu ensured that cus­tomers knew exact­ly how much they would be pay­ing. The wine list was cut to just 16 names, eight red, six white and two rosé.

The lim­it­ed menu was­n’t only easy for cus­tomers, it also meant that the kitchens could be run with min­i­mal equip­ment by inter­change­able staff using a metic­u­lous man­u­al.

A menu.
SOURCE: Ron­nie Hughes/A Sense of Place.

The chain went nation­wide until there were 147 branch­es all over the coun­try, all fol­low­ing the same for­mu­la. Frank and Aldo sold up to Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan in 1970. The chain con­tin­ued to oper­ate until the 1990s when Whit­bread bought 115 Berni Inns and, decid­ing that the brand was effec­tive­ly dead, turned half of them into Beefeaters.

Know­ing a bit about the Berni­fi­ca­tion of Bris­tol helps makes sense of the 21st cen­tu­ry pub scene in the city. Many of those famous, his­toric, poten­tial­ly bril­liant pubs are appar­ent­ly still recov­er­ing from their long stretch­es as part of a food-focused chain. We don’t think we’ve ever heard any­one rec­om­mend The Rum­mer or The Hole in the Wall, and the Llan­doger Trow, though it has its charms, is essen­tial­ly the bar and break­fast lounge for a Pre­mier Inn.

It goes with­out say­ing that we’d like to hear your mem­o­ries of Berni Inns but espe­cial­ly the extent to which you recall them feel­ing like pubs, or oth­er­wise.

Read­ing the descrip­tions of plush fur­ni­ture, wood­en tables, and chips with every­thing, we can’t help but won­der if most pubs aren’t Berni­fied in 2018.

Main image, top: a detail from an adver­tise­ment for Berni Inns in Bris­tol on the back of the pro­gramme for the Bris­tol 600 Exhi­bi­tion pub­lished in 1973.