Categories
breweries

Stolen stingo and slops in the mild: memories of Mortlake

Back in 2019 we wrote about Watney’s Red Barrel. Finding that post, Colin Prower has written to us with some of his memories of the brewery.

In the very early 1960s I did school and college holiday jobs in various departments of Watney’s Mortlake brewery, including on the Red Barrel production line.

Workers were given a freebie of a pin of Mild in the mess room but preferred to cause casks of Red Barrel to ‘fall off the line’ and drink it in vast quantities throughout shifts.

It didn’t strike me as too bad either! I gather the earlier recipe was better than later.

I also worked in the department to which pub-returned barrels were emptied into a tank for incorporation into Watney’s Mild only. No wonder the workers rejected that!

Most of the beer range at the time was produced by traditional methods. I particularly remember the maturing cellar for hogsheads of Stingo being positively Dickensian – and staffed by characters from his books.

Security there was tight but with a knowing knock at the door, men with bottles down their trouser legs and lengths of rubber tubing would be admitted and allowed to syphon off Stingo.

Happy days!

The above was lightly edited for clarity and consistency. The photo shows security staff at Mortlake and comes from The Red Barrel magazine for August 1961.

Categories
20th Century Pub beer in fiction / tv london pubs

Lose Bunny Lake, find a pub

The 1965 psychological thriller Bunny Lake is Missing was set in London and, of course, features a scene set in a pub – The Warrington Hotel, Maida Vale.

Bunny Lake was a flop on its original release, and an obscurity for decades. Now, like many lesser-known films of the period, it’s been beautifully restored and released on Blu-ray.

That gives us an opportunity not only to see the pub as it looked almost 60 years ago but also to freeze the frame, zoom and enhance, to see what details we can pick up.

First, a disclaimer: this is a real pub, not a studio set – there are enough clues to be sure of that. But, of course, it is filled with studio extras, not real drinkers, or so we assume.

That means some of what we see is sort of real, and some sort of isn’t – although the film is intended to feel real rather than presenting that romantic fantasy version of London so often seen in American productions.

In fact, Laurence Olivier, as Superintendent Newhouse, makes that point very well, in dialogue written by novelists Penelope Mortimer and John Mortimer:

“Ever been in a pub before? Here it is, the heart of Merrie Olde England. Complete with dirty glasses, watery beer, draughts under the doors, and a 23-inch television.”

Oh, yes – the television. A novelty in pubs in the 1950s, by 1965, it’s a fixture – almost the centrepiece, in fact, front and centre above the bar. It shows the news first, then a performance by The Zombies. Middle-aged and elderly drinkers seem transfixed by it.

A pub television.

Never mind the TV, you’re probably thinking – what about those bottles beneath it.

In this shot, and others, we’ve got:

  • Babycham
  • Courage Brown Ale
  • Worthington Pale Ale
  • Guinness
  • and some others we don’t recognise, but you might

There’s also some very prominent point-of-sale material for SKOL lager.

Bottled beers

What about draught beer? There’s a very obvious Courage Tavern Keg Bitter font in several shots, a draught Guinness font, and a single lonely cask ale pump-clip advertising Flowers.

Tavern Keg Bitter
Guinness
Flowers

That last one is a bit confusing because Flowers was a Whitbread brand by 1961 and this pub was definitely a Barclays (Courage) pub. Perhaps this is a bit of set dressing by a production designer who – can you believe it? – didn’t especially care about brewery ownership.

There’s also some background detail for students of pub grub to enjoy. Jars of pickles. Boiled eggs. Pies. Miserable sandwiches. And a full but unconvincing steak, seafood and oyster menu.

Pickles
Sandwiches
Full dining menu

What’s also clear is that this was a handsome building. Green and White’s The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs from 1973 says:

A dominant building at the north end of Warrington Crescent… the Warrington is a glowing example of faded splendour, possibly due to the fact that it has never really been taken up by the Maida Vale elite. It has one of the most imposing pub entrances in London, with its own ornate lamp-standards and a coy lady holding a torch in a niche on your right as you go in. Fascinating interior with some art nouveau stained glass, only slightly marred by some more recent murals, a salmon-pink ceiling hung with chandeliers, and a crescent-shaped bar with a brass footrail. Probably the best example of an Edwardian pub in London.

The exterior of the Warrington
Painted sign on the door: LOUNGE
Art Nouveau windows

Apparently, it’s still worth a visit. Next time we’re in London, plagues and regulations permitting, we’ll try to pop in for a sad sandwich and a bottle of brown ale.

Categories
marketing pubs

FAQ: Which brands would have been on sale in a 1960s pub?

“Which brands would have been available in an ordinary English pub of the 1950s or 1960s, including spirits and wines?” – paraphrased from correspondence

To answer this, let’s pick a year; and let’s make that year 1965 because we’ve got a good reference to hand: James H. Coombs’ Bar Service: careers behind the bar – volume one.

We’ve written about this little volume before. First, there was a post about its advice on beer. Then there was a companion piece with some nuggets on pub life.

The bit we’re going to look at today, though, is arguably the most boring section in which Mr Coombs provides a long list of the types and variety of booze a good pub ought to carry.

Here’s the raw information from those, oof, twelve chapters. We’ve only included items where a brand name was mentioned, plus a couple of example of beers where ‘brewery’s own’ would be the brand.

Bottled beersBrand
Pale ale (light ale)Brewery’s own
Brown aleBrewery’s own
Double DiamondInd Coope
John Courage (JC)Courage
Red BarrelWatney Mann
Ben Truman (Ben)Truman
Barley WineBrewery’s own
IPAWorthington
Colne Spring AleBenskins (Ind Coope)
White Shield (natural beer’)Worthington
Bass (Red Shield – ‘natural beer’)Bass
Green Shield (pasteurised)Worthington
Bass (Blue Triangle – pasteurised)Bass
LagerCarlsberg
LagerTuborg
LagerHolston
LagerLöwenbräu
LagerOranjeboom
LagerHeineken
SKOLInd Coope
Black LabelCarling
GuinnessHarp
Mackeson (milk stout)Mackeson (Whitbread)
Guinness Extra StoutGuinness
Russian StoutBarclay’s (Courage)
Draught beers (cask)Brand
Mild ale (XX)Brewery’s own
BitterBrewery’s own
BassBass
EWorthington
Draught beers (keg)Brand
Red BarrelWatney Mann
Red HandInd Coope
TobyCharrington
FlowersFlowers (Whitbread)
TankardWhitbread
TavernCourage
BassBass
EWorthington
CiderBrand
Apple Vintage WineMerrydown
Babycham (sweet)Showerings
Babycham (dry)Showerings
Baby BubblyGoldwell
Pink LadyGoldwell
Soft drinks and mixersBrand
Coca-ColaCoca-Cola
Pepsi-ColaPepsi
7-Up7-Up
Perrier WaterPerrier
Vichy WaterVarious
Apollinaris (water)Apollinaris
Hunyadi-Janos (water)n/a
Contrexeville (water)Perrier
Evian (water)Evian
Malvern (water)Schweppes
Buxton (water)Buxton Mineral Water Co.
Springwell (water)n/a
WinesBrand
Tio Pepe (sherry)González Byass
Dry Fly (sherry)Imported by Findlater Mackie Todd
Double Century (sherry)Pedro Domecq
Celebration Cream (sherry)Pedro Domecq
Bristol Cream (sherry)Harvey’s
Bristol Milk (sherry)Harvey’s
Bristol Dry (sherry)Harvey’s
Various sherriesWiliams and Humbert
Carlito (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Dry Sack (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Canasta Cream (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Walnut Brown (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Various sherriesVarela
PortCroft, Dow, Fonseca, Cockburn, Sandeman, Warre, Rebello Valente, Taylor, etc.
Porto BrancoSandeman’s
ChampagneAyala, Bollinger, Clicquot, Goulet, Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Moet, etc.
Ginger WineStone’s
VermouthMartini
VermouthNoilly Prat
VermouthCinzano
SpiritsBrand
“Straw-tinted” ginBooth’s
Gin (Geneva)Holland’s
GinPlymouth
London Dry GinSquires
London Dry GinCornhill
Fruit cupPimm’s
Caroni RumTate & Lyle
Lemon Hart RumUnited Rum Merchants
Lamb’s Navy RumUnited Rum Merchants
Daiquiri RumUnited Rum Merchants
Ron BacardiBacardi
Various brandiesMartell, Hennessy, Otard, Courvoisier, Remy Martin, etc.
Bitters and aperitifsBrand
BittersAngostura
BittersUnderberg
Fernet-BrancaFratelli Branca
DubonnetDubonnet
Pernod 45Pernod
AmerPicon

Now, clearly, you wouldn’t find all of these in every pub but, per the original query, if you included these brands as dressing for a film set in 1965, they’d probably look appropriate.

So, that’s the boring list. What about other, sexier sources? Advertising from the period, for example…

Stone's Green Ginger Wine
SOURCE: Brewery Manual 1966.
Hi! Heineken.
SOURCE: Brewery Manual 1966.
Varela sherry
SOURCE: Brewery Manual 1966.

…or beer mats…

A selection of beer mats from around the 1960s.
Some beer mats from our collection from the 1960s and 70s.

… or old photos.

The bar of a pub.
The Crown Hotel, Hadleigh, 1965. SOURCE: Hadleigh and Thundersleigh Community Archive.

In the above pic, also from 1965, we can’t make out many brands but we’ve definitely got Watney’s Red Barrel, Double Diamond and something not on Mr Coombs’s list, Tia Maria.

Categories
20th Century Pub london pubs

Watney’s Birds Nest pubs: go-go girls and truncheons on the dancefloor

In 1968, the giant brewing firm Watney Mann attempted to lure young people back to pubs with a brand new concept, the ‘Birds Nest’, which turned ordinary boozers into swinging discotheques. And for a while, it worked.

First, some context: in the post-war period, brewers were struggling to make money from pubs and were desperate to make them relevant to a new generation of drinkers.

In the 1950s, they started with smart new buildings with modern decor; then they moved on to novelty theme pubs; and finally, in the late 1960s, along came concepts like the Chelsea Drugstore.

You can read more about the Drugstore in 20th Century Pub (copies available from us) but, in brief, it was Bass Charrington’s imaginative bid to reinvent the pub at what was then the heart of trendy London, the King’s Road.

With space age fixtures and fittings in gleaming metal, it combined shops, cafes and bars in one place and is perhaps best-known as one of the locations for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 sci-fi film A Clockwork Orange.

The Drugstore opened in July 1968; Watney Mann launched its first Birds Nest in Twickenham in February that year, a low-risk location for an experiment.

They renamed The King’s Head, an almost brutalist post-war booze bunker at 2 King Street, installing a state-of-the-art steel dance-floor, light-show projectors and a high-end sound system.

They also installed an in-pub telephone network so that if you saw someone you liked the look of, you could dial their table and have a chat across the room.

It was an immediate success, at least according to contemporary press, such as this report from the Kensington Post from 17 January 1969:

[The] Twickenham Birds Nest has become the “in” inn for young people from all over southern England, would you believe? And packed every night, would you also believe? This came about largely through the ‘rave’ buzz getting around among 18-25 year-olds – inspired by the fun experienced there by early young customers – that ‘The Birds Nest’ scene was really different. Guys and dollies were even making the trip from Chelsea to Twickenham, would you believe, so loud was the buzz of approval.

This pilot inspired Watney to launch an early example of a chain, with the second Birds Nest opening a short distance from the Chelsea Drugstore and the similarly trendy Markham Arms, taking over The Six Bells.

The Chelsea Birds Nest.

Source: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.

If Twickenham was an experiment, with a soft launch, the Chelsea branch got the full works when it came to PR with an extensive press campaign and advertising.

As part of that, we find a frank admission of one of the key points behind the concept and its name: if you went to a Birds Nest pub, there would be women to chat up. Dolly birds. Right sorts. Goers. And so on.

In fact, a headline in the Kensington Post boiled the concept right down: A PUB WITH GOOD COFFEE AND BIRDS ON THEIR OWN.

The argument was that with no cover charge, the provision of soft drinks and coffee, and the offer of simple ‘continental-style’ meals, the Birds Nest would be more appealing to young, single women – and thus, of course, to young men.

This second Birds Nest was done out to a higher spec, too. An internationally renowned interior designer, Thomas Gehrig, was imported from Munich:

His work in The Birds Nest could be said to have shades of a German Beer Garden. Here again, the perimeter of the room provides fixed seating arranged in bays to contain 6-8 people with tables and this perimeter seating is raised about 1 ft. 2 ins. above general room level. Over this fixed seating is a pitched roof supported on carved timber posts and the roof covering is cedar shingles. The bar counter is unusual in that it has no back cabinet as in a traditional pub. Use has been made of cherry wood wall panelling above the fixed seating. The dance floor (the only part of the room not carpeted) is surrounded by small tables seating two people at each. There is a supervised cloak room. (Ibid.)

Birds Nests were soon opened in old pub buildings all over London and the South East of England, from Paddington to Basingstoke, and each was launched with a press blitz.

Typically, a famous DJ or two would cut the ribbon and make an appearance in the first week – Simon Dee, Tony Blackburn, Dave Lee Travis and other names associated with the then brand new pop station BBC Radio 1.

Publicity photos from Watney Mann also bigged up the presence of “gorgeous go-go girls”, loading the clubs with models and dancers on those opening nights. When the Basingstoke branch opened, male model and choreographer Leroy Washington danced to “the latest 45s” in what amounted to a pair of Speedos. The message being, of course, that sexy times awaited you at the Birds Nest.

Not everyone welcomed this new development.

“Most of these houses are ill-lit, are painted black, have walls of black felt, and look like Wild West bunkhouses or brothels,” said one Watney’s tenant aggrieved at the move to managed houses. “They have been opened just to grab a quick fisftul of dollars from the permissive society.” (The Times, 30 January 1971.) Amazingly, he seems to have thought this description would put people off.

The other thing that made Birds Nest pubs different, and appealing, was the constant background of pop music, and especially soul – perhaps part of what prompted the antipathy towards ‘piped music’ within and around the Campaign for Real Ale? Again, from the Kensington Post for January 1969:

A super programme of recorded music is put out every evening from 7.30 until last orders. Every type of popular music will be presented including jazz and folk. On Saturdays and Sundays there will be special record programmes during lunch-time opening hours. At all times, when The Birds Nest Show programmes are not being presented, specially recorded background music will be played. The DJs, both male and female, form part of a team being trained specially for this and future Birds Nests.

It turns out that Watney’s training programme for in-house DJs was somewhat influential, for better or worse, giving James Whale his start in radio and cropping up in accounts of the birth of UK dance music.

And those at-table phones weren’t just designed for chatting up your fellow drinkers – you could also use them to call the DJ with requests, or to order a risotto from the kitchen. (Please use your phone to order from your table, via the app…)

In 1975, Watney’s went as far as launching their own Birds Nest record label. The first releases were ‘Give Yourself a Chance’ by Agnes Strange and ‘You Can Sing With the Band’ by Taragon.

Another part of the formula was the deliberate choice of young managers.

For example, Eric Robey, who ran the Basingstoke branch, was 20 and his wife, according to a report in The Stage for 18 February 1971, was “rather younger”.

WATNEY MANN have vacancies for Young married couples as MANAGERS or to train for future management of their Birds Nests

SOURCE: Coventry Evening Telegraph, 28 August 1970, via The British Newspaper Archive.

We asked an old friend, Adrian, if he remembered drinking in any of these pubs and he did, specifically the branch at 17 York Road, Waterloo, in around 1970:

The main attraction was, all the tables had phones on them, and all the tables were numbered, so if you saw somebody you fancied, you could bell them. Lots of fun. Must have made hundreds of calls but can’t remember receiving any! Saturday nights could be [rowdy] in the football season. Normal clientele, Chelsea and Millwall boot boys, could be lively when Portsmouth or Southampton fans were about. Bar and toilets downstairs, that was where the music was – mix of skinheads and rude boys; upstairs, the genesis of suedeheads.

Other accounts associate the Birds Nests with skinheads, too – a long way from the image Watney’s seemed keen to put across.

In 1972, a bouncer at the Basingstoke branch, 26-year-old Frank Stanley, was charged with assaulting Keith Baker with a truncheon, splitting open his skull. In court, he said he’d been issued with the truncheon by the management and that in his six months working the door, he’d been involved in around 150 fights: “I have been beaten up on two occasions and once we had a fight involving 20 men.” (Reading Evening Post, 6 April 1972.)

Behaviour at the Harrow branch, at a pub formerly called The Shaftesbury, prompted residents to petition to have the disco’s licence revoked in 1975. They said crowds were piling out after midnight, racing cars around Shaftesbury Circus and generally making a nuisance of themselves – especially on Monday nights. (Harrow Observer, 30 May 1975.)

In a 2012 post online, Denis Cook recalled his time DJing at the Harrow Birds Nest: “I played a variety of stuff, but it became that I started playing more Funk & Reggae, and within a short time you couldn’t get in… One day, the manager took me to one side and said he wanted me to change my music, as too many black guys were coming in. I refused and quit.”

With a growing image problem, with more ‘proper’ discos and nightclubs emerging, this corporate chain version began to feel like a relic of the swinging sixties.

So, inevitably, the Birds Nests began to pop out of existence.

The Birds Nest in Chelsea, one of the chain’s pioneers, had its disco identity toned down in a refit as early as 1971, in a bid to draw mature drinkers back. It closed in 1983 and became a ‘Henry J Beans’ bar and grill. That’s probably as good a full stop as you can ask for on a story like this.

What’s fascinating to us is that an institution can have been so prominent in the press, so ubiquitous in the culture, and then completely disappear from the collective consciousness.

But that’s pop culture for you.

This post was made possible with the support of Patreon subscribers like Mark Landells and Jason B. Standing, whose generosity helps us pay for our subscription to the British Newspaper Archive and, of course, gives us the nudge we need to spend the equivalent of a full day researching and writing.

Categories
Beer history

Complexifying Guinness, 1967

We’ve shared a few accounts of how Guinness was produced in its heyday and here’s yet another, focusing on the conditioning and packaging stage.

It comes from the spring 1967 edition of Guinness Time, the staff magazine for the London brewery at Park Royal, and picks up on a piece from winter 1966 on the brewing process proper which, unfortunately, we’ve never managed to get hold of.

Men at work.
“Albert Addison supervising our own bottling line with fitter Bill Morse looking on.”

Here’s where this piece begins:

Storage – The beer is stored in large stainless steel vats, the two largest of which can each hold a whole day’s brew, about 160,000 gallons. The beer remains in storage vat for between three and ten days and during this period a certain amount of maturation takes place…

A brewery worker looking into a vat.
“Yeast’s eye view of Bill Childs dipping a racking vat.”

The section that really grabbed our attention, because it provides specific detail about a sometimes mysterious part of the process, is entitled ‘Make-up’:

Beer cannot be despatched direct from the storage vat, for it is quite flat and tastes rather uninteresting in this state. So to form the famous Guinness head when the beer is poured and to give it life and sparkle when it is drunk, we blend in a small of amount of gyle, which is beer containing malt-sugars and yeast… but which has not been allowed to ferment. This we achieve either by using the beer immediately after declaration to the excise officer or, if we want to use it the next day, by chilling it in the storehouse…

The blending of the gyle with storage vat beer is known as the ‘make-up’ and takes place daily in the racking vat. It also affords an opportunity of blending several days’ brewings together, to even out the inevitable small differences that exist between different days’ brewings. Various other beers are added, such as barm beer from the yeast presses, which are pasteurised before the make-up.

A man checking meters.
“Senior jackman Tom McCann on duty in the sight room.”
Workers on the shop floor.
“Vatman Tom Jones couples up prior to bottoming a storage vat, with Peter McMullen looking on from the electric truck.”

That’s the bottled product; here’s the draught process:

Meanwhile, in the racking vathouse, Draught Guinness will have been made up in the same way as the Extra Stout but with a slightly lower proportion of gyle since the beer is processed rather differently. The aim of this processing is to turn the still rather unexciting racking vat beer into the attractive palatable final product, for when Draught Guinness leaves the brewery it must be in all respects ready for drinking.

After conditioning in tanks, the beer was run through a pasteuriser at 190°F (88°C) before being put into specially designed casks (kegs).

That’s fascinating for two reasons.

First, there’s an acknowledgement that without blending with mature beer, Guinness was a bit boring.

Secondly, Draught Guinness was, in fact, distinctly less interesting than bottled, as beer geeks always insisted.