20th Century Pub pubs

When did video games appear in pubs – and where did they go?

In the 1970s and 80s pubs added video game arcade machines to their roster of attractions, in pursuit of younger customers and additional revenue.

We sort of knew this but had forgotten it. We both recall seeing arcade machines in unusual places when we were kids – Chase HQ at the swimming pool, Space Invaders at the chip shop.

And, yes, we must have seen them in pubs here and there, perhaps glimpsed through cracks in the door as we sat on steps with Panda Pops, or ran around beer gardens.

What brought this memory back with a rush was this clip from 1983 via the excellent BBC Archive, From 23 seconds.

It shows office worker Chris Carter spending his lunch break playing Mr Do! in a very normal looking Truman’s pub, presumably in London. Next to the arcade game there’s a gambling machine, a cigarette machine, and a payphone – coin-op corner!

One detail we get about the business model is that the machines in this pub were changed once a month so that there would always be a new game, with novelty value, for people to play.

The questions the video prompted in our minds were when did video games first start appearing in pubs – and where did they go? Because you rarely see them these days, except as retro novelties.

Pong, 1972, running in an emulator.

1973: Pong in the pub

It seems to be accepted generally that the first commercially successful video game was Pong, a basic tennis simulator released to the market by Atari in 1972.

It was actually designed with pubs – or, rather, being American, bars – in mind. The first prototype was tested at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, which seems to have been a restaurant-bar with something of an English pub theme. (Further research required.)

It didn’t take long for real British pubs to start installing Pong-style video game cabinets. In August 1973 Ros Dunn reported for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner that Trevor Haigh, manager of The Albion in New Street, wanted to start a ping-pong pub league “using the new computer machines just coming in”:

They look like small television sets. The two small bars on the screen (the bats) are controlled by two knobs below it. A white dot (the ball) is bounced across the set by moving the bar up to meet it… Mr Haigh believes computer ping-pong wil be just as popular as the more traditional pub sports – darts, dominoes and cards.

Haigh reckoned he had about a dozen keen players even though his machine (a Pong knockoff called Space Ball, from Nutting Associates) had only been installed for a couple of weeks. That means we can pinpoint its arrival to around July 1973.

In December 1973 a firm called Dormer Projects Limited was advertising its “TV Tennis Non-Gaming” machines in newspapers and boasting that they were installed in “over 5,000 pub and club sites throughout the UK”. They were supposedly taking up to £80 per week on each site (pinches of salt required) and cost £650 plus VAT – just shy of £7,000 in today’s money.

In April 1974 a promoter called Len Bruce was trying to get a national Pub Olympics off the ground, in collaboration with a firm based in Morecambe that was producing 30 video game machines a week, and had sold about 500 to pubs up and down the UK. (Does anyone know which company this might have been?)

Most histories of video games, however, report a collapse in the market from about 1974 onwards. Once you’d done Pong, then Pong Doubles (1973) with two paddles per side, then Quadra Pong (1974) with a four-sided court, the novelty began to wear off.

Firms continued to advertise video games to pubs throughout the late 1970s but there were also reports that highlighted the extent to which the first wave of the craze was over. Like this from the Southall Gazette from July 1978:

Pub football and tennis machines fluctuate in popularity, enjoying seasonal success rather like rugby and soccer… Although there are no hard and fast seasons, their popularity can be gauged by the takings or rather the lack of them… The prospect of vidfeo machines lying redundant, naturally enough, causes concerns among the owners of these large and costly boxes of electronic tricks…

More from the BBC Archive including a Space Invaders cocktail table.

1979: Invasion of the Space Invaders

Space Invaders was released by Taito in Japan in 1978 and took a while to make it to UK pubs.

In June 1979 the Liverpool Echo reported that it was on its way, accompanying its report with stories of a wave of juvenile delinquency the game had supposedly unleashed in Japan. (More on this shortly.)

Then, in December 1979, the Liverpool Daily Post published a snarky column by John Williams with the headline “…to boldly bleep where no man can drink in peace any more”:

[The] bar had been equipped with a built-in migraine… This emanated from the lead-booted feet of creatures from outer space and became louder and louder as they neutralised the exploding missiles fired by Earthlings feeding 10p pieces into the Space Invaders machine… The object of the game, apparently, is to save humanity. But it’s too late, at least for our pubs. They have been taken over by the new age of the machine… In [one] pub I counted one video game, two juke boxes, a pin-ball game and two Bandits. Just imagine the whooping, hollering, bleeping, banging, rattling and wheezing when they are all operated simultaneously… At a time when CAMRA is trying to recapture the good old flavour of real ale, everyone else seems hard at work turning pubs into amusement arcades.

As it happens, CAMRA was on the case. An edition of its short-lived print magazine What’s Brewing (not to be confused with the monthly member newspaper) from summer 1980 had a feature by Mike Chapple called ‘Bar Invasion’:

Rick Zaple, CAMRA’s regional organiser for the West Midlands, tabled a motion at the Campaign’s recent Annual General Meeting to place curbs on the offending aliens… “The objection was not against the machines themselves,” says 27-year-old Rick. “It’s just the noise that they create.”… Understandably Rick maintains that Space Invaders, together with other such electronic gadgetry as juke boxes and fruit machines, tend to disturb drinkers out for a quiet pint and a chat… “Rather than banning the machines, there should be more stringent control on the amount of noise they actually make, so that people who do not want to become involved are not being disturbed in the pub,” he said.

In May 1980 the Carmarthen Journal was reporting that…

Public bars in the Carmarthen area which normally echo to the sound of popular pastimes like darts dominoes may soon be buzzing with the strange electronic noises of a new amusement machine which is currently taking the country by storm. The machine, which is called ‘Space Invaders’, has already won the seal of approval from public houses in the large cities and is now being installed in many local pubs, clubs and coffee houses… And master-minding the ‘invasion’ of the machines in West Wales is the Pendine based Arm of Robot Machine Leasing, which has already distributed about 100 ‘Space Invaders’ throughout the area.

By August in the same year, however, a publican in Sevenoaks in Kent was complaining that Space Invaders was old hat and that punters were demanding newer, more sophisticated games:

Mr Gordon Hobson, the landlord of the Camden Arms… said that the craze had died down slightly over the last few weeks but added that manufacturers were constantly thinking up new ideas for video games He said: “At one stage we had a Space Invaders machine in the pub but as the novelty wore off we replaced it with a more advanced game. It is like most things, they tend to wear off after a time.”… Mr Hobson has a wide variety of video machines which budding Luke Skywalkers can pit their wits against and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your initials proudly displayed on the screen if you manage to achieve one of the highest scores.

1981: Won’t somebody think of the children?

In February 1981 Chief Superintendent David Jones of Gloucestershire Constabulary spoke at an annual licensing session in Cheltenham. He suggested that the presence of video games in pubs had led to a surge in under-age drinking because “Young people are being attracted into bars to play the machines”. Police in nearby Bristol said the same thing.

And in March the same year police in Stockport joined in the chorus, as reported in the Advertiser and Guardian:

Stockport schoolboys would seem to be deserting the playground for the pub in a bid to master the Space Invader craze… Moreover the mania for video games – which have flooded the country – has brought fears from the police that the micro-chip fever could lead to a new generation of teenage tipplers.

There were also stories, echoing those from Japan, of children stealing to pay for their video game addiction, or fiddling the machines to get free plays.

An anti-video-game lobby emerged in the UK, arguing that video games should be treated like films, with venues required to have a licence to ‘exhibit’ them. This debate rumbled on throughout the rest of the decade.

1982: Game over?

If the purpose of putting video games in pubs was to attract younger customers, and authorities were saying, “Oh no you don’t!” then perhaps a crash was inevitable.

In January 1982 the Daily Mirror was convinced the craze was reaching an end:

Space Invaders are being beaten off by the recession… Many pubs and clubs are replacing them with fruit machines because of a big drop in profits… One video games firm, Sabelectro of Cheltenham, has lost £600,000… Broadway coins of London said: “Last year every machine netted £200 a week. Now we’re lucky to get £40.”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the home computer boom kicked off in earnest at about this. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched in 1982, for example, and a major selling point was that for a relatively small initial outlay, you could save a fortune in 10 pence pieces.

The story of the decline of the British amusement arcade is told in some detail in Arcade Britannia: a social history of the British amusement arcade by Alan Meades published by the MIT Press, and available to read online for free.

He describes an odd sort of feedback loop where, by the early 1990s, home video game consoles were being installed in pubs in the guise of the PlayChoice-10:

The PlayChoice-10 contained a robustly built [Nintendo Entertainment System] home console in an arcade cabinet, as well as a mechanism for the player to select from up to ten games installed by the operator. The PlayChoice-10 performed well in Britain, especially as an arcade machine for the pub trade, where space was at a premium. Of the estimated 30,000 PlayChoice-10 machines manufactured globally, 6,000 were sited in Britain…

The supply of ‘proper’ video games from Japan, with dedicated circuit boards, began to dry up.

And gambling machines based on recognised licensed properties became more popular, such as a unit based on the board game Monopoly launched in 1992 that we think we remember seeing in pubs when we were students.

So, we reckon it’s fair to say it might have been surprising to see a video game in a pub after about, say, 1995. If you know otherwise, let us know.

20th Century Pub pubs

Keith Waterhouse on ‘The Pubs we Deserve?’, 1974

In 1974, everyone was talking about beer and pubs – or, at least, a lot of middle-aged male writers. Like Keith Waterhouse, for example, who expressed his passionate views in a piece for Punch in July that year.

Before we get into that, though, let’s think about 1974.

This was the year of the first publication of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide and when membership of the organisation reached around 10,000 people.

Richard Boston’s column in The Guardian was in full swing, having started in the summer of 1973. Ian Nairn’s influential piece, ‘The Best Beers of our Lives’, appeared in the Sunday Times on 30 June 1974.

This was, in other words, a pivotal year.

But Keith Waterhouse was no bandwagon jumper. He’d threaded a commentary on pubs through his 1959 comic novel Billy Liar, suggesting this was something he thought about a lot:

The New House was an enormous drinking barracks that had been built to serve Cherry Row and the streets around it. The New House was not its proper title. According to the floodlit inn-sign stuck on a post in the middle of the empty car park, the pub was called the Who’d A Thought It. There had been a lot of speculation about how this name had come about, but whatever the legend was it had fallen completely flat in Clogiron Lane. Nobody called the pub anything but the New House.

His piece for Punch picks up this thread more than a decade later, on the other side of the invention of the theme pub and the ‘bird’s nest’, and the coming of Watney’s Red.

It opens, as essays about pubs often seem to do, with a reference to George Orwell’s ‘The Moon Under Water’ (now a successful podcast), before providing an update on the imaginary pub’s fortunes since the 1960s:

The Moon was originally owned by Buggins’s Brewery, a family concern so tiny that its entire output could be distributed throughout London by three teams of drayhorses. Buggins sold out to Duggins’s Draught, Duggins in turn merged with Coggins’s Keg, and finally the whole mini-conglomerate was taken over by Consolidated Piss.

This echoes CAMRA’s line of attack against Watney’s et al (their beer was full of chemicals) and gives us a taste of the anti-lager rhetoric to come (it looks like urine). It also reminds us of Bill Tidy’s longrunning ‘Keg Buster’ comic strip for CAMRA and its fictional brewery ‘Crudgington’s’.

It’s also a neat summary of what happened to many small local breweries during the period of post-war consolidation in British brewing.

Next, Waterhouse tells us, Consolidated Piss played its part in the revolutionising of the pub industry as a whole, being “as interested in commercial property, bingo halls, hamburger-dromes and roofing felt as they are in beer”. Each “independent corner pub”, he writes, “became one of a chain of 15,000 ‘outlets’.”

Again, this is an accurate reflection of the language of firms like Bass Charrington and Whitbread in this period, opening everything from shopping malls to motels.

Waterhouse argues that The Moon Under Water took the wrong course at around the time of the Festival of Britain when its then landlord, “Len” decided to give it a facelift: “What the class of people we get in her wants… is more of your modern”:

So down came the ornamental mirrors and the stuffed bull’s head over the nally mantelpiece. The cast-iron fireplaces went to the scrapyard. New plastic tables, which could be wiped over with a cloth for all the world as if they were topped with marble like the ones that had graced the saloon bar for nigh on a century, were installed. And very pretty they were, if a bit rocky…

Len was succeeded by Ken who took things further yet in pursuit of his ambition to “get rid of the public bar trade and start a Sunday morning darts league among the cravat-wearers and ladies in trouser suits”.

Ken’s successor, Ben, installed “a juke box, a fruit machine, a television set, a pin-table, and later an ingenious electronic tennis game costing ten pence a go”.

It’s interesting reading this in 2022 when darts, juke boxes, ploughman’s lunches and, we guess, (non-craft) keg beer, are all considered markers of a pubs down-to-earth ‘properness’. It only takes a generation or so for the new-fangled to harden into tradition.

Through the course of the article, Waterhouse hits all the main notes of CAMRA rhetoric in this period, including that:

  • pubs aren’t about food
  • consumers are being sold worse and weaker keg beer with ever more ludicrous claims of ‘authenticity’
  • the inevitable conclusion is demolition and reconstruction in glass and metal

At the end of the piece, though, he observes, albeit sourly, a turning of the tide:

Nowadays there seems to be a demand for traditional pubs, to compete with the craze for Edwardian wine bars. Their clever young designer knows where he can get his hands on some ornamental mirrors, marble tables, cast-iron fire places and various knick-knacks such as a stuffed bull’s head. He can also get hold of some original Victorian ceiling-moulds and there is a chemical process by which a ceiling can be stained dark yellow as if by tobacco-smoke. But of course all this stuff comes expensive, and it must inevitably be reflected in the price of beer.

And he was right – see chapter 6 of our book 20th Century Pub for more on that trend.

Does anyone know if Waterhouse was a CAMRA member? We’d be a bit surprised if not.

If, like us, you like to gather stray examples of beer writing from newspapers and magazines, it’s well worth hunting down a copy of this particular issue of Punch. Besides Waterhouse’s entertaining article there are various supporting features such as a collection of ‘New Pub Songs’…

The English Pub in Singapore
Is filled with Finns from door to door.
Skol! Gezondheid! Sante! Cheers!
Pleece, you gif me six warm beers.

…and a special spread of (not very funny) cartoons on the subject of pubs and wine bars. This one is the best:

Cartoon: a man stands at the bar in a huge empty pub. The landlord says to his partner: "God, here's another one -- where the hell are they all coming from?"
SOURCE: Ken Taylor/Punch, 3 July 1974.

The cover illustration, by Geoffrey Dickinson, is arguably the most eloquent statement of all.


Fuller’s in the 1970s: funky but chic

We’ve been fascinated by Fuller’s branding in the 1970s for some time. If you’ve got a taste for retro design, it’s bound to catch your eye.

This photograph was perhaps when the sheer Life on Mars beauty of it all first really struck us.

A Victorian pub with 1970s signage.
The Anchor & Hope, London E5, in 1982. SOURCE: Terry Gilley/Flickr.

As we’ve acquired ephemera over the years, thanks to donations from people like Steve Williams (thanks again, Steve!) and our own finds on Ebay, we’ve started to love it all the more.

A leaflet in brown, yellow and orange.
‘A Guide to the Fuller Pint’, April 1975.
A map of Fuller's pubs in London.
The interior of ‘A Guide to the Fuller Pint’, 1975.
A brown beer mat advertising various Fuller's beers.
A Fuller’s beer mat from the mid-1970s.
A beer mat advertising London Pride Traditional Draught Ale.
A London Pride beer mat from the mid-1970s.
T-shirt design in rounded font.
A Fuller’s promotional T-shirt from the 1970s.

There are a few obvious defining characteristics of the brand identity from this period.

First, there’s the typography.

We can’t identify a specific font used for the logo but it’s something like Formula (published in 1970) but condensed, with a shadow. Our guess is that it was hand-drawn, inspired by Formula, Caslon Rounded, Bowery and other hip, soft-edged fonts from the late 1960s.

Secondary text is often in a sans serif font that looks to us like Univers or some derivative.

Then there are the colours: what could be more seventies than orange, brown and yellow? (Maybe they could have got avocado in there somewhere if they’d really tried.)

It feels very clearly like an attempt to modernise the brewery’s image, at a time when it was considering ditching cask ale altogether and going all keg. The bosses at Fuller’s wanted a bit of that Watney’s and Whitbread action – to be part of the world of Bird’s Nest pubs and the Chelsea Drugstore. (See 20th Century Pub, chapter five, for more on that.)

What we can’t quite work out is when this branding applied. This beer mat was, we guess, produced very early in the 1970s at around the time this new beer was launched.

Orange beer mat advertising Extra Special Bitter.
An ESB beer mat from, we think, c.1971.

It uses different type and a different logo but the colours are already in place.

By 1974, at the latest, the rounded logo was appearing on packaging and point of sale material, as in this image taken from the brewery’s official history published in 1995.

A man in a dog collar inspects a pint with keg fonts in front of him.
SOURCE: London Pride, Andrew Langley, 1995.

At the other end of the decade we find some more traditional serif fonts creeping back in, along with a trendy ‘swash’ style that you might recognise from the cover of LPs and paperbacks from the period.

A small orange booklet.
A Fuller’s pub guide from c.1979.

This London Pride beer mat is of a similar vintage and is certainly starting to look more ‘real ale’ and hinting towards the 1980s. London Pride is in Souvenir Bold, or similar.

A round, red beer mat.
London Pride beer mat c.1979.

This leaflet is an update of the yellow wonder above, from c.1979/80, and showcases a new slogan: ‘For a taste of tradition’. The rounded logo is still there, along with the Ford Capri go-faster stripes, but beginning to look a bit dated. The illustrations in the leaflet are all brown and beige, folksy rather than mod.

A leaflet with a picture of a tankard on the cover.
Fuller’s pub guide from c.1979.

By the end of the 1970s, Fuller’s had been embraced by, and was embracing, the Campaign for Real Ale and the culture that went with it. Its modern-style pubs were being Victorianised and it wouldn’t be long before those big enamel and brass pump-clips would arrive on the scene.

As if that brief attempt to be trendy never happened.


Killian’s, Irish red ale and French beer drinkers, 1978

During 1978, Guinness got twitchy: a new beer was muscling in on their turf in France. Did George Killian’s Irish Red present a threat, or an opportunity?

From its London base at Park Royal, Guinness commissioned Market Behaviour Limited to go to France and investigate:


1. To study the premium beer market sector in France. To explore beer drinkers’ attitudes towards the sector and the various brands of beer within that sector. (The research concentrated on the bottled beers within the sector.)

2. To explore attitudes towards Killian’s, and to find out which elements of the marketing mix are leading to its current success.

3. To undertake exploratory research into the idea of a new bottled beer to compete with Killian’s, positioned somewhere between the Spéciale and Luxe categories. To explore reactions to the new beer both with and without the Guinness connection.

The report they turned in in December 1978 is interesting not only because it provides more information on the creation of a new beer style but also because it hints at the craft beer culture to come.

The best place to start with the story of Killian’s is Martyn Cornell’s recent in-depth piece on its genesis at Zythophile. It was that which reminded us of the document we’ll be digging into in this post, which we got hold of via former Guinness head brewer Alan Coxon’s papers.

In summary, though, it was launched in 1974 by the French brewery Pelforth, based on a strong ale recipe bought from the Irish firm of Lett & Co., and presented to the French market as a traditional Irish ‘style’. It was a huge success which made other breweries keen to produce their own takes on Irish red ale. That included Guinness.

Commodity blonde vs. quality rousse

Guinness’s market research team focused on drinkers of what we would probably call premium beer – why, and when, did they consider it worth upgrading?

The majority of people seem to split their beer drinking into two main categories: firstly, occasions when the taste and quality of the beer are thought to be important enough for the drinker to exercise his choice in terms of the type of beer, (blonde, brune, rousse, Geuze) and the brand; and secondly occasions where the taste and quality of the beer are far less important and the drinker tends. to choose a cheaper brand of ‘blonde’ beer, almost as a ‘commodity’ product.

French beer drinkers appear to take more care in choosing their beer when they want to relax and when their objective is the enjoyment of the beer. On these occasions they tend to choose a slightly more expensive beer which they feel has a more identifiable taste than an ‘ordinary beer’. This would, for instance, be the occasion when the majority of drinkers of ‘rousse’ and ‘brune’ beers would switch from drinking an ordinary French ‘blonde’ to their favourite type of beer, and when confirmed ‘blonde’ drinkers would switch from an ordinary French ‘blonde’ to either a foreign ‘blonde’ beer or a better quality French ‘blonde’ beer.

However, most of the beer drinkers to whom we spoke tended to drink an ordinary French ‘blonde’ beer most of the time. The ‘normal’ beer to drink in the cafe/ brasserie/bistro is a ‘demi’ of the establishment’s draught ‘blonde’ beer, which is usually an ordinary French ‘blonde’. The important feature of this type of drinking is that, most of the time, the drinker is not aware of which brand of ‘demi’ he is drinking.

A few things strike us as interesting there:

  1. The perceived connection between the colour of a beer and its depth of flavour. We all know that pale beers can be flavourful, and that dark beers can be bland, but there is still a popular perception that darkness equates to intensity.
  1. The idea that people could identify as drinkers of quality beer some of the time while also enjoying necking “Whatever normal lager you have, mate,” on other occasions.
  1. That brand becomes more important with ‘savouring’ beers.

The research confirmed that, almost overnight, French drinkers had accepted the existence of a new style, even though only one example of that style existed:

The research seems to indicate that George Killian’s has been successfully introduced into the French beer market.

The majority of people accept [Bières Rousses] as a legitimate category and not just a description of George Killian’s beer… George Killian’s seems to have attracted beer drinkers because it aroused their curiosity through its unique positioning as a ‘rousse’ beer and because of its taste. Killian’s originally drew its drinkers from ‘blonde’ drinkers as well as ‘brune’ drinkers, but we feel that its major appeal now lies with ‘blonde’ drinkers who are seeking something more than a ‘blonde’ beer but who do not want the heaviness or the bitterness of a real ‘brune’ beer. We feel that a ‘rousse’ beer will not have great appeal to the majority of ‘brune’ drinkers as it lacks the bitterness and heaviness which are characteristics which these people look for in a beer.

Reading that, we can’t help but think of the success of Camden Hells and similar ‘mainstream upgrade’ beers. If the majority of drinkers like standard lager, giving them something a bit more characterful, but not too scary, is a good way to win market share.

The researchers also reached the conclusion that beer was primarily drunk in France as an accompaniment to a night out with “the lads” (their phrase). On almost every other occasion, wine, spirits, coffee or other drinks were preferred. Beer was also seen as almost exclusively a drink for men; when asked why women might drink beer, one respondent said:

Par snobisme essentiellement. Vous ne pensez pas qu’elles le font pour fair plaisir a l’homme? (To be fashionable, essentially. Don’t you think that they do it to please the man?”)

Another interesting finding was that Killian’s was popular with drinkers in France despite being French, and despite being a Pelforth product. An imported product, with Guinness’s name attached, would surely be able to steal some of Killian’s thunder.

The result of all this activity was, we think, the launch of a stronger version of Smithwick’s under the name Kilkenny – hey, that sounds a bit like Killian! – on to the French market in the 1980s.

Beer history

Dial-a-pint, Bolton, c.1977

If photographer Don Tonge hadn’t snapped the shot above, we’d probably have no record of Dial-a-Pint, Bolton 31922.

We came across it last week in a Twitter thread, without credit. In fact, worse, someone had gone to the trouble of carelessly snipping Mr Tonge’s credit off the picture, leaving just a few scraps of letters in the bottom left corner.

A brief digression: nostalgic photo accounts that do this kind of thing are awful. They often know who took a photo or, with reverse image search and the like, could easily find out. They choose not to credit because (a) they might get told to take it down and (b) they want to keep shares and likes for themselves rather than the original creator.

So, if you’ve ever @-ed us into a Tweet with a cool picture and wondered why we weren’t more enthusiastic, it’s probably because of this.

Anyway, back to Dial-a-pint: we asked Mr Tonge if he could remember when and where it was taken. He said: “I can only imagine it was someone doing homebrewing and trying to be entrepreneurial. Bolton mid 1970s.”

So, nothing precise.

What additional information can we glean from the photo? We know that the van was registered in 1972.

And as our pal @teninchwheels pointed out, the gawping man is wearing a Starsky cardigan; Starsky & Hutch was first broadcast in the UK in 1976 so we can probably assume this picture dates from around 1977. (Could we even guess that his mum knitted it for him from this Sirdar pattern for Christmas 1976?)

1977 would also tie in with the height of the real ale craze when all sorts of people were setting up beer-related businesses.

That phone number ought to tell us something, right? Bolton 31992. Well, so far, it hasn’t. We can’t find any current Bolton numbers with those digits, or any historic classified ads in local papers.

Ah, yes… Searching newspapers let us down on this occasion. You can usually rely on finding a smirking story about anything beer related but we couldn’t dig up anything searching dial-a-pint, beer delivery, or related terms.

There is always one last goldmine to explore, though: Facebook local history chat. This photo has been shared quite a few times, including by Mr Tonge himself, and Jan Taylor asks an interesting question in one comment: “Is this the back of Kingholm Gardens?”. And do you know what, it could well be. Someone else suggests Cramond Walk. Consensus seems to be that it’s Halliwell, anyway.

So, for now, we have no way to be sure what was going on here. Our guess is that it was someone delivering cask ale to drink at home, probably a spin-off from an off-licence.

If you were knocking about Bolton in 1970s, or have access to local sources we don’t, and can provide more information, please comment below.

Image © Don Tonge. You can find it in his book Shot in the North available here at £29.