Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide

In 1974 the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was published. We spoke to those who were involved in its genesis to find out how it came to be. Here is the story in the words of those who were there, a version of which first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of BEER magazine.

John Hanscomb
Early CAMRA member, and first editor of the Good Beer Guide
We all knew we liked proper beer but the problem was, we didn’t know where to drink – we didn’t know where the pubs were. There was Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Companion but that was all about the breweries, not the pubs, although it did give you an idea of their trading areas. And the brewers… The brewers wouldn’t give me any information! I rang up one and asked them which were their pubs and which sold proper beer and they wouldn’t tell me because they thought I was from Watney’s or Whitbread: ‘We don’t know who you are.’

Michael Hardman
Co-founder and first chair of CAMRA
John Young [of Young’s brewery] was championing cask ale in a very serious way, and had been holding out for a decade before CAMRA came along. He thought of himself as the only one left. Young’s had never been a particularly profitable company. They had some pretty dingy pubs, and a very ‘bitter’ bitter that was going out of fashion. In 1963, he’d been approached by Derek Peebles, a former naval officer, who said: ‘What you need is a PR campaign, and I’m the man to do it!’ What he did was put together the first ever comprehensive list of Young’s pubs under the title ‘Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It’.

Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It

John Hanscomb
The Young’s guide was undoubtedly an influence, very much so. With Young’s you could guarantee that all their pubs would have proper beer. John Young deserves a lot of credit.

Continue reading “Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide”

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.

Complete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, c.1976

Cover of The Complete Guide to Bristol's Pubs.

Fred Pearce wrote a series of paperback pub guides in the 1970s including this 52 page run around the pubs of Bristol.

We first heard of it when we were researching Brew Britannia and Robin Allender (@robinallender) kindly sent us a scan of the section referring to the Royal Navy Volunteer. Then, in January, Garvan Hickey, one of the landlords of our local, The Draper’s Arms, kindly let us borrow his copy.

We’ve now scanned it and took the PDF out for a test drive around Redcliffe last Friday night. It was great to be able to look up the pubs we were in and see how, if at all, they might have changed.

We’re still not 100 per cent sure when it was published but we know from Andrew Swift that a partner volume covering Bath came out in 1976 so that seems like a reasonable assumption and is consistent with the contents.

Now we want to share a few nuggets that highlight what we’ve lost, and perhaps gained, as pub culture has changed in the past 40-odd years.

Continue reading “Complete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, c.1976”

VIDEO: Old Hill Inn, Yorkshire, 1979

The 50-minute 1979 documentary film Underground Eiger is primarily about caving but there is a wonderful two-minute sequence which begins at 23:49 filmed at The Old Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales.

It’s a party rather than a typical night at the pub but nonetheless gives a wonderful sense of atmosphere, and is certainly a great antidote to that grim stereotypical ‘Yorkshire’ pub portrayed in An American Werewolf in London.

You can find more information on the film and watch what might be a higher quality copy at the BFI website.

We were sent this link by Robin Oldfield — thanks, Robin!

Martin Wainwright on London Pubs, 1977

The cover of Punch for 25-31 May 1977.

The edition of Punch for 25-31 May 1977 included a special supplement on ‘How to Make the Most of London’, including its pubs.

Martin Wainwright (@mswainwright) started writing for the Guardian in 1976 and retired in 2012. He is also the author of several books and maintains a blog about moths.

We came across this article, ‘Mild and Muzak’, via Google Books which, despite only showing a snippet, allowed us to work out which magazine to buy from Ebay and thus cite it in 20th Century Pub. (It gives a figure for the cost of fitting out Dogget’s Coat & Badge, that famous and enduring London riverside booze bunker.) We guess he wrote this piece when he was in his twenties making him an approximate contemporary of the founders of the Campaign for Real Ale. On which note, here’s the opening section:

The first problem about the London pub is how to get into it. It’s all very well discoursing on the merits of Young’s  and Ruddles’ beer, handpumps or barmaids, but if you can’t get at them without mounting a major siege, the conversation is rather academic… In too many of the capital’s pubs, you can’t. It isn’t just a provincial matter of turning a little handle or creaking open an old door into a nice snug. You have to force your way in, dig a path through your bellowing fellow-drinkers and stake out a few inches on the counter by the fierce tactical use of your elbows and all other available pointy bits.

Forty years on that is still exactly right, though you might wish to swap Cloudwater and Beavertown for Young’s and Ruddles’.

Later he mentions the Pub Information Service, a hotline sponsored by Watney’s which “has the habit of being the opposite of what its name implies”. We might write something more substantial about this at some point but Mr Wainwright’s observation — that asking the PIS (chortle) where to find Young’s Bitter would see you directed to a Watney’s pub — sounds about right.

The Muzak mentioned in the title is canned music played in pubs, though he doesn’t much prefer live music, railing against rock bands (at e.g. The Greyhound, Fulham), folk clubs (The Bull & Mouth, Bloomsbury), and “the dreaded Morris Dancing Troupe” at The Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

After a brief aside on the subject of isinglass finings (“the most significant dealers in this stuff… is the Saville Hydrological Corporation in Merton, Wimbledon”) which, by the way, uses the word ‘murky’, he gets on to beer and the price of beer:

The Campaign for Real Ale may scoff at London as a desert for naturally brewed beer. But if the proportions of real to chemically-brewed ale pubs is low, where else can you get, within a couple of square miles, Marston Pedigree, Ruddles County, Federation Clubs and Sam Smiths?

True, you can also get a remarkably different range of prices, anything from 26p to 38p for suspiciously similar types of pint. But this seems to have little effect on the booming custom, doubtless because of the even greater skill at ripping-off shown by the opposition.

The Rosetti, from a Fuller's publicity leaflet, c.1979.

On pub design, he singles out Fuller’s as notable innovators, mentioning in particular the Rossetti in St John’s Wood (see above) and the Chariot in Hounslow. Young’s in-house pub architect Ian Spate (a new name to us) may warrant further investigation — perhaps he is still around? Dogget’s Coat & Badge he calls “the pub of the 1990s”, which wasn’t meant as a joke when he wrote but certainly raises a smile from this end of the timeline.

London pub history enthusiasts who want to read the whole article will need to get their hands on the magazine. We found our copy for £4.99 delivered but you might well dig one up for less or, indeed, at your local library.