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.

breweries bristol

An incomplete history of Smiles Brewery of Bristol, 1977-2005

Smiles Brewery came and went, leaving small traces of itself all over Bristol. As is so often the case, however, it is the breweries that failed in living memory whose stories are hardest to trace.

This post isn’t intended to be definitive. We just want to put together the facts that are available, with a little digging, so that others can find them – and perhaps tell us more.

Why does it matter? Because Smiles was one of the first UK microbreweries, founded in the CAMRA-led boom of the 1970s.

And because – it does not feel an exaggeration to put it this way – it was the pride of Bristol.

It’s also a story familiar to those who’ve tracked the craft beer boom of the past decade or so, with idealism eventually giving way to commercial pressure.

Let’s go back to the start, to the back room of a restaurant, at the tail end of the 1970s.

Bell’s Diner in 2018. It is now Bianchis.
A fair haired man in a check shirt.
John Payne. SOURCE: YouTube (see below).

Smiles Brewery and Bell’s Diner

“It began as a plastic bucket effort,” John Payne, founder of Smiles, told beer journalist Brian Glover. “I ran a vegetarian restaurant with my girlfriend, and we thought we might as well sell decent beer with the meals.” [1]

Payne was born in Scotland in 1953 and came to Bristol later in life. When? We don’t know. Why? We don’t know. If you know, let us know in the comments below. And actually, was he Scottish? This is only mentioned in one source.

What we do know is that from November 1976 he was running Bell’s Diner alongside his partner, Shirley Anne Bell, and by 1977 was brewing on the side.

He was not by any means a professional. The official history of Bell’s Diner suggests that he “began brewing beer in a tea urn under the stairs”.

Another source, a 1980s promotional video for the brewery, of doubtful provenance, says in its voiceover that he “started brewing at university” and then got a “brewing bucket” for Christmas. (The video says this happened in 1978; it was more likely 1976.)

This makes sense. Home-brewing was booming in the late 1970s, with features in national newspapers and equipment increasingly easy to buy in high street shops.

In all accounts of these early days, there is a common theme: the reaction of restaurant customers to Payne’s homebrew was positive. That encouraged him to stick at it, and to think about going professional, on a larger scale.

He asked some pubs, free of any tie to the dominant local giant Courage, to try selling his beer over the bar and report back on customer reaction. [2] The response was good. It was time for phase two.

The exterior of a pub.
The Colston Yard pub in 2017.

Smiles Brewery at Colston Yard

The back page of CAMRA’s newspaper What’s Brewing for November 1977 contained a small story under the headline ‘Bristol Ale’:

The West country is to get its second new brewery within six months… John Payne has produced his traditional Smiles Bitter for his restaurant, Bells Diner, York Road, Bristol, for the past year. Now he has got permission to set up a new brewhouse in the heart of the city at Colston Yard. Production will be about 30 barrels a week and Mr Payne says he already has strong interest from the local free trade.

‘Bristol Ale’, p.12

Colston Yard was a Victorian industrial space off Upper Maudlin Street, behind a row of shops, where there is currently an Indian restaurant called Haveli.

Permission to brew was one thing but paying for the building of a new brewery was another. Payne mortgaged his house to find the £6,000 needed – about £30,000 in today’s money. [3]

The new brewery was ready by 1978 and Payne set about learning how to brew in this new, more professional environment.

In a 1981 interview he said:

In the early weeks I relied heavily on a friend of my father’s, a brewing chemist… He was like a doctor. I would tell him everything I had done and when I had finished he would tell me where I had gone wrong.

‘The Renaissance of Real Ale’, Mitch Payne, Illustrated London News, 1 February 1981.

By April that year, he was happy with the quality and consistency of the beer being produced.

That first beer, Smiles Best Bitter, was brewed without sugar or malt extracts, with an original gravity of 1040 (about 4% ABV). It was fermented with yeast from the Courage brewery in Bristol. [4]

In November 1978, with winter coming, Payne added a second beer to the line-up: Champion, at 1051 (around 5.3%).

He took on his first employee, Harry Mansfield, the former cellarman at the Bristol Student Union, initially as a part-timer. [5]

They worked flat out through 1978 and 1979, including a particularly hectic Christmas in 1979, which saw them working 18-hour days to brew “265 barrels” in four weeks. [6]

Payne claimed to have drawn no salary himself in this period [7] but it was clear the business was on the right track.

As Brian Glover wrote in his decade-on retrospective:

By 1981 demand had out-stripped production, and the self-made brewery was completely re-equipped to increase capacity three-fold, backed up by a new laboratory.

New Beer Guide, 1988.

In 1982, Smiles acquired its own pub, The Highbury Vaults at the top of St Michael’s Hill. This was a response to the disappearance of freehouses in Bristol as larger brewers such as Allied, Marston’s, Eldridge Pope and Devenish snapped them up.

Payne was especially frustrated by CAMRA’s decision (or rather, that of CAMRA Real Ale Investments) to sell its own Bristol pub to Marston’s:

[They] said they were pulling out of The Old Fox as their job was done. But they sold out just when they were needed as the free trade was beginning to disappear then.

‘Bolting the bars again in Bristol’, David Jarvie, What’s Brewing, October 1983.

Until this time the brewery’s de facto brewery tap had been The Sea Horse, across the main road from the brewery. When it began to seem under threat, Smiles entered a bidding war with Marston’s and Allied for The Highbury Vaults instead.

They were rumoured to have paid £125,000 for the pub – a shocking price for a small neighbourhood boozer at the time. [8]

Payne doesn’t seem to have wanted to buy a pub, or to have much enjoyed being responsible for it. “It diverts a lot of our attention,” he told CAMRA’s David Jarvie in 1983.

But it was vital because, according to Payne, there were only four other suitable outlets in the city.

A glance at copies of the Good Beer Guide from the period backs this up: almost every pub listed was selling beer from Courage, or was tied to an out-of-town brewery such as Wadworth or Davenport’s.

A vintage lorry outside The Pickwick Inn.
The Smile’s Brewing Co. dray c.1994 by Mark Shirley.

Real People making Real Ale

The brewery continued to grow through the 1980s, as recorded in this rather marvellous artefact – a promotional video apparently from 1984:

There’s not much information on its source, why or exactly when it was made, or who uploaded it. Enjoy it while you can.

It tells us that by the mid-1980s Smiles was brewing more than 3,000 gallons of beer each week (about 83 barrels) with Harry Mansfield now as full-time head brewer.

We also meet three other new employees: Sue Pinnell, a brewery assistant; Nicholas Martin, a spectacularly bearded drayman; and Peter Taylor, a rather dashing marketing and sales executive.

There are various clues to the brewery’s brand identity in this video: old-fashioned barroom piano music; the vintage Bedford dray of c.1950; and faux-vintage hand-painted graphics on every surface.

The slogan at the end is: “Smiles – real people making real ale.”

A second video from the same source is an out-and-out advertisement, attempting to compete with those from, say, Courage, or Whitbread.

This has more of the same, including flat caps all round, knitted vests and ten-sided pint glasses. Smiles, the advert implies, has been serving Bristol for years – for generations, even. 

Never mind the facts.

Four young people in 1990s clothing stand slightly awkwardly around the bar in a pub.
A promo photo for the newly launched Brewery Tap (Colston Yard) via What’s Brewing for February 1992. We think that’s Nicholas Martin, the pub’s designer, on the right.

The Pride of Bristol

In 1992, when the brewery was approaching its 15th anniversary and owned multiple pubs, John Payne gave a rare interview to Stephen Cox for CAMRA’s What’s Brewing.

Cox was a fan of Smiles and the piece is celebratory, not only of Smiles 15 years’ of success but also of Payne’s approach to the business of beer.

“I dream of locking some brewery executives in the Tap for a week with John Payne”, he wrote. “But I doubt the common sense would rub off.”

In the interview, Payne attempted to articulate “the Smiles Way”:

All you can do is be committed to a quality product, put out your stall, and let them decide. If it’s any good, it doesn’t need advertising.

A colleague, Martin Love, expanded on the idea: “It’s something to do with not forcing things down people’s throats.”

We learn that Smiles’ pubs didn’t serve stout or draught lager on principle, only the brewery’s own beer, along with guest ales from other independents.

Nor did they have gambling machines.

“If you measure the space they take up,” Payne is quoted as saying, “and fill that space with drinkers, you make as much money. Besides, pubs are about talking to people.”

This preceded similar policies and rhetoric from the micropub movement by about 20 years.

All of these principles were put into practice in a brand new pub, The Brewery Tap, constructed in front of the brewery premises on Upper Maudlin Street in 1991. (It was later known as The Colston Yard.)

It was notable for opening at 8am to serve breakfast, extending the business’s viable hours beyond those when it could legally sell alcohol. [9]

In 1992 it won CAMRA’s pub design award – the first time any pub had proved worthy of the prize since 1985. An article in What’s Brewing described its “clean cut, attractive appearance”:

Ash wood and a slate bar, together with a black-and-white tiled floor, give an impression that is reminiscent of a good Belgian café. The Brewery Tap manages to be in the mainstream of the traditional pub without resorting to tiresome alehouse clichés.

Behind the scenes, though, the brewery was struggling.

Four men in suits outside a pub.
From left to right: Martin Love (sales manager), Ian Williams (new owner), John Payne (founder), Nigel (Harry?) Mansfield (head brewer).

The management buy-out trend

A month after Stephen Cox’s gushing interview with John Payne, and in the same month the design award victory was announced, Iain Loe’s regular column in What’s Brewing for February 1992 included this item:

The first brewery news to reach me is another brewery takeover – the first of 1992. But the deal doesn’t feature a well-known company whose shares are traded on the Stock Market but a micro-brewer who has sold his company to someone who liked the brewery enough to stump up £2 million… The purchaser, Ian Williams, has an accountancy background… and has financed the £3 million deal, which includes covering bank borrowings of £1 million, with the help of a £½ million input from [private equity firm] 3is.

Williams had worked for the accountancy firm which managed Smiles’ accounts and he knew the business well. So, although not part of the Smiles management team, this was nonetheless reported as a form of ‘management buyout’.

Management buyouts were a big thing in the 1990s – see the Redruth Brewery for another example.

More usually, they involve people already working in a business to acquire it from either the founder (perhaps a hippy hipster brewer) or a larger corporate owner (such as Whitbread) which had lost interest.

They offered a route for businesses that were stumbling or failing to go on, with new leadership that was either more money-minded or more passionate about the product, depending on circumstances.

Smiles continued to expand under Ian Williams until it eventually had 17 pubs – a substantial estate for a regional independent less than 20 years old.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t sustainable. In November 2000, most of the pub estate was sold to London brewery Young’s for £5.8 million. [10]

Thereafter, what was at that point Bristol’s only remaining brewery seemed to be in retreat, though local real ale drinkers continued to regard the beer fondly.

The brewery was sold again in 2003 to City Centre Breweries Ltd, a new company run by Ron Kirk, formerly managing director of Mansfield Brewery.

Then, in December 2004, it was announced that the brewery had gone into administration. Staff were laid off and production of Smiles-branded beer was moved to the Highgate Brewery in Walsall. [11]

Smiles-branded beers seem to have disappeared from the market altogether after 2007, at least as far as we can tell from online beer review websites.

Tatty old posters on a brown pub wall.
Smiles memorabilia at The Highbury Vaults.
A tatty photo of men drinking beer.
A still from the 1984 promo video on the pub wall.

Just about remembered

There are still occasional reminders of Smiles to be seen around Bristol, most notably at The Highbury Vaults.

Beneath 20-plus years of Young’s branding can be seen the odd bit of Smiles signage – and a photograph from that early 1980s promo shoot still hangs on the wall in the snug.

We’re frustrated by the bittiness of the story we’ve been able to tell above. It feels unfinished – and we’re certain people are going to have additions and corrections.

To which we say, bring it on!

We’d love version two of this post to have more human voices, more pictures, and more detail from the frontline.

If you worked at Smiles, or, indeed, founded it, we’re contact@boakandbailey, or @boakandbailey on Twitter, if you want to get in touch.


  1. New Beer Guide, 1988, p.52.
  2. ‘The Renaissance of Real Ale’, Mitch Pryce, Illustrated London News, 1 February 1981.
  3. Pryce, 1981.
  4. ‘Selling beer: it’s Payne and Love’, What’s Brewing, January 1992.
  5. Promotional video, 1984.
  6. Pryce, 1981.
  7. Pryce, 1981.
  8. ‘Bolting the bars again in Bristol’, 1983.
  9. CAMRA Good Beer Guide 1992, published in 1991.
  10. The Times, 17 November 2000.
  11. ‘Smiles Brewery Closed’, Richard Brooks, Pints West, Spring 2005.
Beer styles

Lager and the ABC1s, 1989

Super strong lager was for louts and layabouts; but strong lager, one category across, was the stuff for snobs.

At least that was the conclusion suggested by research from Public Attitude Surveys Ltd in 1989, as reported in the Economist for September that year.

You might remember our notes on a similar piece of research undertaken by PAS for Guinness all the way back in 1963.

We came across this particular article while researching the question of when ABV labelling was introduced and were excited – yes, excited; look, we’ve never claimed to be cool – to find hard statistics on lager consumption by (a) age and (b) social grouping.

Graph: lager consumption by social class.

Graph: lager consumption by age.

In each case, super strong lagers are those with an original gravity of c.1080 and premium refers to those with an OG of 1040 or higher.

The problem is that the stats don’t quite show what they might seem to at first glance – that is, how much lager was being sold in each subcategory.

What they actually tell us is how much of the total sold was being consumed by people in each bracket.

And that isn’t even the same thing as how popular each type of beer was with people in each category.

You could have, say, 15 people in one category each drinking a pint per week and 15 heavy drinkers in another each drinking ten pints per week. Thus their category would drink more of the total, even if both groups like the beer equally. The preference people in category B are demonstrating is for getting drunk.

The information is still interesting, though, in its own vague way.

We can see, for example, that a much larger proportion of non- and low-alcohol beers were consumed by ABC1s – that is, middle class drinkers – than by any other social group.

A higher percentage of super-strength lagers, meanwhile, were consumed by people over 50 and also by those in the DE social grouping, i.e. non-skilled working class people and the unemployed.

And more of the premium lager sold was consumed by C2s, skilled working class people, than by those in any other category.

All of which, quibbling aside, might be said to reflect stereotypes fairly well on the nose.

20th Century Pub pubs

Notable Pubs: The Milestone, Exeter, 1985-1988

"Pub with no beer"

There have been repeated attempts to test the idea that the identity of the pub need not be tied to alcohol. The Milestone, which opened in Exeter in 1985, was one such experiment.

On the bookshelf at the Drapers lurks a yellowing copy of the Wordsworth Dictionary of Pub Names, a cheap 1990s reprint of a book by Leslie Dunkling and Gordon Wright first published in 1987. The naming of pubs is an area of study requiring more pinches of salt than most, and the book is not without its inaccuracies, but flipping through it over our Sunday night pints, we often find some nugget or other, and that’s how we first heard of the Milestone:

The pub sells only soft drinks, non-alcoholic beers and wines. It was set up in 1985 by the Devon Council on Alcoholism and the Exeter Community Alcohol team to help people with a drink problem. It is in the basement of an office block, and those who named it clearly see it as a highly significant step.

A contemporary report from the Liverpool Echo (20/11/1985) offers more information:

Mr Murray French, chairman of Exeter District Health Authority, will pull the first pint — or rather pour the first soft drink — at noon [today].

The pub, complete with pool table, dart board and the usual bar fittings, is the brain child of Exeter Community Alcohol Team.

Mr Stan Ford, executive director of Devon Council on Alcoholism, said: “The main aim is to provide an environment where people can get the atmosphere of a pub without alcohol.

“A lot of my clients have asked where they could go if they stopped drinking. There was nowhere. Now there is.”

Laudable as this might sound, it’s hard to imagine anyone convincing friends who are still drinking (possibly heavily) to come to a teetotal pub, and however convincing the facsimile, there’s no denying that an air of merriness is an essential part of the pleasure of the pub.

Without booze, it will just feel like a youth club, won’t it?

There’s a certain inevitability to the next mention we can find in the newspaper archives, from the same newspaper for 25 October 1988:


Britain’s first alcohol-free pub, the Milestone in Exeter, Devon, is to close next month after three years. It failed to attract enough custom.

This feels like the kind of thing that might have generated the odd academic paper or official study but, if so, we can’t find them online, on this side of a paywall.

It would certainly be interesting to see pictures of the Milestone, or to hear from anyone who remembers (not) drinking there.

Beer history london marketing

The First Cause Beer?

These days it’s not unusual for breweries to release beers intended to support a particular cause, but we reckon we might have pinpointed the first: ‘No Cruise Mild’, from 1983-84.

It was produced by Pitfield Brewery on a tiny kit in the basement of a specialist beer shop near Old Street in London and sold through one of David Bruce’s Firkin brewpubs, The Pheasant & Firkin in Islington. The name refers to US Cruise missiles, the installation of which was protested by women’s groups at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire during December 1983.

While the name of the beer certainly showed support for the Greenham Common protesters the short article in What’s Brewing for March 1984, which is the only reference we’ve been able to dig up, doesn’t make clear whether any of the profits from its sale also went their way. It does, however, reproduce Ken Pyne’s cartoon for Marketing Week which we hope he won’t mind us sharing here:

A group of women camps outside a pub offering No Cruise Mild.

Of course there were lots of beers before this that you can argue were political in one way or another — all those commemorative beers for the 1981 royal wedding and the Queen’s coronation, for example, are political in their own way — but we reckon this might be the earliest example of a beer whose branding was explicitly tied to a progressive cause.

If you reckon we’re wrong, or have more information on this particular beer, let us know in the comments below.

Further Reading