Beer history

A Brief History of CAMRA Bashing

Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) hadn’t been in existence for more than five years before it started to attract some familiar-sounding complaints about obnoxious, dogmatic know-all-ism.

The first out of the blocks was Richard Boston in The Guardian. Having boosted CAMRA’s membership by several thousand with his weekly columns and frequent shout outs to the Campaign, he was also one of the first to grow irritated by them. His first salvo, from 21 June 1975, doesn’t, however, mention CAMRA by name (“I ought to be careful what I say on this subject”):

There’s a small minority of beer enthusiasts who are pests. They’ve already ruined several good pubs by taking them over and doing nothing but talk beer, beer, beer. Now the holiday season is on us, bands of them roam the country finding out harmless little pubs and bullying the landlord and regulars by insulting the beer available if it does not meet their requirements. They’re a kind of gastronomic Gestapo and they’re worse than tiresome. Apart from anything else, most of them are totally ignorant about the subject with which they’re obsessed and would cheerfully drink castor oil if it came from a wooden barrel.

(But, by 1976, that “castor oil” line was being applied to CAMRA, so that’s almost certainly who he had in mind.)

On 12 September 1975, he said more:

CAMRA has sometimes taken itself too seriously and at times shown the fervour of religious fanaticism — one of its leading members used to speak of “spreading the gospel of CAMRA”. Some individual members have emerged as bores of Olympic standard.

On 8 April 1976, Peter Senn in the The Daily Mirror noted with some glee this story about a CAMRA Investments pub:

CAMRA, the real ale people’s organisation, is to lose its first London landlord after only seven months — because the beer buffs are becoming as bad as the wine snobs… he is fed up with complaints from the beer snobs who flock to the pub… wingeing about everything from the condition of the brews to the decor.

According to this short article, it seems CAMRA were already aware of, and struggling with, the behaviour of some members and had issued guidance reminding them not to “tell publicans how to do their job”.

On 11 October 1978, a story about student CAMRA activist Simon Jackson and his guide to Cambridge pubs which took a blunter tone than the Good Beer Guide, elicited this complaint from a landlord he’d dubbed “humourless”: “CAMRA has a very strong hold… which means that certain pubs are full of potbellied bores droning on about handpumps.” (The Guardian.)

Opening the 1979 Great British Beer Festival, David Bellamy gave the press a lovely soundbite which must have had the CAMRA PR people spitting: “There’s nothing worse than a beer bore… The best thing to do is to drown them in the stuff.” (The Guardian, 4 September.)

See also: the development of the ‘all CAMRA members have beards’ stereotype. And does anyone else note that Richard Boston liked CAMRA before they were cool but really thought they’d gone mainstream when everyone else joined? (Hipster…)