Bits we underlined in “They’re Open!‘, 1950

Every time we think we’ve at least heard of every substantial book about beer or pubs, a new-to-us specimen pops up. This weekend, we came across They’re Open! by Ronald Wilkinson and Roger Frisby, with illustrations by Neville Main, from 1950.

It’s fluff, real­ly – the kind of thing the chaps at the golf club would buy for anoth­er chap known to like the odd pint of bit­ter on the occa­sion of his birth­day. Still, it’s a reveal­ing time cap­sule, as throw­aways often are.

The gim­mick, as with T.E.B. Clarke’s What’s Yours? from 12 years ear­li­er, is that the book claims to be a man­u­al for those keen to learn the mys­te­ri­ous ways of the pub:

The stu­dent should on no account embark upon the the­o­ry of Seri­ous Drink­ing with­out first paus­ing to con­sid­er cer­tain fun­da­men­tal con­cepts and gen­er­al prin­ci­ples… It should be clear­ly under­stood from the out­set that the sub­ject must not be approached in a light or friv­o­lous vein…

Anoth­er sec­tion from the intro­duc­tion is prob­a­bly meant to be a joke but it’s hard to tell from this side of the real ale rev­o­lu­tion, when we’re used to this kind of thing being uttered in earnest:

It may strike the scep­tic as odd that the word ‘seri­ous’ is applied in this con­text. How­ev­er, the word is not cho­sen at ran­dom. It is, in fact, the key­stone of the whole arch of Alco­hol­o­gy. For the Seri­ous Drinker drinks not to be socia­ble; nei­ther does he drink to drown his sor­rows, nor for want of any­thing bet­ter to do. Above all, it can­not be too strong­ly impressed upon the stu­dent that drunk­en­ness in any shape or form must nev­er be the aim, nor indeed must it be the con­comi­tant of Seri­ous Drink­ing. The Seri­ous Drinker drinks on a ratio­nal basis. He drinks for no oth­er rea­son that that he likes drink­ing. One would nev­er ask a stamp-col­lec­tor why he is seri­ous about col­lect­ing stamps…

This intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion also sets out the book’s stall on the issue of women and beer:

In all the authors’ expe­ri­ence, they have nev­er encoun­tered a woman who held forth even the remotest promise of suc­cess­ful devel­op­ment into a Seri­ous Drinker. Her very make-up pre­vents it. Charm­ing, lov­able, fas­ci­nat­ing as women may seem, all attempts on their parts to become Seri­ous Drinkers have so far been but emp­ty threats.

(That’s me told. – Jess.)

Bottled beer.

There’s dis­ap­point­ing­ly lit­tle about beer in the book, of course, beyond a warn­ing against for­eign beer, where for­eign has the broad­est pos­si­ble def­i­n­i­tion: “For the Seri­ous Drinker is a drinker of beer, and beer is only to be found in Eng­land.”

There is a chap­ter on what to wear in the pub: thick-soled shoes to raise you above the saw­dust, with beer-coloured uppers to con­ceal stains; and drink­ing trousers with expand­ing waist­line and a deep left-hand pock­et for change.

The bit that real­ly grabbed our atten­tion, with 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub still ring­ing in our brains, is an attempt to clas­si­fy dif­fer­ent types of pub:

The Road­house… Con­struc­tion in con­crete… Design fre­quent­ly of the pseu­do-Tudor or bogus-rus­tic…

The Amer­i­can or Cock­tail bar… Neon signs… Stools… A pletho­ra of chromi­um… Pre­pon­der­ance of women… It is dif­fi­cult to find words ade­quate to con­demn this type of abom­i­na­tion…

The Chain House… This is a large estab­lish­ment usu­al­ly of brick which sports a car-park. It is by far the least offen­sive of the non-seri­ous types of drink­ing estab­lish­ments, and at a pinch it is per­fect­ly cor­rect for the Drinker to enter it…

The Pub or Local… The is the ide­al locus biben­di for the Seri­ous Drinker. Now, the true pub is not always easy to recog­nise… it will in all prob­a­bil­i­ty be tucked away in some side-street, mews or alley…

There are then pages and pages on the sub­ject of pub doors  – the var­i­ous types, their actions, how to oper­ate their han­dles  – and then a whole lot more on where to sit once you’re inside for opti­mum effi­cien­cy. There’s a sec­tion on pos­ture, one on how to grip your glass, and on how to chat up bar­maids. All of this is more or less tedious.

A crowd in a pub.
Detail from the end­pa­per of the book.

Things pick up again with an attempt to cat­e­gorise types of drinker:

The Seri­ous Drinker…

The Soli­tary or Intro­spec­tive Drinker… unshaven… uneth­i­cal ties…

Bar­maid-Chaffing Drinker… faint­ly furtive, con­fi­den­tial­ly bom­bas­tic tone…

The Qua­si-seri­ous or Com­pet­i­tive Drinker…

The Cryp­to-seri­ous or Mis­cel­la­neous Group… This group includes inter alia, the dart-play­ers, the shove-half­pen­ny boys, the domi­no kings, the crib­bage enthu­si­asts, the bar-bil­liards men and the pin-table fiends…

The Cel­e­bra­to­ry of Extro­spec­tive Drinker… a note­wor­thy haz­ard to the Seri­ous Drinker…

The Social or Gre­gar­i­ous Drinker…

The Med­i­c­i­nal or Ther­a­peu­tic Drinker… On no account should he be engaged in con­ver­sa­tion, because this inevitably con­sists of an inter­minable rep­e­ti­tion of his mor­bid ail­ments, past and present…

The Casu­al or Inter­mit­tent Drinker… He looks at the clock between gulps and speaks in an anx­ious tone of voice…

All in all, this is a minor work, per­haps of great­est use to those with an inter­est in atti­tudes to women in pubs.

Camaraderie is forced on men’, 1988

Stools at the bar in a pub.

Cama­raderie is forced on men. They have lit­tle else in life. Forced espe­cial­ly on the des­per­ate, the unimag­i­na­tive, who must drink the same drink in the same place every day.

How to be alone in the midst of fel­low­ship? One can turn the oth­er stool, try to indi­cate with the shoul­der one wants pri­va­cy. One can snap like a lit­tle ani­mal. But this breeds sus­pi­cion. In the end one is nev­er left alone.

But nei­ther does cama­raderie real­ly exist. It is a cre­ation of racists and war-nov­el­ists. Rather, there is an ero­tism about men drink­ing togeth­er.

Come. Come, you must come with us into our hap­py love cloud. A pub­lic bar is the boudoir of a com­ic-opera seduc­tress…

That’s an extract from a piece called ‘Drink­ing Men’ by Amer­i­can writer Todd McEwen. He moved to Scot­land in 1981 and this sto­ry is set in a pub called the Auld Licht. It por­trays the rela­tion­ships between the pub­lic bar and lounge, and between the reg­u­lars who drink in them.

It’s fun­ny, bleak, and rather sour, cap­tur­ing a time when pubs were over­whelm­ing­ly male, every­one smoked, and the card­board back­ings from which pack­ets of peanuts were sold were items of every­day kitsch erot­i­ca.

Hav­ing recent­ly writ­ten about mas­culin­i­ty, beer and pubs for BEER mag­a­zine (see the lat­est issue here) we found plen­ty to chew on even in these few hun­dred words, and would cer­tain­ly con­sid­er include ‘Drink­ing Men’ in that anthol­o­gy we’re hop­ing some­one will ask us to edit one day.

If you want to read it in the mean­time, it can be found in Gran­ta 25: Mur­der, pub­lished in autumn 1988, which comes with an added bonus: Gra­ham Smith’s grim pho­to por­trait of Mid­dles­brough pubs.

Cold Beer in the Australian Outback, 1961

We’re increasingly convinced that if you pick up most popular novels published between about 1945 and 1970 and start flipping the pages you’ll soon stumble upon an extended passage about beer and/or pubs.

Ken­neth Cook’s 1961 nov­el Wake in Fright gets straight down to busi­ness: with­in the first 10 pages the pro­tag­o­nist, Grant, hits the hotel bar in the des­o­late out­back set­tle­ment where he teach­es.

Schooner, Char­lie,” he said to the hotel-keep­er, who emerged from his dark back room wear­ing, for some rea­son, a waist­coat over his drenched shirt.

Char­lie pulled the beer.

In the remote towns of the west there are few of the ameni­ties of civ­i­liza­tion; there is no sew­er­age, there are no hos­pi­tals, rarely a doc­tor; the food is drea­ry and flavour­less from long car­ry­ing, the water is bad; elec­tric­i­ty is for the few who can afford their own plant, roads are most­ly non-exis­tent; there are no the­atres, no pic­ture shows and few dance halls; and the peo­ple are saved from stark insan­i­ty by the one strong prin­ci­ple of progress that is ingrained for a thou­sand miles, east, north, south and west of the Dead Heart – the beer is always cold.

The teacher let his fin­gers curl around the bead­ed glass, quelling the lit­tle spurt of bit­ter­ness that rose when he saw the size of the head of froth on the beer, because, after all, it didn’t mat­ter, and this poor dev­il of a hotel-keep­er had to stay here and he was going east.

He drank quick­ly at first, swamp­ing the dry­ness in his throat in a flood of beer; and then, when the glass was half emp­ty, he drank slow­ly, let­ting the cold alco­hol relax his body.

Wake in Fright has been adapt­ed for the screen twice, most­ly recent­ly in 2017, and the most recent edi­tion from Text Clas­sics is a TV tie-in. Our edi­tion is a Pen­guin paper­back from 1967 and cost £2.50.

J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934

The passage below appears in English Journey by J.B. Priestley, published in 1934, and just reprinted in hardback by Great Northern Books, though we found our copy for £4 in the local Amnesty bookshop.

A hun­dred pages in, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, rather sour view of a land of cheap rain­coats and glum hotel bars, but it’s impos­si­ble to write about Eng­land with­out at least acknowl­edg­ing pubs, and the 1930s were an espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing time.

We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of insert­ing some extra para­graph breaks for read­ing on a screen:

Half-shaved, dis­il­lu­sioned once more, I caught the bus that runs between Coven­try and Birm­ing­ham… We trun­dled along at no great pace down pleas­ant roads, dec­o­rat­ed here and there by the pres­ence of new gaudy pubs. These pubs are a marked fea­ture of this Mid­lands land­scape.

Some of them are admirably designed and built; oth­ers have been inspired by the idea of Mer­rie Eng­land, pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les. But whether come­ly or hideous, they must all have cost a pot of mon­ey, prov­ing that the brew­ers… still have great con­fi­dence in their prod­ucts.

At every place, how­ev­er, I noticed that some attempt had been made to enlarge the usu­al attrac­tions of the beer-house; some had bowl­ing greens, some adver­tised their food, oth­ers their music. No doubt even more ambi­tious plans for amuse­ment would have been put into force  if there had been no oppo­si­tion from the tee­to­tallers, those peo­ple who say they object to pub­lic-hous­es because you can do noth­ing in them but drink, but at the same time stren­u­ous­ly oppose the pub­li­cans who offer to give their cus­tomers any­thing but drink.

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or dis­rep­utable, and then to point out how dull or dis­rep­utable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should com­pel tee­to­tallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pam­phlets com­plain­ing of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

For more on inter-war improved pubs, with their bowl­ing greens and tea­rooms, see chap­ter 2 of our 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.

Bits We Underlined In… A Year at the Peacock, 1964

BOOK COVER: A Year at the Peacock

There was a rash of memoirs by publicans in the mid-20th century and Tommy Layton’s A Year at the Peacock is a classic example, full of detail, riven with snobbery, and ending in unhappiness.

Paul Bai­ley (no rela­tion) tipped us off to this one a few years ago but we only recent­ly acquired a copy and set about it with the high­lighter pen.

Lay­ton (born in 1910) was a restau­ra­teur, wine mer­chant and drinks writer gen­er­al­ly described using words such as “iras­ci­ble”, “eccen­tric” or “quirky”. His self-por­tray­al in this book con­veys that bad-tem­pered eccen­tric­i­ty, exhibit­ing a remark­ably objec­tive view of his own rather sour per­son­al­i­ty.

The book tells the sto­ry of how he came to take on a pub in Kent, hav­ing first noticed its poten­tial while pass­ing through on the way to France on a wine-relat­ed mis­sion. In his first con­ver­sa­tion with the incum­bent pub­li­can Lay­ton gleans some inter­est­ing nuggets of infor­ma­tion about beer,  a sub­ject about which he is ini­tial­ly quite igno­rant:

Whose beer do you take?” I con­tin­ued.

Frem­lins. The hop-pick­ers like it far the best,” he said.

Hop-pick­ers?” I replied. “I thought they were all in Kent.”

You are in Kent here,” he said. “The bound­ary is a bit fun­ny round here.”

Then he loos­ened up a bit and gave me a fat, pleas­ant smile. “Cor! You should have seen the crowds here on the lawns before they start­ed installing the hop-pick­ing machin­ery. Hun­dred upon hun­dreds of them, all drink­ing pints as fast as you could pour it out. Why, we had to take over a huge shed which has been spe­cial­ly licensed as an over­flow ser­vice.”

Lay­ton even­tu­al­ly bought the pub, despite grim warn­ings from Mr Christo­pher, the out­go­ing pub­li­can (“You take prac­ti­cal­ly noth­ing here in the win­ter, and pre­cious lit­tle more in the sum­mer.”) and set about reju­ve­nat­ing the old inn.

Tommy Layton
Tom­my Lay­ton

A string of odd dis­cov­er­ies fol­low: the pub sold foul-smelling vine­gar and paraf­fin by the jug from casks stored in the cel­lar next to the beer; there was no bar, only  a hatch, so the per­son serv­ing had to stand for their entire shift; and the cel­lar froze in win­ter, but became a fur­nace in sum­mer.

As in the fic­tion­alised mem­oir We Keep a Pub a large part of Layton’s book is tak­en up with por­traits of pub­li­cans – in this case, the tem­po­rary man­agers he hires to do the actu­al day-to-day work of run­ning the pub, via an agency. Shep­herd is his clear favourite:

[He was] a thin mid­dle-aged man who to the inn at once, and the inn seemed to fit him to per­fec­tion. Beer was to him what wine is to me; a hob­by, a liveli­hood, and a darned good drink. Before inquir­ing about his accom­mo­da­tion, or food arrange­ments, and quite unaf­fect­ed­ly and in such a way one could not take offence, he went straight to the beer casks, pulled out the spig­ots, pulled him­self a glass of beer, held it up to the light and savoured it. An extra­or­di­nar­i­ly pleas­ant smile lit up his face as the bit­ter got his approval. He then did the same with the mild , and again he was hap­py.

Shep­herd patient­ly cor­rects all of Layton’s mis­takes, such as using optics designed for dis­pens­ing fruit cor­dials to hop-pick­ers’ chil­dren for spir­its so that every mea­sure was by default a dou­ble. He also edu­cates Lay­ton on the ben­e­fits of dif­fer­ent meth­ods of dis­pense, start­ing with a dis­sec­tion of “Beer from the Wood” served direct from casks on the bar:

It tastes much flat­ter, and the beer doesn’t retain its head,” said Shep­herd.

Actu­al­ly, the nau­se­at­ing white froth which appears on the top of a glass of ale is sup­posed to appeal to the beer-drink­ing pop­u­lace and pro­fes­sion­al brew­ers talk about ‘col­lar reten­tion’.

By and large Shep­herd was right; the advan­tages of below-ground cel­lars for beer in wood­en casks, in con­tradis­tinc­tion to the trou­ble-free beer dis­pensers in met­al drums under pres­sure, are irrefutable…

Among the advan­tages Lay­ton men­tions is that “There is no con­t­a­m­i­na­tion due to pipe smoke” – not some­thing we’d ever con­sid­ered giv­en the smoke-free days we live in.

If fur­ther con­fir­ma­tion was required that cask ale could some­times be a grot­ty prod­uct, Lay­ton pro­vides it in his account of the over­spill bowl which catch­es drip­pings from reused glass­es that cus­tomers insist must be filled right to the brim ever time:

[Over­spilled] beer from fifty dif­fer­ent mouths… is more often than note left in the bar all night and goes back into the casks for con­sump­tion the next day. I do not exag­ger­ate: this is what is hap­pen­ing all over Britain, and is a prac­tice that the Min­istry of Health… is try­ing to stop by forc­ing pub­li­cans to adopt a lined mea­sure so that the beer does not come up to the rim of the glass.

When he lat­er has a falling out with Shep­herd it is over his mis­han­dling of a recent­ly treat­ed cask: “I’d just topped that cask up with yesterday’s spillings… and they would have set­tled down nice­ly. Now they are all churned up.”

Lay­ton, hygien­i­cal­ly mind­ed and no lover of cask ale, is fair­ly warm towards con­ve­nient, clean keg bit­ters:

The beer in these con­tain­ers is brewed to appeal to the younger gen­er­a­tion; it is crisper and less oily than the cask stuff, and there are some who dis­ap­prove of it strong­ly. My friend Bri­an Fox, of the Vic­to­ry Inn, Arun­del, fumes with indig­na­tion at the thought of any free Mine Host stock­ing such swipes. But he is wrong; tastes change.

Else­where in the book you can enjoy Lay­ton express­ing his dis­dain for north­ern­ers and their dis­gust­ing cook­ing – “It may be all right up north… but down here we wouldn’t throw it to the pigs” – and rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the pan­cake; if we’d read it soon­er we might have cit­ed it in the sec­tion of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub on the devel­op­ment of the gas­trop­ub.

After snot­ti­ly order­ing around a suc­ces­sion of man­agers, treat­ing them more like his per­son­al ser­vants than skilled agency staff, and end­ing up with worse and weird­er char­ac­ters each time.

Even­tu­al­ly, he has some­thing of a break­down:

The truth was that the Pea­cock Inn, Iden Green was wear­ing my nerves raw. I became aware of this when I drove up to the inn and real­ized that I had been sit­ting in the dri­ving-seat for some min­utes sum­mon­ing up the willpow­er to get out and enter the house.

Seem­ing­ly out of nowhere, but per­haps an oblique reflec­tion of his men­tal state, one of the final chap­ters is an account of a tour of the sites of Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps on the Con­ti­nent.

It isn’t a great book. Lay­ton isn’t a great writer. The struc­ture is episod­ic, digres­sive, and repet­i­tive. But, still, if you want a snap­shot of life in a coun­try pub in the ear­ly 1960s, here it is, from bot­tles of brown ale to “seg­ments of gherkin” on the bar on Sun­day after­noon.

Our copy cost a fiv­er and will no doubt prove a use­ful addi­tion to the Arthur Mil­lard Memo­r­i­al Library.