Our pubs are becoming too posh, 1964

The January 1965 edition of A Monthly Bulletin, a publication about beer and pubs sponsored by the brewing industry, contained a letter which  seems to capture the exact moment the pub ceased to be a working class institution.

Writ­ten by one A. Bev­er­ley of 55 Har­ring­ton Avenue, Black­pool, the let­ter is actu­al­ly a response to anoth­er item of cor­re­spon­dence that appeared in “a nation­al news­pa­per”. Though they quote large chunks, Bev­er­ley does­n’t give the spe­cif­ic source and we can’t find a match in the GuardianTimes or Mir­ror.

Here’s Bev­er­ley’s sum­ma­ry, though:

In com­plain­ing that “our pubs are becom­ing too posh” [they assert] that it is “vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for a man in over­alls to get a hot din­ner in the cen­tre of many a big city”. He mourns, too, because many coun­try pub­lic hous­es are attract­ing cus­tomers from towns at mid-day, offer­ing “busi­ness lunch­es” and pro­vid­ing plen­ty of space for park­ing motor cars. Where is the work­ing man in his work­ing clothes to go? Will nobody cater for him?

This line might seem sur­pris­ing if you’ve bought into the idea that food in pubs is an inven­tion of the 1990s, or are of the view that food in pubs is some­how inher­ent­ly un-work­ing-class. But if you’ve read the chap­ter on gas­trop­ubs in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, you’ll know oth­er­wise.

But, any­way, Bev­er­ley is hav­ing none of it:

This type of com­ment ignores the real­i­ties of 1964 cater­ing. If the char­ac­ter of our pubs is chang­ing with the times, it is rea­son­able to assume, too, that the same can be said of the cus­tomers. The num­ber of cus­tomers who go into bars in over­alls at any time is dwin­dling. But the num­ber of cus­tomers who, after work­ing hours, change into well-cut suits to go into pub­lic hous­es with their wives or girl friends is increas­ing. These female com­pan­ions not unnat­u­ral­ly pre­fer the com­fort and ameni­ties of a mod­ern, taste­ful­ly appoint­ed bar rather than sur­round­ings that are drea­ry and out­mod­ed.

(Isn’t CAM­RA’s nation­al inven­to­ry essen­tial­ly the Drea­ry and Out­mod­ed Pub Guide?)

Bev­er­ley’s argu­ment is not only that “men in over­alls” in the pub are a dying breed but also that their suc­ces­sors, “who wear… pro­tec­tive cloth­ing at work”, prob­a­bly earned as much as, or more than, white-col­lar work­ers.

With the growth of automa­tion and the short­en­ing of the work­ing week, the over­all and boil­er suit may dis­ap­pear entire­ly, and the well-appoint­ed, well-warmed pub or inn, pro­vid­ing tasty meals and cor­rect­ly served drinks, should estab­lish itself yet more firm­ly in the design for a life offer­ing greater peri­od of leisure.

The punch­line to all this is, we think, quite fun­ny: the real prob­lem, Bev­er­ley writes, isn’t that pubs are being poshed-up but that, as of the end of 1964, the new aspi­ra­tional work­ing class­es had­n’t quite learned how to behave.

It is only hoped that, as high­er stan­dards are called for and met, appro­pri­ate improve­ments in human behav­iour also will devel­op. Licensees, proud of their “poshed-up” pubs, have dif­fi­cul­ty in believ­ing that change is for the good when expen­sive car­pets and table-tops are dam­aged by cig­a­rette burns. To be tru­ly ben­e­fi­cial, the winds of change… must blow some instinct of respon­si­bil­i­ty and sense of val­ues into the minds of those who are usu­al­ly the most insis­tent and vocal in their demands for lux­u­ry in the “local”.

It’s inter­est­ing to read this along­side those 1960s Bats­ford guides with all their talk of mut­ton cur­ry and beef fon­due, and oth­er accounts of the com­ing pub car­pets at around the same time. The mid-1960s were in pubs, as they were in art, music, lit­er­a­ture, film, some­thing of a moment as the tra­di­tion­al indi­ca­tors of class got jum­bled up or messed around with.

Fifty plus years on, peo­ple are still com­plain­ing about pubs being “poshed-up”, although these days the dis­ap­pear­ance of the car­pet in favour of bare boards is a key indi­ca­tor of com­ing posh­ness.

And the objec­tion seems to be less about class than atti­tude: pubs should be infor­mal, unguard­ed, live­ly and spon­ta­neous, not com­posed, curat­ed or man­nered.

We got our col­lec­tion of edi­tions of A Month­ly Bul­letin from Mar­tyn Cor­nell who kind­ly gave us his spares a few years ago. Thanks again, MC.

QUICK ONE: (A Comically Small Portion of) Food for Thought

Auguste Escoffier in pop art colours.

In 1973 the food critic Henri Gault published ‘The Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine’, crystallising the new movement then sweeping French gastronomy:

  1. Thou shall not over­cook
  2. Thou shall use fresh, qual­i­ty prod­ucts
  3. Thou shall light­en thy menu
  4. Thou shall not be sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly mod­ernistic
  5. Thou shall seek out what the new tech­niques can bring you
  6. Thou shall elim­i­nate brown and white sauces
  7. Thou shall not ignore dietet­ics
  8. Thou shall not cheat on thy pre­sen­ta­tion
  9. Thou shall be inven­tive
  10. Thou shall not be prej­u­diced

(This is the trans­la­tion giv­en by Paul Freed­man in Ten Restau­rants That Changed Amer­i­ca, 2016. There are many sub­tly dif­fer­ent ver­sions around.)

From this side of the 1980s, Nou­velle Cui­sine is a bit of a joke – huge plates, tiny amounts of sil­ly food, very expen­sive. What yup­pies ate. But that list made us think about changes in beer that were tak­ing place in the same peri­od with the rise of micro-brew­ing and ‘alter­no beer’.

Of course some of those com­mand­ment don’t direct­ly map (over­cook­ing, sauces) but how about if we rewrite them a bit?

  1. Thou shall not stew good hops.
  2. Thou shall use fresh, qual­i­ty prod­ucts.
  3. Thou shall light­en thy beer.
  4. Thou shall not be indus­tri­al.
  5. But thou shall seek out what the new tech­niques can bring you.
  6. Thou shall elim­i­nate brown beer (UK) and yel­low beer (US).
  7. Thou shall be trans­par­ent about the strength and ingre­di­ents of your beer.
  8. Thou shall not prize mar­ket­ing over qual­i­ty.
  9. Thou shall be inven­tive.
  10. Thou shall not be prej­u­diced.

Of course there are a mil­lion excep­tions to each of those ‘rules’, as there were in Nou­velle Cui­sine as actu­al­ly prac­tised, but that does­n’t feel to us like a bad sum­ma­ry of where – in the very most gen­er­al sense – peo­ple’s heads were between about 1963 and, say, 2015. (We say 2015 because, in very recent years, some­thing seems to be chang­ing. But that’s just a gut feel­ing which we’re still prob­ing.)

This feels like a con­nec­tion Michael Jack­son, Char­lie Papaz­ian, Gar­rett Oliv­er or even Sean Franklin must have made at some point but a quick Google (time is short this morn­ing) does­n’t turn any­thing up. Point­ers wel­come in com­ments below.

To fin­ish, here’s anoth­er quote from Freed­man:

Nou­velle Cui­sine of the 1970s… had two mis­sions that have since gone sep­a­rate ways: to exalt pri­ma­ry ingre­di­ents sim­ply pre­pared, and to advo­cate vari­ety result­ing from break­ing with tra­di­tion – new com­bi­na­tions such as Asian fusion.

That sounds a bit like the break between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’, does­n’t it?

Ham Rolls in Clingfilm

There’s a lot wrapped up – pun intended – in the ham rolls you see on the back bar of a certain type of pub.

Roll. noun. A round indi­vid­u­al­ly por­tioned bread prod­uct usu­al­ly split before eat­ing. Syn­onyms: bap, cob, batch.

They are not in any sense ‘arti­sanal’. The bread is usu­al­ly of the soft, gum­my white and processed vari­ety – eight for a pound. The ham is from a pack­et, pre-sliced, rub­bery and pink. If there is but­ter, it isn’t but­ter, though you may not believe it. Instead of waxed paper they’re bun­dled up in cling­film (US: Saran Wrap) – con­ve­nient, cer­tain­ly, but prone to sweat­ing and squash­ing the rolls into faint­ly obscene shapes. And, most impor­tant­ly, they don’t cost £5 but more like £1, or per­haps £1.50 if they’re espe­cial­ly sub­stan­tial.

Some vari­ants: the roll might be crusty; there is some­times mus­tard, or raw sliced onion; and there might be cheese rolls too – mild ched­dar, prob­a­bly pre-sliced.

This is how we remem­ber pub food when we were kids – piles of rolls like this, kept under plas­tic cov­ers, and slung across the counter with pack­ets of peanuts, the inten­tion being to soak up beer in the bel­ly, and keep bums on ban­quettes, pound­ing pints.

And that’s the point: they are func­tion­al acces­sories to beer, sat­is­fy­ing in their own way but with­out being a culi­nary expe­ri­ence.

No-one plans to eat these rolls. They’re a side effect of being in the pub and not want­i­ng to leave for what­ev­er rea­son, and of the munchies that strike after a round or two. You see them and you just fan­cy one, just as in the ter­mi­nal phase of the same evening you might fan­cy a kebab you would­n’t touch with a broom-han­dle while sober.

Fictional book cover: The Ham Roll Pub Guide.
Not a real book from 1975.

In the 21st Cen­tu­ry they’re a way for a pub to sig­nal that it is unpre­ten­tious but not uncivilised; old-fash­ioned rather than rough. If you’re going to drink ten pints here, mate, which you’re very wel­come to do, then make sure you don’t do it on an emp­ty stom­ach.

But they’re becom­ing rare these days as pubs become ever more polarised between haves and have-nots and as envi­ron­men­tal health reg­u­la­tions make it hard­er for a pub­li­can to knock up some­thing even this sim­ple with­out a ded­i­cat­ed food prepa­ra­tion area.

Which is a shame because we’re begin­ning to think that Ham Roll Pubs™ might be the best pubs.

Quick, Clint – to the Pub Grub Mobile!

Though there had been pub food before the 1960s (see the forthcoming Big Project for more on that) it was in this decade that it really took off, and Guinness got stuck in.

The sto­ry is told in the Spring 1963 edi­tion of the in-house mag­a­zine, Guin­ness Time, and also in a short essay by Edward Guin­ness in The Guin­ness book of Guin­ness, 1988, nei­ther of which can be con­sid­ered entire­ly objec­tive. Any­way, here’s how it went.

In part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Trade Devel­op­ment Asso­ci­a­tion, in Novem­ber 1961, the brew­ery pub­lished a book called The Guide to Prof­itable Snacks (many copies are avail­able on Amazon/Ebay – we’ve got one on the way). It con­tained recipes and cost­ings for bar snacks in an attempt to address a spe­cif­ic prob­lem where­by, as Edward Guin­ness put it

many ladies start­ed [pro­vid­ing food] with enthu­si­asm but were dis­ap­point­ed by the lack of return either due to inex­pe­ri­ence in pro­vid­ing what the cus­tomers want­ed or more often as she had no idea how to cost the oper­a­tion and fix the appro­pri­ate retail price.

In 1962 Guin­ness fol­lowed that book up with a film, Food for Thought, which is sad­ly not avail­able any­where online, star­ring Pearl Hack­ney and Car­ry On star Eric Bark­er. (You’ll know him when you see him.)

These were suc­cess­ful enough but Edward Guin­ness felt that face-to-face demon­stra­tions would be even bet­ter so, in Octo­ber 1962, the new­ly-formed Snack Demon­stra­tion Team hit the road in this fab­u­lous Mys­tery-Machine-alike:

Guinness Snack Demonstration Unit van.

Four days a week for the lat­ter part of that year, lec­tur­er Jo Shel­lard (an actor turned cater­er) and his assis­tant Clint Antell toured the North West of Eng­land (where pub food was par­tic­u­lar­ly want­i­ng, we assume) speak­ing to groups of pub­li­cans ‘and their wives’:

The van con­tains the full equip­ment for show­ing the film-strip, tables, cut­lery, cook­ers and oth­er items nec­es­sary for the demon­stra­tion. it also con­tains sets of the basic snack equip­ment required by licensees, priced from £5 per set upwards. In addi­tion, the van car­ries sup­plies of the book… and note­books for each mem­ber of the audi­ence, con­tain­ing a pré­cis of the lec­ture, recipes, and space for the licensees’ own notes.

The talks got busier and busier and Edward Guin­ness reck­oned that, by the time the GSDU was demo­bilised in 1966, more than 20,000 peo­ple had attend­ed its lec­tures. One licensee in Black­burn, he said, told him that he’d dou­bled his lunchtime tak­ings by offer­ing soup and a plough­man’s and thus lur­ing local work­ers from the fac­to­ry can­teen. By this time, most big brew­eries had a cater­ing train­ing divi­sion, so Guin­ness’s work was done.

The motive for all this was nev­er quite self­less – ‘Guin­ness pros­pered if the trade pros­pered’ – but ads like this from a few years lat­er make you won­der if they did­n’t also take the chance to push Guin­ness more direct­ly, as the classy choice to accom­pa­ny meals:

Guinness Ad for steaks from 1966.
From 1966. SOURCE: Illus­trat­ed Lon­don News.

We won­der if there’s any­one out there who remem­bers attend­ing one of Jo Shel­lard’s demos – they’d have to be at least in their 70s if so. When the book arrives, we’ll let you know what recipes it con­tains, and how close­ly it resem­bles the pub grub clich­es we know and love.

Repeat After Us: Pub. Grub.

We’ve been researching 1990s gastropubs this week which prompted a side question: when did the phrase ‘pub grub’ come into common use?

There are a few exam­ples of sim­i­lar turns of phrase, such as this from 1924…

Burnley News, 05/05/1924, via The British Newspaper Archive.
Burn­ley News, 05/05/1924, via The British News­pa­per Archive.

…and the Pea­cock Hotel, Bed­ford, called itself ‘The Pub for Grub’ in adver­tis­ing in the 1930s (e.g. Bed­ford­shire Times and Inde­pen­dent, 05/11/1937.) It’s kind of an obvi­ous rhyme, real­ly, and, as ‘pub’ was itself gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered an uncouth con­trac­tion until as late as the 1950s, it’s pos­si­ble that peo­ple were riff­ing on it ver­bal­ly even if it was­n’t record­ed in print.

But, those caveats aside, we reck­on that the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the spe­cif­ic catchy unit ‘pub grub’ can be traced pret­ty pre­cise­ly to a Brew­ers’ Soci­ety adver­tis­ing cam­paign that began in 1967, an exam­ple of which, tak­en from The Times, you can see above.

It was ham­mered home with fol­low-up ads in 1968, a promi­nent men­tion in the sly­ly-spon­sored 1969 anthol­o­gy Pub edit­ed by Angus McGill, and by indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the Soci­ety in their own PR. Wat­ney’s, for exam­ple, ran an exhi­bi­tion called Pub Grub ’71 in, er, 1971.

It’s almost dis­ap­point­ing to dis­cov­er that, like Beer is Best, this is anoth­er exam­ple of mar­ket­ing peo­ple train­ing pun­ters to use their lan­guage. It’s also rather impres­sive.