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.

Bristol and the Berni Inns

The Berni Inn chain is fascinating for various reasons, not least because it originated here in Bristol.

This is some­thing that only real­ly dawned on us recent­ly as, tak­ing an inter­est in the his­to­ry of Bris­tol pubs as we do, we kept com­ing across ref­er­ences to Berni Inns in old guide­books and local his­to­ries:

Free House *** F
Queen Square
A Berni Inn, but don’t be putt off. Just make for the back bar, The Tav­ern Pub­lic. Here find beau­ti­ful­ly served Wad­worth 6X (yes, in a Berni) and Wor­thing­ton E in peak con­di­tion – both on hand­pumps. Sand­wich­es at rea­son­able prices also avail­able. Quite small friend­ly bar with com­fort­able seats, thick car­pet and jovial old locals.

Inso­far as we were much aware of Berni Inns at all, this kind of thing was not what we had imag­ined. For decades they were the punch­line to jokes about the tack­i­ness of aspi­ra­tional lifestyles in post-war Britain, famous for bring­ing prawn cock­tail and black for­est gateau to the mass­es. For exam­ple, here’s a song from Vic­to­ria Wood’s 2011 musi­cal That Day We Sang which hits all the famil­iar ref­er­ences:

There are no short­age of arti­cles sum­maris­ing the his­to­ry of the Berni Inn chain but – this one by Bris­tol-based writer Eugene Byrne is good, for exam­ple. The sto­ry is also cov­ered, with some love­ly archive footage, in this 2015 edi­tion of the BBC’s Timeshift.

To save you a click, though, here’s a pre­cis, based on Mr Byrne’s piece, the obit­u­ar­ies of Aldo and Frank Berni in the Guardian for 17/10/1997 and 01/08/2000 respec­tive­ly, and var­i­ous oth­er sources.

Frank Berni was born in Bar­di near Par­ma in Italy in 1903. He was brought up pri­mar­i­ly by his moth­er because his father was abroad in South Wales run­ning tem­per­ance bars. When he came of age, Frank joined his father in the fam­i­ly busi­ness in the UK. He was soon joined by his broth­ers, Aldo, born 1909, and Car­lo.

Frank and Aldo Berni.
Frank and Aldo Berni from Hotel and Cater­ing Review, March 1968, via Face­book.

In 1929, Aldo and Frank used a £300 inher­i­tance from their moth­er to buy a cafe in High Street, Exeter, which was suc­cess­ful enough to fund expan­sion into Ply­mouth and Bris­tol.

Dur­ing World War II Frank and Car­lo were interned as ‘ene­my aliens’ while Aldo, who had a British pass­port, was at first called up, and then assigned to Home Front work because of his poor health.

After World War II Frank and Aldo acquired Hort’s, an upmar­ket cock­tail bar and restau­rant in Bris­tol. Tom Jaine sug­gests in his obit­u­ary of Frank Berni that they might have got the mon­ey to fund this bold move from repa­ra­tion pay­ments for Blitz dam­age to their pre-war prop­er­ties which just hap­pened to be in the most heav­i­ly bombed cities in the West Coun­try.

Like motel entre­pre­neur Gra­ham Lyon the Ber­nis sensed that there were inter­est­ing things going on in Amer­i­ca that British peo­ple, exhaust­ed and bored by wartime aus­ter­i­ty, might be ready to wel­come.

Frank Berni vis­it­ed the US in the ear­ly 1950s and came away inspired by Amer­i­can steak bars which made mon­ey by care­ful­ly con­trol­ling mar­gins while main­tain­ing the appear­ance of gen­eros­i­ty and good val­ue. He was also impressed by the con­sis­ten­cy of chain restau­rants which were capa­ble of serv­ing iden­ti­cal steak meals in iden­ti­cal sur­round­ings any­where in the US.

When meat rationing end­ed in Britain in 1954, they pounced, tak­ing on The Rum­mer, a his­toric pub in cen­tral Bris­tol.

Berni Inns logo, 1964.

In a short essay for The 60s in Bris­tol (ed. James Belsey, 1989) Mary Ack­land offers some details we’ve not come across else­where:

The Rum­mer is a rab­bit war­ren of a place with cel­lar bars and rooms large and small as well as a his­to­ry as an inn which dates back to the 13th cen­tu­ry. They called in a clever design­er, Alex Waugh, who cre­at­ed sev­er­al restau­rants and bars under one roof and cul­ti­vat­ed an olde worlde, lived-in, almost shab­by look. No-one need feel out of place in this atmos­phere! Alex Waugh made a famous remark to the Ber­nis when he arrived. “If you’ve got cob­webs, keep ’em. If you haven’t, I’ll make you some.” Now that was very clever for 1955.

The Rum­mer was the pro­toype”, she writes; “The Rev­o­lu­tion quick­ly fol­lowed.” There were nine Berni Inns in Bris­tol by 1964, clus­tered around the city cen­tre.

The Berni Inn mod­el seemed to answer a need for acces­si­ble lux­u­ry. On the one hand, steak and wine felt sophis­ti­cat­ed and posh British peo­ple brought up on fish’n’chips and brown ale. On the oth­er hand, every­thing about The Rum­mer was designed to make eat­ing out unin­tim­i­dat­ing.

The Rummer, 2018.

For starters, the fact that they her­mit-crabbed their way into pubs, retained a pub-like char­ac­ter, and called them­selves Inns, gave peo­ple some­thing to latch on to. (See also: gas­trop­ubs.)

Then there was what Mar­tin Wain­wright called “the cru­cial role played by chips as a bridge between tra­di­tion­al fare and the glam­orous… world of sir­loin and black for­est gateau”.  (Even if they did call them ‘chipped pota­toes’ on the menu.)

Final­ly, there was the sim­plic­i­ty of the offer as sum­marised by Mary Ack­land:

The broth­ers planned down to the last detail. They were deter­mined that every last wor­ry about eat­ing out would be removed… The fixed-price, lim­it­ed item menu ensured that cus­tomers knew exact­ly how much they would be pay­ing. The wine list was cut to just 16 names, eight red, six white and two rosé.

The lim­it­ed menu was­n’t only easy for cus­tomers, it also meant that the kitchens could be run with min­i­mal equip­ment by inter­change­able staff using a metic­u­lous man­u­al.

A menu.
SOURCE: Ron­nie Hughes/A Sense of Place.

The chain went nation­wide until there were 147 branch­es all over the coun­try, all fol­low­ing the same for­mu­la. Frank and Aldo sold up to Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan in 1970. The chain con­tin­ued to oper­ate until the 1990s when Whit­bread bought 115 Berni Inns and, decid­ing that the brand was effec­tive­ly dead, turned half of them into Beefeaters.

Know­ing a bit about the Berni­fi­ca­tion of Bris­tol helps makes sense of the 21st cen­tu­ry pub scene in the city. Many of those famous, his­toric, poten­tial­ly bril­liant pubs are appar­ent­ly still recov­er­ing from their long stretch­es as part of a food-focused chain. We don’t think we’ve ever heard any­one rec­om­mend The Rum­mer or The Hole in the Wall, and the Llan­doger Trow, though it has its charms, is essen­tial­ly the bar and break­fast lounge for a Pre­mier Inn.

It goes with­out say­ing that we’d like to hear your mem­o­ries of Berni Inns but espe­cial­ly the extent to which you recall them feel­ing like pubs, or oth­er­wise.

Read­ing the descrip­tions of plush fur­ni­ture, wood­en tables, and chips with every­thing, we can’t help but won­der if most pubs aren’t Berni­fied in 2018.

Main image, top: a detail from an adver­tise­ment for Berni Inns in Bris­tol on the back of the pro­gramme for the Bris­tol 600 Exhi­bi­tion pub­lished in 1973.

Guinness Pub Snack Ideas, 1961: Sild, Tongue and Fish Titbits

The Guinness Guide to Profitable Snacks (cover)

The other day we told you about Guinness’s drive to get more publicans serving food in the 1960s. Now, as promised, here’s some info on the recipes they were pushing.

The book, more-or-less A5 sized and in hard-cov­ers, has a mix of black-and-white and colour pho­tos, the lat­ter with that par­tic­u­lar gaudi­ness that makes food look faint­ly obscene in any book pub­lished before about, say, 1990. If you fol­low @70s_party on Twit­ter you’ll know what we mean although it must be said noth­ing in the Guin­ness book is as fun­da­men­tal­ly hor­ri­fy­ing as most of the exces­sive­ly ‘cre­ative’ recipes pre­sent­ed there.

It begins with a few dou­ble-page spreads like this one:

'Why snacks?' (spread with man drinking beer and bullet point list)

That’s inter­est­ing because it sum­maris­es where things were at in 1961: food def­i­nite­ly was­n’t the norm and peo­ple need­ed con­vinc­ing, ide­al­ly with a bit of what we assume passed for female-friend­ly eye can­dy back then.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Guin­ness Pub Snack Ideas, 1961: Sild, Tongue and Fish Tit­bits”

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.