Beer bellies or blazers?

Fat CAMRA member cartoon.In a 1975 issue of its newsletter, What’s Brewing (WB), The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) ran an advertisement: T-shirts bearing their logo were being made available in extra large for the benefit of ‘members like the poor bloke on the left’. So, it seems, one of the earliest digs at CAMRA members and their supposed tendency towards beer bellies came from within the Campaign itself. (Note, though, that he has no beard…) But that wasn’t the only stereotype in play at the time.

An article entitled ‘Class Conscious CAMRA Must Use Every Available Weapon’, from WB in April 1975, was illustrated by in-house cartoonist John Simpson. His drawings depict two ‘types’ of CAMRA member — a bearded, apparently foul-smelling hippy on the one hand; and a bunch of middle class, blazer-wearing, loud-mouthed ‘connoisseurs’ on the other. (Yes, CAMRA pretty much invented the Real Ale Twats, getting in well before VIZ.)

The article itself, by Dave Bennett, addresses anxieties over CAMRA’s middle class membership:

The plain fact is that working-class drinking patterns are on the whole different from the various strands that make up the middle class. CAMRA members, especially the students among us, are resisting the middle class trend of drinking, if at all, in one’s own home… resisting the trend does not, however, make our drinking habits identifiable with those of the working class.

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.
John Simpson’s depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

A correspondent in the October 1977 issue wrote disdainfully of a number of CAMRA members as ‘trendies who seem to believe that they belong to some sort of Freemasonry’, and complaining of a real ale destination pub in Durham where ‘a suit and an Oxford accent are a must’.

There was something in that generalised view: Chris Bruton, CAMRA’s chairman from 1976 to 1978, was always pictured wearing a suit. With his dark hair cut short and neatly styled, he resembled a spare member of Kraftwerk. Bruton made a point of being reasonable and diplomatic at every turn: ‘There’s nothing nasty about keg ale, it’s just characterless.’ Not everyone bought into his clean-cut ‘brand’, though. Speaking to us recently, a long-time CAMRA activist rolled his eyes and growled disdainfully ‘Oh, you mean DOCTOR Bruton.’

Updated 28 March 2013. In November 1980, What’s Brewing ran the results of a survey which included the following summary of how CAMRA members were perceived.

The most popular model of a CAMRA member was the ‘poseur’ type, which centred around the idea that CAMRA was a trendy club, comprising mostly of young (under 25) smartly-dressed types with plenty of money to spend on beer, and plenty of spare time to spend it in. Most were called James, many drove W-reg cars and frequented free-houses which charged “exorbitant prices”… The second popular model was of ‘beer bores’ or ‘beer swilling oafs’. These are a little older than the ‘poseur’ model, less well dressed and with beard and beer gut.

The problem is, well-spoken, moderate, neatly-dressed people don’t make front pages, and CAMRA’s publicity machine couldn’t resist exploiting images like this portrait of a branch treasurer from October 1976.

Garth Nicholls, Sheffield branch treasurer, What's Brewing, October 1976.

The beards, beer bellies and and Morris Dancing image eventually won out but, if it hadn’t, members and activists would probably now spend their whole time saying ‘Oh, we’re not all clean-shaven, suit-wearing professionals you know — many of us have novelty waistcoats and facial hair!’

With thanks to CAMRA, and Tom Stainer in particular, for allowing us to access the What’s Brewing archive at head office in St Albans.

The CAMRA beard stereotype

A good question from Barm on Twitter yesterday:

1974: a report on beer strength in The Guardian from 2 April makes pointed reference to Michael Hardman as ‘the bearded 27-year-old journalist who founded CAMRA’.

1979: famous beard-wearer David Bellamy opens the Great British Beer Festival and The Guardian coverage makes much of the number of beards in attendance, with a CAMRA spokesman clarifying that, contrary to appearances, the clean-shaven are welcome. The Daily Mirror report from Alexandra Palace says ‘the connoisseurs imbibed through their beards — there was enough facial hair to stuff a thousand tap-room stools’. (The stereotype is developing, but there are actual people with actual beards being referred to here.)

1982: The Guardian’s coverage of the launch of The Good Beer Guide mentions ‘people with belly laughs and bushy beards’. (The stereotype now in the abstract, fully developed, and sounds rather like a mythical, Falstaffian Lord of the Beers.)

Based on what we’ve found so far, we reckon GBBF 1979 is to blame. More alternate history: perhaps if Johnny Morris had opened it instead of Bellamy, the stereotype would be that all CAMRA members wear zoo-keeper’s hats?