We were alerted to the presence of this film on YouTube by Anthony Harper (@anthonymharper) and it’s a corker.
It was made as a joint production of the US and UK governments and was intended, in short, to prevent American soldiers acting like dickheads in Britain. The host is Burgess Meredith (Batman, Rocky) and he spends the first third of the film — about ten minutes — in an English country pub:
We’re not trying to show you the perfect way to behave in a pub. We’re only trying to point out that some of these people are a little more reserved than some of us. If you take it easy a little bit, just at the beginning… you’ll make some damn good friends.
It’s staged with the interior filmed on a studio set but, as it’s intended to be educational rather than propaganda, we can probably assume it’s a fairly accurate portrayal. In fact, the advice is still good, on the whole:
What’s that? What’s the difference between bitter and mild? I don’t know. One’s bitter and one’s mild. You’d better find out for yourself…
This is the text of an anonymous advertisement (probably placed by the Brewers’ Society) that ran in The Times on 10 January 1940:
Disraeli once said that the real motto of the English people is — “something will turn up.”
It is certainly true that not even the advent of a European war, nor the threats of raids, nor the frustration of the black-out have dimmed our cheerful faith and philosophy among us.
It is in the pub where one sees it best. Around the glasses of beer the people of all classes have found a warm, bright, kindly atmosphere in which cheerfulness supplants alarm. The pub gives relaxation. It promotes our national democratic feeling.
And beer too has played its traditional part in keeping us friendly, buoyant and good tempered. Good barley malt and country hops brewed in the manner handed down to us through the centuries has been John Bull’s drink in many a hard day — giving him the health to withstand and courage to endure!
We recently discovered the Imperial War Museum digital archive which is (perhaps surprisingly) crammed with pictures of pubs, beer and brewing.
Here are some of the best shots of ‘everyday life’ on the home front during World War II shared under the terms of their non-commercial license. (Click the ID numbers to go to the IWM website for bigger versions and more info.)
Reading old editions of American magazine LIFE on Google Books, we were delighted by the various attempts to explain Britain to Americans, especially when those articles touched on the pub. Here are a few bits and pieces, but you ought to check out the original scans for the wonderful photographs that accompany them.
Robert Barlow Neve is the most self-respecting, self-satisfied man on earth — an Englishman… He goes to the pub on Sunday night for a beer and a chat. He likes his fellow men and, unlike the Frenchman, he gives his fellow men the same respect he demands from them… [PHOTO CAPTION] ‘Mild and bitter’ ale from mug quenches all England’s thirst. Neve takes it at the more refined Saloon Bar, not workingman’s Public Bar. Taps are for expensive, mild and bitter ale.
What was on the ‘expensive’ tap? Presumably not an imported Scandinavian double IPA with Himalayan vanilla.
England’s public house or ‘pub’ is more than a counterpart of the US saloon. It is every man’s club — a meeting place for rich and poor, high and low. Next to the Church it does more than any other institution to solidify English life. Most Englishmen have their favorite pubs and there, besides their tastes for alcohol, they liberally indulge their inclination for conversation. Talk in pubs comes closer to reflecting English thought than all the editorials in London.
With local elections in a couple of days, politicians would do well to bear that last point in mind.
The Bath House pub in Dean Street takes a righteous attitude of censure toward teetotalers. A sign over the bar reads, ‘You don’t undress when you come to this Bath House. So don’t drink water.’ At the same time Vic, the publican, would frown on any guest who misjudged his capacity. At both dinnertime (noon) and supper the people from nearby offices drink mild and bitter ale as they wait for a seat at the small wooden tables or on an old-fashioned stool at the food bar. While they wait, Harry Leon, composer of popular songs, pounds the upright piano in the corner and another customer sings… At the food bar Vic or his wife, Mrs Ruffell, ladles out soup, bread and butter (not margarine), rabbit, roast beef or ham (not Spam), potatoes and cabbage or fresh crisp lettuce with a tomato, and follows with a hot dessert of jam roll or suet pudding or not too biting cheese. The bill 2/6 (50c).
During World War II, my grandfather was taken prisoner at Dunkirk, and spent most of the next few years at Stalag VIIIb in what is now Lambinowice in Poland, but was then called Lamsdorf.
I decided to visit the site of the camp and badgered Boak into using her Polish to make arrangements. As a result, I was greeted on site by an English speaking student from the University of Opole, who showed us what little remained of the camp and escorted us around an exhibition building.
There were three camps, she explained, and the “Britische Lager” was by far the most civilised. The Russian camp was hellish; the Polish one not much better; but the British soldiers benefited from lip-service to the Geneva Convention.
She pointed to a photograph: “They even had one bottle of beer a week from packages sent by the Red Cross.” There it was, the familiar shape of an English ale bottle, with what I thought was the Big Red Triangle on the label.
It must have tasted great after a day labouring on the construction of an Autobahn; the fact that it was a little piece of home must have made it all the sweeter.