Beer history

Beer in ‘Victory’ magazine, September 1945

Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.

First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Murree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)

Advert for lion pilsener beer. Advert for Solan pale ale and XXX stout.

Then there are illustrations for articles and stories which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accompanies a comic tall tale of the adventures of an RAF officer, and the second a soupy tale of a soldier falling in love remotely with a comrade’s sister.

RAF officer with pint. Photo and pints of beer.

Finally, though it has no illustration of note, there’s a fantastic piece called ‘The Man in the Corner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Corner is a hectoring bore who argues in favour of continuing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for people, good for society, and inconveniences people he doesn’t like. The punchline is:

There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war running from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s regular customers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.

All of this ties into a theory we’ve had brewing for a while: that the reason beer and pubs suddenly became respectable topics to write about, and acceptable as hobbies, was because of the general breakdown of class distinctions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a little more in another blog post soon.

Beer history pubs videos

VIDEO: Advice for Americans on English Pubs, 1943

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 (BatmanRocky) 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…

Beer history pubs quotes

QUOTE: Something Will Turn Up, 1940

Dominoes in the pub, 1940.
Men playing dominoes in the pub, LIFE magazine, 1940.

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!

(Exeunt. Alarum, and chambers go off.)

london photography pubs

GALLERY: Home Front Beer, WWII

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.)

A mixed group of uniformed men and a barmaid.
Allied soldiers in a London pub, 1940. © IWM (D 1725)
A dimly lit pub with soldiers in discussion.
Home Guard members in a pub in Orford, Suffolk, 1941. © IWM (D 4852)
Beer history pubs

Pubs as Alien Territory

Dominoes in the pub, 1940.
Men playing dominoes in the pub, LIFE, 1940.

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.

24 April 1939, ‘An English family is self-satisfied

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.

3 June 1940, ‘Backbone of England is Public-House Bar

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).

8 November 1943, ‘Life Among the Ruins

‘Not too biting’ — fairly bland?