Saturday, 21 June 2014

We had to make our own entertainment

There’s a widespread view that, going back to the early days of CAMRA, pub life was pretty dull. Everyone dutifully trooped in to their local pub, to be faced with a limited choice of often poorly-kept beer (if not just keg) and, in the absence of any other form of entertainment, were actually forced to talk to each other. This is expressed in slightly tongue-in-cheek manner in this blogpost on Seeing the Lizards. Like many such examples of received wisdom, it contains a grain of truth, but in most respects things were actually very different.

1. The beer choice was poor

Of course there wasn’t anything like the choice of real ales you get now, but in many places there was still a wide selection of brews available. Within a few hundred yards in Stockport town centre, you could find real ales from nine different breweries, with three others just a short bus ride away. Plenty of other towns were similar. You could get the variety from a short pub crawl rather than working your way along the bar.

Plus, in a perverse way, if you lived in an area dominated by one brewer, it freed you from the compulsion of choosing pubs on the basis of what beer they served, and allowed you to judge them on other criteria.

2. The beer was terrible

It certainly wasn’t! Outside a few “keg deserts”, real ale was generally pretty plentiful, and pubgoers would often make their choice on the basis of how well a pub kept its beer. There was plenty of really fresh, tasty, high-quality beer. And the generally higher turnover of those days could easily make up for deficiencies in cellarmanship, whereas nowadays you get the impression that many pubs, with the best will in the world, are often struggling to cope with low sales.

3. The pubs were awful

Again, completely untrue. There were many more really basic pubs than there are today, but even some of those served a good pint. And there were plenty of smart, well-kept, spick-and-span pubs that you would be happy to take your maiden aunt – or your girlfriend – to. Indeed, in many cases the “lounge side” was plusher and more comfortable than it is today, when bare boards and hard seating seem to be fashionable. There were also a fair number of decidedly upmarket wet-led pubs of a kind you simply don’t find today. It shouldn’t be forgotten that pubgoing, to the right kind of pub, was a lot more aspirational then.

4. Everyone stuck to their local

A lot of people did, mainly from the social groups that today would be at home with a slab of Foster’s. But, in general, there were more pubs to choose from, and many would spread their favours amongst a range of pubs rather than automatically just going to the one. Casual drinking – “let’s go and check out the Red Lion tonight” – was far more commonplace . I would say in those days the more middle-class pubgoers often tended to frequent a wider range of pubs than they do now.

5. Pubs were unsociable

The image presented on TV of pubs like the Rover’s Return where everyone happily mingles and chats together has always been a bit of an exaggeration. But people would often meet up with and chat to people in the pub that otherwise they never met. I remember my late father having, successively, two groups of “pub friends” that he would regularly talk to once a week but never speak to outside the pub environment. It was a kind of social ritual. And the simple matter of “going for a drink” with people that you knew in some other context tended to loosen inhibitions and allow you to get to know them in a way that you wouldn’t in any other environment. It still happens, but much less than it once did.

But tell that to the young folk nowadays, and they just won’t believe you.


  1. I agree entirely about the irritating stereotypes concerning pubs in the past.

    However, the Warrington area where I was a student was dominated by Greenall Whitley, which truly was a mediocre beer. I've read people, such as Tandleman, say that they quite liked it. Well they wouldn't if it had been virtually the only beer available for four years. Despite the presence of the Tetley and Burtonwood breweries in the town, there were only a few Tetleys pubs to challenge the monopoly in "Greenall Whitley Land", as they liked to call it. They even had GWL sticker for cars.

    Southport, where I live, was quite different: Higsons, Bass, Thwaites, Matthew Brown, Greenall Whitley, Tetleys, Walkers, Burtonwood, Boddingtons, Whitbread, Ruddles, John Smiths and Theaksons all had a real ale presence in or near the town centre. Liverpool had a good choice too, as I wrote here.

  2. I grew up and learned to drink in "Greenall Whitley Land" - Runcorn, Frodsham, Chester.

    Unlike north of the Mersey, the vast majority of Greenall's pubs in this area sold real ale. Some kept it well, some less so, so we naturally gravitated towards those with the better beer.

    It was never a brilliant pint to rank alongside Taylor's, Boddington's and Holt's, but IMV in those days it was pretty decent when kept well.

    Ironically, in those days the scattering of pubs in the area belonging to other brewers - Tetley, Whitbread, Burtonwood - were often keg.

  3. In the 60s and 70s
    The pubs were better
    The entertainment was better
    The beer was better. ????
    The clientele were more friendly
    The Publicans were better
    But most important of all, the men and women who filled the pubs
    ..........WERE BETTER
    End of.

    Room with a view

  4. 1. In Wrexham in the 1970s, the beer choice was piss-poor. Virtually all the pubs were owned by Border, the then local brewery apart from a few Bass and Ind Coope pubs and a solitary J W Lees.
    2. In most pubs the beer was terrible. Border had almost entirely gone over to keg apart from a couple of pubs, notably the Nag's Head next to the brewery which sold cask bitter and mild. The Bass pubs usually had draught Bass and there was a cask version of Stone's which was drinkable. (Virtually all the pubs are Marston's now as they bough up Border and promptly shut it down)
    3. The pubs were great. Proper boozers with red lino on the floor, formica everywhere and ashtrays advertising Woodbines or Park Drive. God, I loved those pubs. There are still one or two around (minus ashtrays obviously). And yes, there were plenty with nice lounges where you could take your girlfriend.
    4. Up to a point. We tended to have a circuit of locals, some in town, others a bit further out. There were always some which you definitely didn't go to either because they were dog-rough or the beer was particularly nasty.
    5. Pubs were far from unsociable. Everyone chatted to everyone else, across age groups. Pubs are far more unsociable now, unless you're out in the smoking shelter.
    Young people today, they don't know they're born...

  5. Stanley Blenkinsop22 June 2014 at 08:19

    I lost my virginity to a barmaid after I drank six pints of Tetleys waiting for her to finish her shift.
    I was 16 at the time.
    I can categorically state that pubs were much better in those days.
    I certainly haven't been shagged by a barmaid since,anyway.

  6. I started my drinking career in The Beehive in 1977. There was a snug at the front and a lounge in the back; beer was tuppence a pint more in the lounge, and for that you got a better pile on the carpet and not much else. Whitbread Trophy was 29p a pint. You should have heard the outrage from the old boys when it hit 30p. 'I'm not paying six shillings for a pint of beer.' But of course they did. I was 16 at the time and so were many of my friends. But we were tall and we wore trench coats, so we looked 18. Yeah, right. But Sid the Landlord knew. Of course he knew. He kept an eye on us. The old boys kept an eye on us. We were no trouble. Until we switched to lager and started playing The Stranglers on the juke box.

  7. When you look at beer sales of the early 70's the only conclusion you can draw is that people loved red barrel and double diamond and drank gallons of it.

    CAMRA has been a disaster, replacing much loved keg bitter with a product no ones likes or wants leading to a drop in pub going and beer drinking of astonishing levels.

    You seem to think reversing the smoking ban is the answer. Bring back red barrel, that's the answer, pal.

  8. Speak to me not of Liberty,nor of
    Freedom,nor of an Englishman's right of choice,neither of Democracy or Equality,be silent on the rights of the individual
    stay muted when we applaud the legacy of a way of life fought for and died for by our forebears,that cherished liberty
    now discarded by a generation muted by apathy and appeasement.

    Smoking ex drinker

  9. Now I understand the Second World War, Anon: we fought it, not to beat Hitler, but so you can puff away in a pub. I might as well tear up my history degree.

  10. Truly, it was a golden age. And anyone who remembers otherwise must be a self-deluding dupe of the nu-kraft hipster cabal.

  11. "I can categorically state that pubs were much better in those days.
    I certainly haven't been shagged by a barmaid since,anyway."

    Seems pretty conclusive to me I must say.

  12. 6 pints of Tetley and then a jump? Sounds like halcyon days to me. You won't get that service in a Wetherspoons these days.

  13. 'Ere, Anon, have you noticed the supermarkets started dying ever since they put the fags behind closed cabinets?

    Oh and Stan, the reason is the Tand gets all the barmaid action these days. The power of beer bloggery.

  14. The crucial difference, O wooden spoon wielding one, is that people don't go to supermarkets to have a smoke.

    Also I've seen plenty of anecdotal evidence that the tobacco shutters have given corner shops a temporary shot in the arm vis-a-vis supermarkets, because you can actually see what's available.

  15. Professor Pie-Tin23 June 2014 at 23:02


    " Oh and Stan, the reason is the Tand gets all the barmaid action these days. The power of beer bloggery. "

    Well Rabid About Beer must be worn out because you don't hear a peep from him these days.

    Wahaay !

  16. I expect he is, Prof.

    The lesson is beer bloggery is where the chicks are at. There's no skirt in libertarian bloggery about smoking bans and moaning about the demise of dumpy pubs.

    If you're gonna blog make it about cask breathers, sparklers and murkey beer and you're battin' 'em off with a shitty stick.

  17. Proessor Pie-Tin24 June 2014 at 19:44

    So by your reckoning when Glynn was involved in the Motley brew and he couldn't stop blogging about it Mrs Rabidbarfly had to make do with a spot of DIY.
    But now it's all gone quiet on the blog he's at it like a cobbler's hammer ?
    I wonder if anyone has considered the effects of the craft beer revolution on the state of marriage in Britain ?
    Them bastards at Brewdog have a lot to answer for.

  18. " have you noticed the supermarkets started dying ever since they put the fags behind closed cabinets" - cooking.

    Er, cooking, unless I am bieng a bit thick surely you are using the Chewbacca defense.

    I could not give two fucks about going to supermarkets more or less as a result of the display ban in supermarkets.
    I go to pubs hardly ever now compared to before the smoking ban ( when I was a 6 day a week man) because I do give a fuck about the fact that people think that is OK to treat me like some kind of fucking dog, to be chucked outside no matter the weather, like a fucking animal for no sensible reason.

    I think other people also feel somewhat similar -hence pubs closing after smoking ban and supermarkets being ok after display ban.


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