James Nicholls / “The Pub and the People: Drinking Places and Popular Culture” / The Politics of Alcohol / 2009Posted: June 5, 2012
To drink beer is for your country’s good as well as your own (Brewer’s society advertisement, 1938). By 1918, drink question in England transformed. Central Control Board had proved central planning could be imposed on drink trade. Opening hours restriction had normalized idea that pubs could be open at certain times, rather than had to be closed at certain times. As per CCB, brewers worked with government to set alcohol policy, rather than feared legislation. Idea firmly established with policymakers and public to improve conditions in drinking rather than restrict access. Drinking down: at start of century, 214 pints average annual consumption; at end of WW1, 80. 1900-1920 saw halving of # breweries, 6,000->3,000. CCB success made nationalization a real possibility. Labour Party supported state purchase. Post-war brewing industry malaise saw two leading companies, both had worked with CCB: Whitbread, and Mitchells & Butlers. They saw that public concept of pub could be changed from “place to drink” to “place where drink was one of many leisure choices.” Inter-war period, “improved pubs.” Seen as either: 1) civilizing disreputable industry, 2) imposition of middle class values and consumption patterns on working class social institutions. “Improve pub” rooted in late 19th century Gothenburg system of temperance campaigners. 1920, Whitbread, Mitchells & Butlers, and others began vast pub building projects. Image overhaul. Garish lighting, engraved glass panels replaced by spacious seating areas, dining halls, dance floors. Bar service to table service. Select Committee, 1927: improved pubs alienated many traditional pubgoers, noted that “where a public house is improved and enlarged there is a tendency for the old clientele which used to frequent it to remove to another unimproved house where another and better class of customers… comes to take their place.” George Orwell dismissed suburban superpubs as “dismal sham Tudor” atrocities which represented a “serious blow at [the] communal life” of the working class. Pub improvement similar to ideas of Amiercan Progressivism. Pragmatic approach. 1937, The Committee for Verse and Prose Recitation, or, “Poetry in Pubs,” began Shakespeare and poetry readings. Manners. 1931, a Royal Commission on Licensing noted a marked change in manners. “Drunkenness has gone out of fashion.” Backlash versus “freak public-houses” in 1937 Brewer’s Journal. Same year, Barclay Perkins, owners of famous Downham Tavern, applied to authorities to re-introduce a stand-up bar, that symbol of old-style unreconstructed boozing [Nicholls], into the flagship superpub. Orwell and others thought paternalism of pub improvers was class snobbery. New genre of quasi-anthropological investigations of pub culture between the wars. 1927, Ernest Selley, supporter of nationalization of drink trade wrote The English Public House As It Is, w/judgmental observations. 1943, Mass-Observation published The Pub and the People. Deep into minutia of difference between taproom, vault, lounge, and bar. Standing drinkers finished a gill of beer in average 5 minutes, 34 seconds. Seated, over 13 minutes. Mass-Observation said, in an age when popular culture was becoming increasingly commodified, individualized and passive, the traditional working class pub must be saved. Orwell reviewed The Pub and the People in 1943, noted that is failed to cover impact of war on drinking habits. In 1940, beer signified hearty fellowship, British values for cultural imaginary of Churchill’s Britain. Wartime conditions shook up gender roles and by 1940s women, especially young women, attended bars more. In 40s, men attended pubs more, prompting weak temperance revival. Wartime mobilization of Britishness as moderation, fellowship, good-humored stoicism. Late 1920s, Guinness launched ads: “Guinness for strength,” “Guinness is Good For You.” 30s, “Beer is Best” campaign.