John Greenaway / “Decades of Improvement: The Interwar Years” / Drink and British Politics since 1830 / 2003Posted: June 23, 2012
Temperance movement down. Generally, 1920s, not a major problem of intemperance in Glasgow, Ruthergen, Greenock. Exception: small young community, Kirkintilloch. Local establishments: the local council, Catholic leader of local miners’ association, and Labor MP Tom Johnston, all pro prohibition. Used local veto. Pubs converted. One pub converted into a cinema [note: see similar trajectories of improved pub and movie palace]. 1918, attempt to get Labour party to endorse nationalization of the Trade. Odd meeting of Conservative millionaire MP, at Labour party caucus, trying to convince Labour party to nationalize. Some Socialists took libertarian view on principle, considered attach vs. working class drinking as slur on workers. See Jones, Labour and Drink Question, p. 110-3, for temperance positions in the Labour Movement. Carlisle experiment criticized from two sides: prohibition and Trade. Prohibition vs. disinterested control. Trade agents, 1925, went to Carlisle undercover, posed as tourists, requested whiskey out of hours. When refused, they “kicked up a fearful fuss.” City accepted the new order without difficulty, if some complaints re: quality of “State beer,” whose advent coincided with sharp reduction in gravities country-wide. Carlisle attracted attention for two reasons: 1) example of State management of normally commercial interest, at a time when State involvement with a variety of industries, like electricity, railways, new radio broadcasting, was politically controversial. 2) alternative “improved pub” model with disinterested management as solution to the drink question.
THE IMPROVED PUB. 1920s, public houses cramped, crowded, unhygienic. Drink issue analysts concluded that most pub houses were simply drink shops. Unregulated competition caused bad houses to drive out good. After a decade, Carlisle drinkers satisfied. During wartime, emphasis was: eliminate drunkenness, temperance up. 1925, subtle shift: women’s bars up, comfort up. Whitbread established Improved Public House Company, to manage catering, etc. Large palatial premises, large rooms, 3,000 people for concerts, 1/2 that for meals. Spectacular houses attracted attention. Striking transformations. H.L. Grimston of Barclays recalls: upon reopening improved pub, one woman entered said: “Gor lummy, the House of Lords,” and then bolted. He followed, soothed with a free drink. During 1920s, debate over drink became a debate over the nature of the public house in a society with big change in mobility and leisure. The Royal Commission, 29-31, believed the question of the improved public house of the “greatest importance”: the best type of improved pubs were “a direct discouragement to insobriety.” The issues Commission paid attention to were by now passe: local option, disinterested management, license reduction. New issues, also discussed, to attract more attention: medical effects, drink and driving, advertising and alcohol in leisure society. Director of Brewers’ Society, Sir Edgar Saunders: “we want new customers.” We want to get the beer-drinking habit instilled into thousands, almost millions, of young men who do not at present know the taste of beer.” “If we begin advertising in the Press we shall see that the continuation of our advertising is contingent upon the fact that we get editorial support as well in the same paper. In that way it is wonderful how you can educate the public opinion generally without making it too obvious that there is a publicity campaign behind it all.” Slogan “Beer is best” often defaced by temperance artists: “Beer is best / left alone.” 1935 Lord Arnold introduces bill to ban such advertisements; rejected on grounds of freedom. Sum: interwar years began with debate re: national efficiency, and prospect of prohibition in international arena. Then it became clear during the interwar period that the drink problem could no longer be described as a “gigantic evil.” New issues: health, advertising, drink/driving, regulation of monopoly and town planning.