Roll Out The Barrel

The British Film institute has raided its national archive to compile a collection of films celebrating the British pub on film. And, as they’ve kindly sent me a copy, it seems only fair to review the series. An eclectic mix of short films spanning the 1940s to the 1980s, they cover promotional films from the likes of Guinness and Bass through to government wartime propaganda and light educational pieces.
The interesting thing about them all is that they summon up an image of a bygone age. Even the most recent-Local Life, produced by the Brewers Society in 1982, seems dated even for then. Sadly, its boast of “30 million pints served a day in over 70,000 pubs” merely reinforces the truth about the decline of the modern boozer.

Whilst all the films are of interest, I particularly enjoyed a couple of them. Down at the Local was made in 1945 by the Army Kinematograph Corporation as reassurance for soldiers serving abroad. They may be far away, but their local pub; whether it is in London, Preston or Somerset is still there waiting for their return. Of course, some things have changed: prices are up, there’s a shortage of glasses and there are no spirits, but it’s still the pub they remember.

Amongst the pubs featured in Local Life is the Punch Bowl in Mayfair. This is a London pub I know and it hit the headlines of late when Guy Ritchie took charge. Back in 1945 it was a Watney’s pub selling Bitter (IPA) at 1/3d, Burton (KKK) for 1/5d and Mild at 1/-.

In fact one of the joys of watching these films is indulging in a spot of pub watching. Spotting pubs you know-several in my case and ones you wish you’d been to. Who wouldn’t want to visit the Redcliffe Hotel with “London’s only counter top cabaret bar” or Billy’s Boozer where a young Billy Walker was embarking on his business career?

And what about the swinging Birds Nest in the Green Man on Muswell Hill where DJ Stuart Henry was at home with the swinging dolly birds? Others just seem surreal; like the escape themed pub frequented by genuine wartime Stalag escapees. And despite the popularity of the German themed bierkeller; there were twelve of them in the West End alone in 1969, surely the only reason to visit the Schloss Keller would be if Jon Pertwee did get up for a singalong every night?

Of course, a lot of these pubs have gone, but several remain, if a shadow of their former self. Sadly, the dial House Club in Sheffield, which was the subject of a fascinating 1965 German documentary, closed its doors for the last time in 2005. But what all these films have in common is putting the pub at the heart of everyday life. And anyone with an interest not only in pubs, but social history will find them very rewarding.

One of the curios is Henry Cleans Up in which the Monty Python crew attempt to educate us in a humorous manner about the best way to keep Guinness. Although I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the “recommended” serving temperature of 12-15.5C.  Seems they really did like their beer warm in the 70s.


RedNev said…
Some Like It Hot.

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