32. “Mine’s a pint.”

I developed a taste for beer; way back in 1957, when beer was 1/- (5p) a pint.  Then the weekly wage was ~ £8 which equates to 160 pints. With the current wage at ~£500 a week and the price locally at ~£3.30, it is almost exactly the same.

I was well under age, but nobody bothered much back then. I said ‘developed a taste’, as I have never met anyone who enjoyed their first taste of beer and admitted to it. Still, we all persisted and became experts, or pretended to be. Back then many people drank ‘halfs’ and often in a dimpled glass mug with a handle.

Most local pubs served ‘keg’ bitter, which is pasteurised to keep longer and propelled to the tap using carbon dioxide under pressure. The resultant product was rather flat and any ‘head’ soon disappeared, but we knew no better. My experience of ‘real hand-pulled ale’ came much later, although it must have been around at the time. Competition between breweries was fierce: local brands included McEwan’s Scotch and Best Scotch,  and Newcastle Exhibition (stronger and dearer),  but  national brands such as Whitbread Tankard and Trophy, Watney’s Red Barrel, Ind Coope  and others came and went. Serious drinkers drank the stronger, bottled, Newcastle Brown Ale, known variously as ‘Dog’, ‘Newky Broon’ and ‘Jorny inti Space’ among others. There was also a weaker, lighter, companion call Amber Ale along with many of the bottled brands still on sale today. There was also a period when breweries brought the draught beer to the pub in tankers and pumped it directly into storage tanks in the cellar.

Pubs were different places in many ways. They were primarily the haunt of men. All pubs had a men-only bar, although often not labelled as such, it was understood. I was told that this was so that men could go directly from work in their working clothes without worrying about dirtying the furniture, but I suspect it was really a place to escape from wives and screaming children. You should remember that at that time wives were treated in much the same way as they are now in the Middle East and probably would only be taken to the pub at the weekend after cooking the meal , doing the washing-up, putting the offspring to bed and in the charge of grandma.

There was usually a lounge-bar  where women could be taken (women seldom drank alone).The drinks in the lounge were 1d or 2d dearer, even though they were served by the same staff and often from the same pump/bottle. This was a significant price difference when considering the price at the time. Some pubs had a small room (the snug) and often a ‘bottle and jug’ which was only accessed from the outside; where beer could be purchased in your own jug without entering the main building.

Although I am told that pubs near the shipyards opened early in the morning to fortify the workers, it was before my time and although it was a long time ago, I remember licencing hours being from around noon to 2.30 pm (2 pm on Sunday) and then from perhaps 6.30 until 10 or 10.30. It varied a little from one local authority to another, but only by half an hour or so. Hours on Sunday and Good Friday were shorter and still are, if the licensee chooses. Now, of course, licensees can apply for longer hours or close whenever they choose, whereas the old hours were strict, both on the customer and the landlord.

Spirits at one time in history were very cheap, but in my time were traditionally expensive. A single whisky was dearer than a pint of bitter until quite recently, whether because of changes in measure size or tax, but when offered a drink people used to say “do you mind if I have a short?” or even offer to pay the difference.

Drinking in company can be a very odd ritual of ‘buying a round’, something I was warned against while still at school. If you drink this way, in a group, then each person buys drinks (a round) for all the others in the group. This is fine in a small group, but can lead to over-indulgence by trying to keep up with the fastest drinker or losing friends by not paying when it is your turn.

Beer and spirits were just about the only drinks on offer in pubs at one time: even early ‘temperance’ hotels sold beer, to keep people off gin. However, when wages improved and people took package holidays, then Lager and Sherry appeared with all manner of small drinks and mixers to attract the ladies.

Now pubs are centres of entertainment and providers of food, with singers and musicians, piped music, fruit machines and menus to compete with restaurants, unless you know where to look to get a decent pint in peace!

At one time the nearest a pub came to food was a bag of crisps or a curling cheese sandwich in a glass case on the bar. Entertainment was strictly in-house with darts, dominoes, cards, bar-billiards and even shove-halfpenny and skittles, further south. Juke-boxes put an end to peace and quiet and even then you had to pay to hear your favourite hit record. Pool tables appeared in the late ‘7os, but are seldom seen since the millennium.

Fruit machines of the one-armed-bandit variety appeared, but their pay-out was strictly limited unless it was in a working men’s club (note the ‘men’). They, of course, might even have snooker tables, a function-room for parties and, best of all, cheap beer and longer hours. See more here

In the ‘60s there was a spate of building new pubs. Home entertainment was mainly through a small black and white television with only a few channels on offer. Now pubs are closing unless they can offer what people want and even then they tend only to be profitably busy at weekends even though the weekly cash pay-packet is long gone. See my closed pubs page



1 thought on “32. “Mine’s a pint.”

  1. Brought back many memories Jim. Have passed your blog to Brian Stoyle and Maxine having met up at an LVS alumni even in Ascot recently.

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