Thursday, 7 February 2019

Forty years of beer on film

I picked up a DVD last week, at the end of CAMRA's online January sale, about the history of the organisation, released in 2011 to mark its fortieth anniversary.

Quite a lot of the things in it are of course familiar, from the founding of the campaign by four young men, three of them journalists, in a pub in the West of Ireland, while on holiday there in 1971, to footage of the first festival they organised, a forerunner to the Great British Beer Festival, in Covent Garden flower market in 1975, but there are still a few other things that I didn't know before, including the full story about how Bateman's Brewery was saved and the fact that the right-wing Tory MP for Macclesfield Nicholas Winterton served on the board of CAMRA's investment arm in the 1970s. The unintended conseuences of the 1989 Beer Orders, championed by CAMRA at the time, is also explored with more self-examination than you might expect.

It was good to put a face and voice to the beer writer Christopher Hutt, whose pioneering work helped to launch the campaign, along with that of Frank Baillie and Richard Boston, although I was a bit surprised that there was no mention of Michael Jackson who, despite focussing more on continental and North American beers, was also an important influence in the early years of the organisation.

There's a rather prescient bit in the film where one of the directors of Fuller, Smith and Turner is interviewed and admits that in the early seventies the board was considering selling their Chiswick brewery site for development into a hotel and housing and becoming just a pub company...


  1. CAMRA's support for the Beer Orders is a good example of how it is capable of serious misjudgements. CAMRA thought we'd end up with loads of free houses capable of selling any beers they chose. To be fair to CAMRA, the rise of pub companies was, I think, anticipated by no one, and the financial crash of 2007-2008 demonstrated the serious weakness in their business model, the success of which was dependant on continuing economic growth.

  2. "the rise of pub companies was, I think, anticipated by no one" - it was predicted by a right-wing economist called Arthur Seldon as far back as 1950, as the inevitable result of the rise of national beer brands (see Cornell, "Beer: The Story of the Pint", 2003, pp232-3). All that delayed it was the fact that the big brewers had so much capital tied up in their pubs: as soon as the Beer Orders weakened the economic imperative to own your outlets, the two sides of the business sprang apart, as Seldon had predicted they would.

  3. On Michael Jackson and Camra - they had a big falling-out with each other, because Michael wanted to write about the interesting stuff going on in world beer in his What's Brewing column, and the membership apparently complained – they only wanted to read about cask ale …