Advertising laws in Britain permitted beer and wine to be sold on television but the harder stuff could only be advertised on cinema screens. So before a movie (and after the Pearl & Dean intro) you would get ads for Gin, Scotch, and Vodka — and even cigarettes until 1986.
The most memorable were the ones for Martini vermouth (my mother’s tipple along with Cinzano) which sold a vision of the jet-set high life with exotic locales to match any Bond movie. All these ads for illicit, adult products added to the feeling that going to the pictures was a grown-up thing to do (at least it was before all movies were made for teenagers), so even if you were sitting in some shabby fleapit of a cinema sucking on a Kia-Ora you still felt dreadfully sophisticated.
If I should pass out, think only this of me; That there’s some piss-stained corner of a town centre That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a smell of sick and curry; And a Ladette whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her knickers to lower, her flesh to bare, A body of England’s breathing English air, Washed by the lager, snogged by yobs of home
And think, this girl, all dignity shed away, Bladdered out of her mind, no less Pukes up on her shoes the vodkas by bartenders given; Head swimming, dreams of greasy takeaway, And laughter, boys giving it large, sirens and broken glass; On the piss, under an English heaven.
“We would sacrifice all our wires, wheels, systems, specialities, physical science and frenzied finance for one half-hour of happiness such has often come to us with comrades in a common tavern.” G.K. Chesterton What’s Wrong With The World (1910)
Now this looks like what I call a proper boozer. A friendly and unpretentious place presided over by a smiling, ruddy-faced landlord with half a tub of Brylcreem in his hair. Exactly the sort of place you’d want to order a pint, a bag of Cheese & Onion, and settle down for a few hours of talking bollocks with your mates, unmolested by the racket of satellite television, blaring music, or lads and ladettes getting loudly shit-faced on Cheeky Vimtos.
But like a lot of other simple old English pleasures the proper boozer has recently been under assault, besieged by the modern barbarian hordes of ghastly chain bars and “upscale” gastropubs*. Every time I go home it seems another old favourite pub has either closed or had a makeover and been given a new, stupid name like The Cabbage and Ferret’s Trousers. The Public Bar and Saloon have been knocked into one huge, noisy hangar of a space, the genuine old fixtures ripped out and replaced with fake ones, behind the bar is a surly Australian student and the new menu is all Brioche, Brie, and Balsamic Vinegar, with traditional grub like the Ploughman’s vanished like relics of that dark time before we were all dreadfully continental and sophisticated and didn’t know what Extra Virgin Olive Oil was.
If you find a proper boozer you should treasure it, I don’t live in England any more but some of the most pleasurable nights of my life were spent in it’s pubs, playing darts at The Andover Arms, watching the sun go down over the Thames outside The Blue Anchor, throwing up down my mates arm at The Spotted Horse, being stripsearched by the police in the gents of The Star & Garter, and getting headbutted in The Quill. Halcyon days.
*Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against good food in pubs, I used to drink (and eat) at the original gastropub, The Eagle in Farringdon back when it first opened and loved the place (they did a fantastic steak sandwich). But now every bloody pub in England thinks that “just” being a boozer isn’t enough and they have to offer fancy grub too, usually with poor and over-priced results. There’s nothing wrong with just serving crisps, nuts and pork scratchings, all you really need food in a pub for is to soak up the beer anyway.