Britain’s Beer Festival, on Film

Among the near inexhaustible resources of the British Movietones archives is this curio on YouTube, “Britain’s Beer Festival”. It is a black and white newsreel that covers a sizeable festival held at the historic Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill. The narrator calls it Ally-Pally, as many Britons still do.

Looking at it today, one could be forgiven for thinking it was an eccentric version of early CAMRA affairs – people seated in long ranks vs. standing, demographic older than for early CAMRA fests, and (some, at least) keg beer served. Well, quite eccentric, especially for the keg beer. Still, we see commonalities.

CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale, Britain’s premier consumer beer lobby – did hold a few early festivals at Ally-Pally, but after the Festival shown. A little digging shows it dates from October 1972*. In the same period, small-scale, regional fests were held by CAMRA branches that finally morphed into the CAMRA festival template known and loved by beer fans around the world.

As in the case of a 1960s-early ’70s festival in Kilkenny, Ireland I discussed some time ago that ended just before the CAMRA jamborees started to achieve national publicity, this early London affair had to have a direct influence on what CAMRA did. For one thing there was the newsreel publicity, but such events have a way, too, of penetrating industry and consumer consciousness, even viz. the new small breweries to come.

True, there were differences, foremost the CAMRA insistence on serving a variety of (only) cask-conditioned beers.

Still, the early events would have entered the national beer psyche. All were precedents that helped create the atmosphere where CAMRA’s fests and especially the annual Great British Beer Festival became the gold standard for beer bacchanals in Britain.

Looking carefully at this film, it seems Truman’s, then a sizeable presence in London brewing, was the sponsor, or one of them. The reference to “free beer” is curious as unless the hundreds seated were all guests of the brewery, presumably they had to pay something.

Note the Ben Truman Export being drawn, a pale ale surely, the full name was Ben Truman Export Draught. A careful eye will also see Tuborg draft on offer, and the Danish Tuborg was very good then, we remember. (Tuborg may still be, haven’t had it in a long time – must revisit).

It would interesting to know if only Truman and Tuborg beers were served. The Ally-Pally’s museum would, we should think, be a good place to continue an investigation of Britain’s Beer Festival of 1972. I’ve never been there, one of many London destinations still to see.

The allusions to a British Oktoberfest show the influence the iconic Munich event had on CAMRA events, as well. Many Movietone and Pathe reels documented German beer festivals starting as early as, in practical terms here, about 1952. All this went into the hopper of the national beer psyche, seemingly a permanent part of British mental equipment.


*For the precise dates, see my comment added below.




1 thought on “Britain’s Beer Festival, on Film

  1. Confirmation of the year of the Festival is provided by the website, operated by the museum branch of Alexandra Palace. See here, where what appears to be a coaster is reproduced with great fidelity (it is included under New Matters). The dates were September 21, and September 23-28. The length of the Festival is noteworthy: whomever sponsored it and whether or not the paying public attended – although we think likely it did – it ran for a full week, quite similar in this respect to the duration of the Great British Beer Festival of CAMRA. This is another index that CAMRA was influenced by the 1972 Festival. By comparison, CAMRA’s regional festivals in approximately the same period were small affairs, albeit influential in their measure.

    The point we emphasize is, it all contributed to form the CAMRA festival template, especially for the annual festival in London.

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