Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part IV.

How to use the Public Bar

Below I include the remaining portion of Alan Tomkins’ June 25, 1944 article introduced in Part I. He boldly enters the public bar from the saloon side with a band of diffident followers. The saloon is rammed with officers and others waiting four-deep for drinks who won’t leave their side of the pitch.

(Via British Newspaper Archive, as in this series generally).

….There were only a half-dozen chaps in the place. They eyed us not perhaps coldly but with reserve. But by supping three halves apiece and talking sense in moderately pitched tones, we won our way into their graces.

Since when, Dear Reader, we have drunk in the public many a time and oft, finding elbow room, peace and uplift. Other cultured people are doing the same, so that I suppose in time we shall have other mass movements.

MEANTIME, here is some


Do not monopolise the darts and shove ha’penny boards. but defer to the locals.

Do not talk loudly.

Do not lay down the law aggressively on any subject.

Learn the different values of the beers and ales, which often differ from those at the posh end.

Do not assume that everybody wants to be treated. Ask a bloke tentatively if he would care to join you. None of this cowboy “I’ll stand the bar” stuff….


Having proferred advice, he then requests it, asking Dear Reader for song and music suggestions suitable to perform when requested by Forces personnel. It seems – in terms of more bio on him – he was an amateur musician, perhaps earning drinks for his band in this fashion.

I don’t know about you, but I had to ask myself: is Tomkins entering the realm of satire with his “Guidance for the Public End”?

The Sunday Dispatch had to count many readers who frequented the public bar, after all. Is he puncturing the pretensions of the movers and shakers, in the way the 1982 The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook did?*

I can’t be sure, but perhaps he was talking “straight”. The advice to avoid loud conversation has an ingenuous ring, it might be summarized as “keep the bray out of the bar”. This would counter the bossy, controlling image his element had at the time.

Similar is the injunction not to offer a free round to patrons indiscriminately, which might be viewed as patronizing.

From a beer historical standpoint, the advice to learn the different types of beers and ale is noteworthy. The public bar staple through the mid-20th century was mild ale, less strong and cheaper than pale ale, exceptional conditions apart.

Stout too, perhaps, and certainly brown ale were more favoured in the public than the saloon bar. Saloon denizens might be expected to order pale or light ale, bitter (the draught form), or strong ale.

As well, non-beer drinks commonly available in the saloon might be absent from the public bar, some spirits or fortified wines.

So he is saying, learn the lay of the land here. Whether public bar types who ventured into the saloon followed an analogous course, I can’t say.

In the event, or 75 years later, an M.O. has emerged, or rather, the whole deal has merged.

Social stratification as ever will exist, but now in one establishment vs. another, not two factions under one roof.

At least, that is my takeaway by a decades-long study, often in situ.**

Series ends with Part V.

*Of the many bon mots and acute observations in the book, for some reason two come to mind. One, I paraphrase, is “The Sloane will drink any kind of beer”. This may have been referring to Sloanes afoot outside Britain. The other is, “Sloanes are either for or against nursery food”.

**I hope again soon. Canterbury.

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