Among the riches of the British Movietones archive is a curio, on YouTube, called “Britain’s Beer Festival”. Dating from 1972, the black-and-white newsreel documents a sizeable festival at the historic Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, London.* The upbeat narrator – they were all jaunty then – called it the Ally-Pally, as many Britons still do.
Looking at the film today one could be forgiven for thinking the festival was an eccentric early Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) festival. People are seated in long ranks versus CAMRA’s standing format, and the demographic is older than early CAMRA fests. Pressurized draft beer was served, not CAMRA’s “real ale”.
But significant commonalties are present. The large, prestige hall. The large number of people. Live musical entertainment, and dancing. And draft beer still the focus.
CAMRA is Britain’s premier consumer lobby. In about 1972 regional CAMRA branches started holding small-scale festivals but CAMRA’s large-scale, annual festival, with a few years at Ally Pally itself, only started after Britain’s Beer Festival.
The 1972 affair and the 1960s-early 70s Kilkenny Beer Festival – see my description here, had to influence the CAMRA festival style. The 1972 fest had the benefit of Movietones publicity, but somehow events like this, while culturally novel, enter the public consciousness.
The process may take time but if attractive enough, an idea takes root and will flourish.
The newsreel’s allusions to a “British Oktoberfest” suggest as well an influence, direct or indirect, of the German Oktoberfest on CAMRA. Many Movietone and Pathe newsreels document the iconic German festival, starting as early as 1952. So that is in the mix as well.
This all entered the national psyche, with CAMRA’s national and big regional festivals taking final form by about 1980.
Truman Brewery, then sizeable in London brewing, was an apparent sponsor of the 1972 event. The reference in the film to “free beer” is curious. Perhaps the scenes shown were a first evening hosted for guests including the media.
A Ben Truman Export was drawn, a pale ale. Its full name was Ben Truman Export Draught. A careful eye will note Tuborg draft (a lager) as well. Danish Tuborg was a good beer then, I remember. Today, I’m not so sure, but that’s a different keddle of beer.
Perhaps Ally-Pally’s museum has a file on Britain’s Beer Festival of 1972. I’ve never visited Ally Pally, but hope to remedy soon.
*For precise dates, see my comment below.