Britain’s Beer Festival, on Film

Among the near-inexhaustible riches of British Movietones archives is a curio on YouTube called Britain’s Beer Festival. The black and white newsreel covers a sizeable festival held in 1972* at the historic Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, London. The narrator calls it Ally-Pally, as many Britons still do.

Looking at it today, one could be forgiven for thinking the festival was an eccentric version of early CAMRA – The Campaign for Real Ale – festivals. People are seated in long ranks versus CAMRA’s mostly standing format, the demographic is older than at early CAMRA fests, and pressurized draft beer was served vs. CAMRA’s insistence on naturally-conditioned, or “cask” ale.

Still, commonalties suggest themselves: the large hall format (vs. pub, hotel, or club), the large number of people, the live musical entertainment, the dancing. And course draught beer being the focus.

CAMRA is Britain’s premier consumer beer lobby. Around 1972 regional CAMRA branches started holding small-scale festivals but CAMRA’s large-scale, annual festival in London, including a few years stand at the All Pally itself, started some years after Britain’s Beer Festival.

As in the case of a 1960s-70s beer festival held in Kilkenny, Ireland – see my description here – the 1972 Ally Pally festival had to influence later CAMRA festivals, especially the big annual one held for some years now at Olympia in Hammersmith. Ally Pally’s event had the benefit of Movietones newsreel publicity and anyhow, such events have a way of entering beer industry and consumer consciousness.

The allusion in the newsreel to a British Oktoberfest shows the influence, as well, of the iconic German event on CAMRA’s festival format. Many Movietone and Pathe reels document German beer festivals starting as early as, for practical purposes here, 1952, so that is part of the precedent mix here as well. It all entered the national beer psyche, with CAMRA’s festival style ending as a long-lasting, much-loved feature of the British beer scene.

Returning to the 1972 Movietones reel, it seems Truman’s, then sizeable in London brewing, was sponsor, or one of them. The reference to “free beer” is curious as unless the hundreds seated were hosted by the brewery, presumably they had to pay something. Perhaps a first evening was reserved for non-paying guests of the brewery, with the remaining sessions accessible by paid entry.

A “Ben Truman Export” was drawn, a pale ale, the full name was Ben Truman Export Draught. A careful eye will note that Tuborg draft (lager) was also served. Danish Tuborg was a good beer then, we remember! Indeed it may still be, we must revisit.

It would interesting to know if only Truman’s and Tuborg lager were served. Perhaps the Ally-Pally’s museum has a file on Britain’s Beer Festival of 1972. I’ve never been to Ally Pally, but hope to remedy this on a visit to London next summer.


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




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

  1. Confirmation of the Festival year is provided at the website, operated by the museum branch of Alexandra Palace. See here, where a coaster from the festival is reproduced (check under New Exhibits). It shows the Festival ran on September 21, and from September 23 to 28. The duration is noteworthy: whomever sponsored it and whether or not the paying public attended, the event ran a full week at a major London venue, quite similar in this respect to the duration of the Great British Beer Festival of CAMRA, held as noted in recent years at Olympia in London. The fest length is another indication, in our view, that the Ally Pally 1972 Festival had some influence on CAMRA’s future, national festival format. By comparison, CAMRA’s regional festivals of ca. 1972 were small affairs, albeit influential in their measure.

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