Burton-based Ind Coope Group in 1961

Pump up the Volume

In 1961 Ind Coope Group in Burton-on-Trent sponsored a British Movietones documentary of its history. The group was already in process of merger with two other large concerns, Ansells (Birmingham) and Tetley’s (Leeds), to become mighty Allied Breweries.

The narrator noted the new development but stated the film would be a history of Ind Coope – hence intentionally or not it serves as an elegy to an important patch in the brewing landscape of ca. 1960. The term British is particularly apt as its units in Alloa, Scotland, and Wrexham, Wales are prominently featured in the film, which features warm colour tones and the even warmer voice of narrator Geoffrey Sumner.

Sumner was a Devon-born actor who had a long side career narrating for Movietones. The film is a visual counterpart to the lush written corporate histories of breweries and distillers I chronicled in an earlier phase here some years ago. (Today yet similar are done via websites, podcasts, Facebook, etc. Corporate salesmanship – vital to our economy – never ends).

To our knowledge this film has not been listed or commented on by others who delve in similar subjects. We offer it here to enhance the record but also for its many points of interest.

First, the drum beat of lager beer is ever-present – yet this is 1961, when lager as a whole was minuscule in sales in Britain. Clearly the major domos at Ind Coope saw it as their future, hence the heavy emphasis on the Wrexham and Alloa breweries and constant re-building and improvement there.

The emphasis too on the Victoria Wines and Spirits unit (retailing) and bottling of sherry and other wines shows Ind Coope was betting on wine becoming big in Britain, and it did, just as lager did finally. Skol and Long Life brands are pictured regularly, as well as Double Diamond, the star bottled ale and emerging keg beer of the group.

A bouncy jazz pop score provides the perfect period backdrop.

Speaking of drops, where is cask ale mentioned, the source of the fortunes of the early founders of the group? Hardly at all. Only at the very end are hand pumps shown, in an older pub adorned with polished brass and burnished oak. Cask ale is “there” but in a way to show the company thought it was on its way out, at least that is how I read it. And so it proved to be, in the sense of the heart and soul of British brewing.

When corporate and marketing titans set their minds on what is to be, often as not it happens. It is not to say trends can’t be introduced by others – the early history of craft beer is an example – but sooner or later, the big picture is drawn by those who have the infrastructure and resources to work change on a large scale.

A short bit on pub modernization picks up themes advanced by prewar pub improvement advocates, not least Rev. Father Basil Jellicoe whom I chronicled recently. The film depicts pleasing and civilized Ind Coope pubs, an apt counterpart to the model pub Jellicoe bruited in ringing tones in a striking 1930 Movietones reel, see my Part II. The circle was now complete, with religious subtext foregone.

In the Ind Coope film, Sumner tells viewers that lemonade or coffee is available in the company’s pubs – alcohol is an option now, not a requirement for entry. A gleaming food bar is shown, with a pink gammon displayed under a spic and span glass dome.

Pub premises, regardless of original architectural style, are shown as inviting and comfortable – a true second home, intones the narrator in dulcet tones – he sounds almost like Jellicoe.

Had Jellicoe lived to 1961 – he’d have been only 62 – he would have been suffused with happiness at how Ind Coope presented its pubs and popular hotels. His vision was now complete, except with a secular-corporate benevolence substituting for that of Anglican Communion.

Some reading may find the narrator’s voice oddly familiar. If you do, and happen to like hip-hop, maybe it’s because Sumner speaks in a landmark 1986 rap song, Paid in Full, by Eric B. & Rakim. The tune samples part of his narration from a 1950s LP introducing stereophonic sound. See the official video, here.*

With the breathy yet assured voice of Sumner in aid, Eric B. and Rakim were announcing a new era in music and beats. Sumner in 1961, as a few years earlier for stereo music, was announcing a new future for British brewing – one that largely came to be.**

N.B. Today Ind Coope’s Burton brewery is owned by Molson-Coors, a contemporary version of the 1960s brewing empire that was, at end of 1961, Allied Breweries.


*This version is the remix by Coldcut.

**Indeed all these futures came to be. The undeniable and beneficent rise of craft brewing has not changed the big picture, in our view.