A Guinness Pour in ’64*
Our many examinations of the English pub cover multiple viewpoints and eras.
We have looked at the Victorian and interwar pub through the eyes of visiting Americans, both approving and non- (usually the former). We have looked at the interwar pub, again, through the lens of Christian social reformer Basil Jellicoe, who believed pub and church could form an alliance.
We have looked at the wartime pub, also the pub as transplanted to Canada, the U.S., and France. The 1950s pub in Ireland, or England, too, as appraised by the cool eye of the Briton Charles Duff.
We have visited the (English) pub many times ourselves, of course, and hope to again in a few months.
Telling scenes of the early 1960s pub appear in this film, a documentary on life in Woolwich, SE 18, archived in the collection of Film London.
The film is smartly done, the short sequences punching beyond their weight, in part due to Bruce White’s narration.
The pub featured is the Royal Mortar, 1 Woolwich New Road, long gone with the redevelopment of the area and ultimate absorption of Woolwich into Greenwich Borough.
When the film was shot, Woolwich Arsenal, which developed and made munitions and armaments for HM Forces, was still operating. The ordnance factory closed a few years after the filming.
The pub appears to have been a Courage pub, as the Courage, Barclay, Simonds name is shown on beer crates. A sign on flocked wallpaper appears to tout Courage Pale Ale (bottled), as the label appeared c. 1960.
But the prize – prize in beer historical circles, a relative datum – is surely the clear shot of a domed Guinness font pouring a full pint. This is an early example of Guinness’ then-new draught system, powered by a blend of nitrogen and CO2 gas.
From the customer side of the bar the font is all-white save for the black Guinness crest. This looks odd given the resolute focus on black in company advertising for decades, inspired by the colour of the beer.
See from 12:30. The scene reflects in a short compass the essential features of the pub: beer, music, conversation. A 1940s song plays as we walk in, a female singer crooning in a torch-style.
Pumps of beer are pulled, the server looking bashful I thought. Behind her and around the pub, wood beer crates. The beer is various shades, so draught bitter, mild, probably brown ale from bottles too.
Next, a trio – piano, drums, accordion – plays a raucous jig, distinctly Irish-sounding. Together with the Guinness, this perhaps suggests an Irish clientele.
The Guinness is poured seemingly in one motion, with a thin head atop. The silver-and-black tap appears identical to the one used by Guinness today.
No attempt is made to produce a thick creamy head, but the man drinking the beer seems complaisant. London custom to pour a brimful pint – a southern thing, then and now – perhaps trumped Irish practice.
Or maybe the two-stage “nitro” pour of today hadn’t yet emerged, supposedly an emulation of richly-foamed Guinness in 1950s Dublin pubs.
They had a good time, anyway, the vocation once and always of the bar anywhere.
An excellent sequence is the skilled huckster, as the narrator terms him, selling a bag of mixed confections. His spiel repeats rhythmically the phrase, “I give you” as he fills the bag with each type. (“I give you… a two bob ga-teau!”).
He must have built an hypnotic effect with the technique. He knew his onions, that man, and I’d like to think retired with a small fortune.
I have no confections to give you, no (real bubbling liquid) beer, no sandwich from shining glass case on bar top. Just these thoughts, but no penny needed.
*1964 is the stated year of release, but various commentary suggests some scenes were filmed earlier.