Wednesday, 11 January 2012

My memories of Working Mens Clubs - The Rules of Drinking, BBC4

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The Rules of Drinking, BBC4, 9pm Tonight.

(I do watch shows other than Wildlife) There's a crackin' episode of Timeshift on BBC4 tonight - The Rules of Drinking. It promises to be a fascinating cultural documentary, revealing the unwritten rules that have governed the way we drink in Britain. (see clips at the end of this post)

In the pubs and working men's clubs of the forties and fifties there were strict customs governing who stood where. To be invited to sup at the bar was a rite of passage for many young men, and it took years for women to be accepted. As the country prospered and foreign travel became widely available, so new drinking habits were introduced as we discovered wine and, even more exotically, cocktails. People began to drink at home as well as at work, where journalists typified a tradition of the liquid lunch. Advertising played its part as lager was first sold as a woman's drink and then the drink of choice for young men with a bit of disposable income. The rules changed and changed again, but they were always there - unwritten and unspoken, yet underwriting our complicated relationship with drinking.

This made me think of my time working in a Working Mens Club... read below.

BBC Programme Page

'House' - Bingo at the club

Memories of an ex-Pint Puller

I grew up in the South Yorkshire market town of Rotherham, where Working Mens Clubs continue to endure amongst the rise of poncy wine bars and cheap drink-till-you-drop late bars. My first job, whilst doing my A-levels in the late 90's, was as a glass collector in our towns central club. I later proudly progressed to pint puller, and eventually bingo caller. The 'rules' described in the clip below remind me of my many evenings working in what was often referred to as the last bastion of masculinity - the WMC.

This was a place of brash and gritty hard-working folk, cheeky chappie 'Del-Boy' characters trying to flog you stereos, ex-cruise singers in worn tux's warbling out oldies, and the occasional butch woman who drank from pint-pots - something which wasn't usually considered lady-like. Bitter was for men, lager in half-pint glasses was for women. Gambling and dirty jokes were as much a part of the scene as the thick smoke which choked the air.

While most people found their place in the function room or pool room, the chairman and his committee held court over the tap-room. If you were allowed a seat here, in the smallest and smokiest of rooms, you had made it to the upper echolons of the drinkers. The oldest and most respected members staked their claim on the club by keeping their own pint glass behind the bar. If we broke one of these there'd be hell to pay. It was surely a interesting part of my formative years.

The committee stand proud outside the club

 Women in Pubs

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