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The Rules of Drinking

There’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Switching metaphors at the points, if it were a loaf of bread, you’d just be able to see it start to rise.
It’s been a very long three months, but on NYE I printed off a rough, shaky first draft of my next book.  The chapters that aren’t quite finished are bloody awful.  The chapters that are finished are pretty good – or at least, my long-suffering editor and wife think so.  And I have two weeks left to kick, bitch-slap, coax, polish, persuade, trick and massage the rest of it into shape.
This week, then, represents a partial return to the blogosphere.  Don’t try to pretend you missed me, now.
I’m ashamed to say my first post-book post is a shameless plug, but it is for something I think you’ll like.  
Last May I spent an afternoon in the Jolly Butchers with a BBC film crew.  I’d just about forgotten about it, and then I got a call this morning to say that the programme is finally going out this week.
It’s a Timeshift documentary called The Rules of Drinking, and it charts our relationship with booze, particularly since the Second World War.  Me and a chap called Iain Gately, whose book on the History of Drink you should have on your shelves, are the two main contributors, only you’re spared having to watch much of me by some fantastic archive footage they’ve found to go over the things we’re talking about.
Here’s the blurb, from BBC4:
Timeshift digs into the archive to discover the unwritten rules that have governed the way we drink in Britain.
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 into these bastions of masculinity. 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.
The waspish and lovely Grace Dent gave the programme a fantastic write-up in the Guardian last Saturday,  acknowledging that there is such a thing as binge drinking, without being judgemental about it or trying to build it to a point of hysteria.  She concludes:



Pub Diaries

BBC blurb refers to "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 into these bastions of masculinity."

Not going to pre-empt as the point may be made but I know clubs where to this day there are rules on who stands where, when women are allowed to enter the club etc. A world of petty Committee Men, meat raffles and the weekend "turn".

Good to see an intelligent documentary strand taking a look at something which is part of our national character and by the sounds of it without getting the the klaxon of doom out.

pete thomas

Great programme. One thing I did notice though, was the level of your pint never changed. Was it a bad pint? Was it just a prop? Or was it just a coincidence?


Yes, it was a really enojyable – and most importantly, light – show. It crammed a lot into a short running time, and I found the sections about female entry into pub-life particularly interesting. Good work.

Pete Brown

Pete, I was on Twitter while the programme was airing and this was the most popular question of the night.

Two reasons: one, if I was drinking it would bugger up continuity – the order of the filming and the order the cops were used is not the same.

Two, when I'm filming, partly because of one but partly just superstition, I like to wait till we've finished before then downing the thing with gusto!


recorded it and just watched it now. Nice light but info-packed show. For some reason the thing that stuck with me the most was you saying "carpet drinkers." Thank you for my new favorite saying!


Yes, very good slice of social history. It's rare to see anything factual about alcohol on TV now that isn't hysterically judgmental.


Caught the show with my fiancee last week. We both thoroughly enjoyed it and recommended my Father-in-law record it on the dvr. We especially enjoyed the bits on women entering the pub. I love that clip of grannies playing darts!

Tom Eldridge

An interesting documentary and a great flashback- even though I’m only 22, I share something in common with John Aizlewood. My Dad still goes to the ‘club’ in a suit and he was the one to first introduce me to a pint- London pride if my memory serves me well!

I agree with you completely about the glorification of drunkenness in our society now but I feel that there was one point not mentioned in the documentary: the amount of pubs, shops etc. that have opened to serve a growing, ‘educated’ drinking class. A class that enjoys experimenting a wide variety of beer styles and doesn’t necessarily binge drink.

Anyway, sorry for my lateness in posting this as, because I live in Brazil, I have to wait for documentaries to be made available via YouTube or other sites!


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