Terry Jones and Michael Palin arse about as a couple of landlords in search of the perfect pint of Guinness. Pythonesque parodies abound: Jones is the oleaginous type, while Palin is more of a bumbler in this trade short for Guinness. A couple of cheery coves do a tour of English pubs towards the end of the Second World War (wonder where they got the petrol?), ending up getting their last orders in Battersea where one wall is given over to snaps of the local lads in the forces (there’s a real Powell and Pressburger feel to the thing). British movie matinee idol Michael Denison smoothes his Technicolor way through a winning hand of favourite inns in the 1950s (forerunners of the gastro-pub perhaps), the sort of place a fellow punts his girlfriend to. Meanwhile there’s 20 minutes or so about Bass as they move into hotels and clubs and keg and consider themselves part of the leisure industry — this is the moment that lager had been waiting for as we are shown a German brewing executive been greeted by the Bassers.
These films and more are all part of a fantastic DVD double set called Roll Out The Barrel that the BFI sent me last month. Featuring 19 short films made over the last 70 years, this DVD is an exemplary series of snapshots of British pub life. There is a sense in the earlier ones of the supreme importance of the British pub; it is not a place where people go to get colly-wobbled (as the puritans who hate pubs would have us believe), but where they socialise, be part of their community and take root in its very soil. As the years pass, lifestyles change and the old ways get stranded and left behind, like driftwood on the beach. The final film is from 1982 and is a Brewers Society sponsored 20-minute item narrated by Brian Redhead and featuring Bernard Cribbins*.
Roll Out The Barrel is masterly in its evocation of the British pub and all who sail on it. No doubt there will be some who will use it to keep banging on the big dark, negative drum for the death of the pub (and yes 16 close a week), but for the moment I would suggest you revel in the warm glow, the naïve modernism, the trade advice dressed up as comedy and the mixed sense of nostalgia it evokes, though not always correctly (not all the boozers look like the sort of place I would want to spend a night in, while the keg fonts dispensing uncraft keg are a real beer passion killer).
Roll Out The Barrel is released June 11, £22.99 and can be bought here.
Every time I read or hear The Cribb’s name I cannot help thinking of the priceless moment in an Alan Partridge sketch when a precocious schoolboy asked him who’d played the lead part in the Hamlet Partridge had claimed to have seen — ‘er, Bernard Cribbins’ came the reply.