Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Guinness …

Mein Fröther

Mein Fröther: the image even Guinness probably wouldn’t have tried to get away with, Hitler with a pint-of-stout moustache

There are some images that are just wrong: uncanny, creepy. One of them is a poster of a smiling, steel-helmeted Nazi-era German soldier holding a pint of stout, with the words in Gothic script: “Es ist Zeit für ein Guinneß!” What makes this poster even weirder is that it’s by John Gilroy, the artist who produced so much classic Guinness advertising imagery, from the flying toucans with glasses of Guinness on their beaks to the Guinness drinker carrying the huge girder. Even people born decades after those ad campaigns ended know the posters.

The German soldier saying: “Time for a Guinness!” is one of a number of images Gilroy produced in 1936 for the advertising agency SH Benson in connection with a campaign in Germany that never went ahead. Today those putative posters look – well – naïve. Guinness-bearing toucans flying over a swastika-draped Berlin Olympics stadium? More Guinness toucans flying escort to a swastika-decorated airship? “Guinness for strength” demonstrated by a mechanic lifting a German army half-track single-handed? Guinness toucans zooming past the Brandenberg Gate, as a man who looks like the Guinness zoo keeper dressed in what appears to be the uniform of the SS Feldgendarmerie stares up, alarmed? (Bizarrely, these were the very first use of the “flying toucans” image, which did not appear in Britain until 1955, and the famous “toucans over the RAF aerodrome” poster.)

Guinness German soldierThey all appear in a fascinating new book by David Hughes, Gilroy was Good for Guinness, which features a mass of material from the SH Benson archive in London that mysteriously vanished in 1971 and, just as mysteriously, semi-surfaced in the United States a few years ago, when canvases from the archive started appearing on the art market.

As well as the German material, there are a host of other draft posters by Gilroy in the book, mostly painted in oil on canvas. Many are for other overseas campaigns that never actually appeared: toucans flying over the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Brooklyn Bridge and the Kremlin; Greek and Israeli farmers pulling the cart with the horse in (changed to a donkey) to illustrate “Guinness for Strength”: men popping out of manholes and holding up Russian and Israeli steamrollers. There are illustrations of cars, used to advertise Guinness on posters and in calendars, which show what a fine automobile artist Gilroy was – although, again, seeing a picture of Hitler’s six-wheeler Mercedes staff car with “Congratulations from Guinness” underneath, or one of another iconic German vehicle over a pint of stout with the words “VolksWagen – Volks Bier” is weird, weird in an alternative-universe, “What if Germany had won the war?” way. Some are for domestic campaigns that, again never saw daylight: a series of posters for the 1948 London Olympics on the theme of “My Goodness – My Guinness (a sprinter running off with the timer’s pint, for example), and “Guinness for Strength” (a Guinness-powered javelinist hurling his javelin way out of the stadium).

Hughes, who produced the excellent A Bottle of Guinness Please, an extensively illustrated and thorough round-up of the history of Guinness bottling with lots of Guinness-fact goodies (spoilt only by the lack of an index), gives the fullest account I have seen of Gilroy’s life and art in Gilroy was Good for Guinness. I wasn’t going to buy it (on the grounds that I already have far more books on Guinness than any sane man should own) but I couldn’t resist the Nazi Guinness pics.

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The book has a good account of Gilroy’s portrait-painting, which included several members of the royal family, and politicians and military men, such as Churchill and Eisenhower. The trouble is that the pictures in the book show Gilroy wasn’t a very good portrait painter, in the sense that his paintings, while technically excellent, just fail to hit the target: they appear to be of entrants in a famous-person-lookalike competition, rather than who they are actually meant to be. If you don’t know who the person is, then nothing appears to be wrong. If you know that it is meant to be, say, Prince Charles, you can see that it isn’t quite right.

It also contains one revelation I certainly didn’t know: that when Benson’s lost the Guinness advertising account in 1969, and thus Gilroy was no longer producing ads for the stout brewer, Guinness felt it owed the artist so much for all the pints and bottles of stout his artwork had helped to shift that it offered him a £2,000-a-year honorarium for life, a sum worth perhaps £27,000 in today’s money: not a huge amount for a man who was a member of the Garrick Club and living in Holland Park Road, Kensington, but much better than a poke in the eye with a paintbrush.

It also attempts to detail the story of the Benson advertising agency’s archive after Benson’s was sold to Olgilvy and Mather in 1971. Somehow the archive, including the Gilroy Guinness collection of original artwork for poster campaigns both used and unused, was sold to, or acquired by, an anonymous American. Parts of the archive began to appear on the market in the United States in 2009. Subsequently more and more of the collection appears to have been disposed of, with canvases selling for up to $14,000. Unfortunately the parts of the story of the archive are scattered through what is an unfortunately frequently bitty book, which could have done with a good editor to pull it all more tightly together. That same editor could have prevented the occasional infelicity and error, such as spelling the name of the actor Kenneth More incorrectly.

All the same, if you’re interested in Guinness, or in breweriana, Gilroy was Good for Guinness is probably worth its £20 price tag. In many ways, it’s Guinness porn at its best. And those German posters really are disturbing.

Update: hat-tip to Boak and Bailey for this – there’s a far better account of the mystery millionaire who bought the Benson’s archive than the book gives, and lots more great illustrations from the book, on the Collectors Weekly website here.

Last words on the Oxford Companion to Beer

It’s a year since the Oxford Companion to Beer arrived to some small controversy over the number of inaccuracies in its 860-odd pages. Time enough for some calm reflection, perhaps.

I apologise for lifting the lid again on what became, at times, a heated ruckus between the OCB’s defenders, proud of the achievement that had pulled together more facts about beer than had ever been assembled in one place before, and those of us that felt there were a few too many of those facts that failed to stand up under scrutiny. But yesterday was the day I finally put up the last of my own contributions to the excellent OCBeer Wiki, the “comments and corrections” website organised by the Canadian beer blogger Alan McLeod, which means I can now give a proper reply to Clay Risen, who complained after the OCB corrections wiki had been up for less than a month that the OCB’s critics had really not found very much to complain about:

The Wiki has only about 40 entries, and most of them deal with matters of interpretation. In a book that may have upwards of 100,000 factual statements in it, the presence of a few dozen errors, while regrettable, is pretty impressive.

If only. One year on, and thanks to the efforts of more than 30 contributors, the Wiki now has corrections to more than 200 entries in the OCB, almost one in five of the total. The corrections add up to, so far, just under 32,500 words. Some corrections – to “pale ale”, at more than 1,000 words, and to “Pilsner Urquell”, at almost as many – are as long as or longer than the original OCB entry.

Some of the errors in the OCB are actually rather funny. Ed Wray of the Old Dairy Brewery in Kent found a great one that, somehow, everyone missed. Under “cask” the OCB says: “After filling, a plastic or wooden stopper called a shive is driven into the large bunghole on the belly, and a smaller one called a keystone is driven into the tap hole.” However, as Ed points out in the Wiki, the keystone is actually driven into the tap hole before filling the cask – otherwise the beer would pour out onto the floor. My own “gotcha!” is in the entry for “California” (page 204), which says that “[T]he state of California’s influence on American beer culture cannot be underestimated.” It certainly CAN be underestimated. What it cannot be is OVERestimated. (For the widespread problem of overnegation see eg here) Continue reading

The Oxford Companion to Beer: how the temperature became raised

I was going to blog about the London Brewers Alliance beer festival at Vinopolis last Saturday (great event, let’s see more like it), but since my comments on the Oxford Companion to Beer have driven Garrett Oliver into apoplectic rage, infuriated Pete Brown, and apparently sent waves crashing around the beery blogosphere, I thought it would look odd if I don’t acknowledge all that. Particularly because I’ve been accused, through criticising the OCB’s accuracy in, admittedly, quite a fierce fashion, of being “hell-bent on destroying the conviviality of the beer world”. But this is NOT the clubbable, comfortable beer world – this is scholarship, and commercial publishing, and boosting people’s reputations by being associated with a prestigious project, and selling an expensive product that the OUP intends to make a considerable profit on.

Garrett Oliver, editor of the OCB, who took my criticism very badly, accused me of McCarthyism (eh?), and declared that “in essence” I referred to him “as a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots”. I didn’t refer to him at all, actually, and I certainly didn’t use any of those words.

Garrett also reckoned that my criticism was “intemperate and inconsiderate”. But the OCB lays claim to being “an absolutely indispensable volume for everyone who loves beer”. If you make that sort of boast, you ought to expect a vigorous kicking if you appear to be falling short of the high standards you have set yourself.

Was I angry when I wrote that a quick glance found enough errors to suggest the OCB could be a disaster in the battle for historical accuracy in beer writing? Yes. Why? Because I spent seven years researching a book that had, at the end of it, one chapter detailing a long list of beer history myths that were regularly repeated in books and magazines, but which, after I had tried to verify them, I found were all demonstrably untrue, unproveable or extremely dubious. A trawl though those parts of the OCB available on the net shows at least seven of those myths have been printed in its pages as “facts”. Given the OCB’s inevitable status as a product of the Oxford University Press, those errors I believed I had killed off are now going to be repeated again and again. And I thought: “Why did I spend seven years researching a book, while trying to maintain the most rigorous standards of accuracy, and not let any story I had been unable to verify get through, only to have the OUP come and piss over my work?”

Should I have been angry? I make errors – I know I do. There’s an appalling howler in my first book, on breweriana, involving the comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, that still makes the back of my neck turn red when I recall it. And cock-ups happen: having been involved in newspaper and magazine production most of my working life, I can understand just how the OCB managed to print a picture of the Marble Arch pub in Manchester in a montage supposedly of pubs of London. On the other hand there appears to be a certain I-don’t-know in, eg, the OCB misidentifying a beer label from the Silver Spring Brewery, Victoria, British Columbia as “English”, presumably because it’s a label for “English-style Burton-type ale”. Or the OCB describing one of the stained glass Windows Of Privileges from Tournai Cathedral as “C 19th century” when it is from the end of the 15th/beginning of the 16th century. (Mind, I once put the wrong date on another one of the Windows Of Privileges myself. If you bought Beer: The Story of the Pint, please turn to p48 (hardback edition) and correct “The view inside a 14th century brewhouse” ” to “late 15th century/early 16th century brewhouse”.)

And I cannot imagine what went wrong in the editing process at the OCB to produce the statement under the “Distribution” entry that

“There are about 9,000 managed pubs in the UK. These are pubs owned by a brewery.”

Certainly the writer credited at the end of the entry never wrote that, because he’s a very senior British beer journalist and knows there are thousands of managed pubs in the UK not owned by brewers. In 2007, in fact, there were indeed 9,000 managed pubs in the UK, but 6,500 were owned by pub companies, and only 2,500 by breweries.

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The Oxford Companion to Beer: a dreadful disaster?

My copy of the Oxford Companion to Beer is currently on its way to me from the US, but, alerted by the comments of others, I’ve been dipping into the book using the “look inside” facility on the Amazon.com website, and … well, here’s one tiny quote from the entry on “Bottles”:

In the United Kingdom the imperial pint (568 ml) remains a popular size …

This completely invented “fact” appears in an entry that was a mash-up of several separate pieces on bottles, including a couple by me, put together into one article apparently for space reasons. I was sent the revised entry to comment on, I pointed out the error, and still it went into print.

Unfortunately the “pint bottle remains popular in Britain” factoid looks to be appallingly far from an isolated example of “information” in the OCB being either made up or out of date or just wrong. Here’s a very small part of the entry on “Britain”:

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A Christmas present for a beer lover


Looking for the ideal present for the beer lover in your life? Or maybe the beer lover in your life is you, and you want a simple, satisfying answer to that annual question from spouse/parent/child: “What do you want for Christmas this year, then, you awkward old get?” The Zythophile blog has the perfect answer: Amber Gold and Black, the history of Britain’s great beer styles, the first and only book to cover the story of every type of British beer from IPA to stout, from mild to porter. For Americans it’s available via here, if you’re in the UK you can get it here, and if you don’t want to use Amazon you can buy it from Beer Inn Print here.

Amber Gold and Black shows the routes each British beer type took as they evolved into the beers we know today, and details some of the top examples in each style. If you want to know just how the pint in your hand came to be the way it is, whatever it’s a pint of, Amber Gold and Black is the book to tell you.

The book reveals, among other fascinating stories, how bitter, regarded around the world today as the typical British working man’s pint, was born as a drink for snobs in the early years of Queen Victoria; how mild, the biggest-selling beer style in the country when the Beatles released their first LP, was originally strong and pale rather than weak and dark; how porter, the British beer style that once swept the world, owes its success to the 18th century equivalent of a Ferrari-driving City smoothie; how stout became “good for you“; how India Pale Ale was a lucky accident that came about because of the greed of several dozen ships’ captains; how Britain lost its wheat beer tradition because James II lost his throne; and how a weed that infests thousands of British lawns was once just one of dozens of herbal flavourings in British ales. It looks at the important role British brewers played in helping two young men from Munich and Vienna develop modern lager; it charts the invention and rise of golden ale and wood-aged beers, two of Britain’s newest beer styles; and it details long-vanished British beers such as broom ale, mum and West Country white ale.

Here’s a selection from some of the latest reviews of Amber Gold and Black:

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Summer reading

I was delighted to see that Amber Gold and Black, my just-published history of beer styles, has cracked the summer holiday reading market and will be seen on all the best beaches alongside Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and whatever codswallop Dan Brown is currently minting millions from, if this message from Joe Inglis reflects a general desire to read about the truth behind IPA and porter while crisping under a layer of factor 30:

Your book rocks. Read it once, hugely entertaining and informative, so much so that it’s on my list of books to go on holiday with next week.

You can find out if it really does rock by buying Amber Gold and Black yourself for just £9.99 plus p&p via this link if you’re in the UK or Europe, or for $16.47 from here if you’re in the Americas. Should you not like Amazon, you can also order it from my mate Paul Travis at Beer Inn Print here.

And if Joe Inglis doesn’t convince you to buy AGB, the first and best complete coverage of the history of every beer style ever made in Britain, here are a few critical comments from around the globe, the first by Jay Brooks, the highly respected Californian beer writer and blogger, writing in the Bay Area News a few days ago: Continue reading

In praise of rough pubs

Around three quarters of the way through the 1970s, I made regular trips to the North West of England to see my then-girlfriend at Liverpool University. Occasionally we would visit Manchester, which could (and still can) boast a range of old-established family brewers superior to anywhere else in Britain.

Supported by a copy of the local Camra guide, I’d try to fit in beers in places owned by as many of these small operators as I could in a single trip. It meant visiting pubs for their proximity to each other, rather than the quality of the establishment/the beer.  This is not always a good idea.

One day I found a place listed in the city centre that served the beers of a brewer from much further out that I hadn’t then tried, and told the willing Kathy R we had to visit it. The outside looked as if the brewery estates department had last paid it any attention at least 20 years earlier: undeterred, we went in, got beers at the bar, sat down, and realised that the walls were covered in porn: not even the polite, airbrushed Penthouse/Playboy sort, but pages torn from magazines at the “readers’ wives” end of the spectrum.

Unsurprisingly, my girlfriend was the only female customer in the place, and every one of the customers looked like their only income was from acting as a copper’s nark. There was probably a stripper on later. We didn’t wait to find out. I might be alone here, but I find naked women too distracting when I’m drinking beer. Still, the experience gave me a marker: “roughest pub I’ve ever been in”.

I’ve found myself in a few actual strippers’ pubs, and I’ve been in pubs where fights have exploded, though these generally looked perfectly respectable before it all kicked off. There was a bar in Glasgow where a table started brawling among themselves at 5.30 in the afternoon, for example: wonderful, I thought, someone’s putting on the Glasgow pub experience for us without us having to stay out late and drink too much ourselves. The barman was given a fist in the face for going over and trying to calm it down, and I saw him later being given the classic folk-remedy of a raw steak applied to his blackening eye. Doubtless, this being Glasgow, the steak was later recycled onto someone’s plate: well-done, I hope.

The only other place I’ve seen bar staff assaulted was in a pub in the back streets of Weymouth, normally a quiet seaside town with the nearest whiff of danger being the prison a couple of miles down the coast on Portland Bill. This time the barman had his shirt ripped off his back. As his attacker was carried out of the pub, the barman turned and glared at us: perhaps he felt we should have been more than spectators. Or at least paid for our entertainment by offering to replace his shirt.

Rough pubs don’t have to be a bad experience, of course. Around the same time as my visit to the Manchester porn pub, I used to travel out to a little rural beerhouse called the Goose, in the hamlet of Moor Green, part of the lost East Hertfordshire landscape of fields, woods and farms that seems 300 miles, rather than 30 miles, from London, and 50 years in the past.

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