Roll Out the Barrel: The British Pub on Film DVD
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Directed by Various (Documentary)
Produced in 1944-82
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
An endlessly enjoyable collection tapped from four decades of films about all aspects of British pubs. There's something for everyone here, whatever their pleasure, says Graeme Hobbs.
The opening title of the opening film on Roll Out the Barrel: The British Pub on Film (a companion to the BFI’s earlier Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games) quotes Samuel Johnson: ‘there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn’. And there really is something for everyone here, whatever their pleasure, with films as diverse as the many and various hostelries and drinking vessels shown within. Hail-fellow-well-met types and reticent outsiders are greeted alike by mine host (or ‘the licensee and his wife’ as it the 1982 film, Local Life, has it), while the spit and sawdust of the public bar (not in the same film, but they are both here) sits next to the cosy fireside glow of the saloon and 11am twitchers nod at closing-time last-chancers.
There are cosily evocative travelogues made for export, impressionistic studies of pubs and clubs, promotional pieces, news reports, a Pythonesque training film, a brace of brisk history lessons in the development of English public houses from their monastic and royal roots and much more, the films recording changes in tastes and styles both in drinking and decor, with the whole ghosted through with characterful pub signs and names of lost and (sub)merged breweries.
A few of the highlights: Guinness for You is an industrial symphony of sorts made for the brewery in 1971, in which the creation of hand-blown glasses complements the transformation of barley and hops into Guinness’s dark glory, as Tristram Cary’s sountrack shimmers and shakes, gurgles and plinks in perfect accompaniment.
Then there is A Working Man’s Club in Sheffield (aka People in Sheffield), Peter Nestler’s extraordinary documentary portrait of the Dial House Social Club, made for German television in 1965, in which, through spending time with the working people of Sheffield, their spaces, streets and workplaces, their routes and transport, he assembles a monochrome collage of film and photographs, as rough-grained and real as a variety night in the club itself. He was asked to add a commentary to the film, but – barring Robert Wolfgang Schnell’s spare, gruff, fact-based words – refused on the grounds that it would ‘exoticise’ Sheffield and its people, putting a barrier between the direct understanding of the film and its people by, say, a similar working man in Duisburg or Essen. That said, Nestler does have an unflinching, even ethnographic eye for the curious (the musical acts, with one notable exception, are little else but) that provokes a slight uneasiness in the viewer with the steadiness of his gaze. As mentioned in the accompanying booklet notes, it’s a film that has Humphrey Jennings’ Spare Time in its bloodline. Its focus is on people in their places. It ends with just three words: Sheffield, in Yorkshire.
Another film collage, grounded, impressionistic, beer-steeped and fag-smoked, embedded in the textures, voices and fabric of a boozy afternoon in a Tyneside pub, is The Ship Hotel Tyne and Main, made by Philip Trevelyan in 1967. It’s a film that draws smoke into the lungs and clatters and scrabbles the dominoes of a grey afternoon; it’s a film of darts and chalk, impromptu singing, finger tracings in a puddling of beer on the counter, a film of a tap-room romance. And although they are never shown or mentioned, it is the weight and shape of the days before and the days after that give the film its particular tone and texture.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous, as, with a nod and beery wink, Arnold Miller and Stanley Long take us on a waxworky, tobacco-stained and sweaty-suited tour around some of the tawdry daytime drinking haunts and show us some of the pasty-faced denizens of daytime darkness in the entertainments found on and beneath the London streets in Under the Table You Must Go. We visit cabaret bars and writers’ pubs, a sportsmen’s bar, in the company of Denis Compton, Reg Gutteridge and Jimmy Hill among others; Pete Walker enjoys a visit to a bunny girl bar complete with a cocktail and fingernail-checking ‘bunny mother’, a jazz club and a schlosskeller where Jon Pertwee dons a Kaiser helmet to assist an accordionist in mugging out a singalong to Roll Out the Barrel and Rule Britannia. And although the film’s titles say it was made in 1969, Tommy Trinder still sings ‘Champagne Charlie’ in a music hall bar and Richard ‘Stinker’ Murdoch interviews Prisoner of War escapees. A turtlenecked Jonathan King brings us back up to 1969 as he introduces a ‘rock teenage pub’, where mini-skirted dancers gyrate to the sounds of a now forgotten beat group.
Three years later, A Round of Bass (1972) looks at changing tastes in the British beer market, especially how Bass Charrington championed the popularisation of lager drinking, previously considered a rather suspect drink due to its ‘continental associations’ (it’s no longer just ‘a drink for the ladies’ says an executive in a meeting), and adapted pubs into places where younger drinkers would like to spend their time (and more importantly, their money). A related item, New Pubs for Old, from 1979, briefly takes in the work of ‘The Pub Makers’ and their fabrication and provision of authentically fake pubs – all fibreglass Elizabethan beams, horse-brasses and bellows – in Britain and abroad.
What'll You Have? sees Richard Wattis act as a good-humoured guide through 900 years of ale houses, taverns and inns, while Michael Robbins (the familiar face of Arthur Rudge from On the Buses) tries to spoil his, and his companion’s, fun.
However, let’s end with the ideal of the timeless storybook image pictured in the very first film in the collection: ‘flanked by the church, the rectory and the people’s houses, stands the inn. In its shade and beneath its roof, men of all degrees and of all opinions meet in comradeship and comfort.’
All in all, this is a collection of films to be savoured by bar-room reminiscers, mild-and-bitter social historians and connoisseurs of British film alike. Cheers.
Graeme Hobbs on 15th May 2012
Author of 276 reviews
A fascinating collection of entertaining short dramas, humorous trade films, perceptive documentaries and archival newsreel items, Roll Out the Barrel: The British Pub on Film is a essential history of the British boozer on film, providing a perfect measure of cultural change in Britain over a 40-year period from 1944-82.
With many pubs currently fighting for survival, this nationwide pub crawl presents a lasting reminder of the sights, sounds, people and personalities of the great British pub, exploring its unique role as a place of communal gathering, game playing, story-telling, opinion debating, bonding rituals and unbeatable banter for generations. Dozens of pubs, many of which are still in existence, are featured in the films; from London boroughs to Tyneside, Sheffield, Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Kent, Oxfordshire, Yorkshire, Argyll, Salisbury, Somerset, Surrey, Cleveland and beyond.
Amongst the films on offer are Arnold Miller’s (London in the Raw, Primitive London) 1969 tour of London’s varied club and pub scene, Under the Table You Must Go, the Guinness-sponsored trade film Henry Cleans Up (1974), starring Monty Python’s Michael Palin and Terry Jones as rival landlords, Philip Trevelyan’s (The Moon and the Sledgehammer) beautifully expressionistic portrait of a Tyneside pub and its patrons, Ship Hotel – Tyne Main (1967), renowned German director Peter Nestler’s documentary on leisure time in Steel City, A Working Men’s Club in Sheffield (1965), the local quirks and characters of Richard Massingham’s (Coughs and Sneezes) wartime trip around England’s favourite locals in Down at the Local (1945), and Eric Marquis’ (Time out of Mind, Seven Green Bottles) promotional film Guinness For You (1969), which features a soundtrack by British avant-garde composer Tristram Cary.
Full title listing: The Story of English Inns (British Council, 1944, 8 mins), Down at the Local (dir. Richard Massingham, 1945, 18 mins), The Inn that Crossed the Sea (Hope and Anchor Breweries, 1950, 14 mins), Tramps' Ball (Mining Review, 1953, 4 mins), Beer And Skittles (Mining Review, 1954, 1 min), The Old Pheasant (Mining Review, 1958, 2 mins), The Friendly Inn (Tourist Board, 1958, 14 mins), Mining Review 16th Year No. 5 (1963, 8 mins), Lucy's Table (Mining Review, 1965, 2 mins), All In Good Time (dir. Robert Tronson for Guinness, 1964, 24 mins), A Working Men's Club In Sheffield (dir. Peter Nestler, 1965, 40 mins), The Ship Hotel - Tyne Main (dir. Philip Trevelyan, 1967, 32 mins), Under the Table You Must Go (dir. Arnold Miller, 1969, 50 mins), Guinness For You (dir. Anthony Short, 1969, 15 mins), A Round of Bass (dir. Geoffrey Reeve for Bass Charrington, 1972, 21 mins), Henry Cleans Up (dir. Digby Turpin for Guinness, 1974, 12 mins), What'll You Have? (The Brewers Society, 1977, 25 mins), New Pubs For Old (UK) (COI, 1979, 5 mins), New Pubs For Old (INTERNATIONAL) (COI, 1979, 5 mins) and Local Life (The Brewers’ Society, 1982, 18 mins).
Length: 321 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Cat No: BFIVD937
Format: DVD Colour
- 2 discs
- Extensive, fully illustrated booklet with notes on each film by BFI curators and newly commissioned essays by Robin Turner, co-author of The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking For the Moon Under Water and Chris Murray of the Pub History Society.