The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is releasing ‘behind the scenes’ insights from key moments in its history, as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary on 16 March 2021.
Over 50 years of campaigning, CAMRA has made its mark in the industry and in the halls of Westminster, from campaigning for licensing reforms, to establishing the national Pub of the Year competition and helping to form the European Beer Consumers Union.
This is the first release in a series of first-hand accounts from behind the scenes of CAMRA campaigns, told by the people leading the charge at the time. The testimonials look back on some of CAMRA’s earliest victories, go behind the scenes of key moments in the Campaign’s evolution, and cover right up to the present day – including moments such as fighting against the takeaway beer ban imposed during the latest lockdown.
Nik Antona, CAMRA National Chairman, said: “As a campaigning organisation, there was no way we could properly mark this occasion without looking back at our campaigning over the last half century. We have come a long way from our start in 1971, and still have a long way to go – especially now, during one of the toughest periods on record for the pub and beer industry and after a year of lockdowns and restrictions. While looking back on our milestones during our anniversary year, we reaffirm our commitment to fighting for pubs and consumers now and in future, and supporting the industry through the next few months and the end of this difficult time.”
The first batch of campaigns are listed below, including a short excerpt from the full accounts:
- The Birth of the Good Beer Guide – Michael Hardman, CAMRA founding member and former National Chairman
“I discovered a newspaper story about a businessman in Yorkshire who was complaining about the quality of beer. He was called Berwick Watson, boss of a subsidiary of Waddington’s, of Monopoly fame. I called him when he was in London and he agreed to meet me in the Guinea, a pub off Berkeley Square. As we downed a few pints, he offered to print and publish our guide if we would design and illustrate it.”
- The 1974 Food Standards Committee Investigation – Andrew Cunningham, former CAMRA National Executive member
“One of the first, if not the very first, major CAMRA submission to a government body was to the Food Standards Committee enquiry into the “Definition, Composition and Labelling of Beer” in June 1974. […] We made enquiries and did some research into things like ingredients and processes and, to quote the submission, came to “a fair compromise between what the industry can reasonably provide and what the consumer has a right to know”.”
- Pioneering women in the Campaign – Christine Cryne,
beer tutor, writer and Master Trainer
“‘Do you drink pints?‘ ‘How many pints do you need to get you drunk?‘ These were the sophisticated questions I was asked when I became CAMRA’s first female Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) organiser in 1992. Things may have improved but women and beer seems to still sit uneasily with some despite the fact we have been involved for centuries.”
- The Pub Heritage Project – Paul Ainsworth, Chair of CAMRA’s Pub Heritage Group
“Pub heritage campaigning is almost as old as CAMRA itself – our original Articles of Association include: ‘To campaign for the retention and reinstatement of the facilities of the traditional British pub, including the public bar’ (public bars – remember them?).”
- Fighting the Neo-prohibitionists! – Kevin Travers, former Cardiff Branch Chair
“As an Englishman, I never thought I would be campaigning in Wales to keep pubs open on Sundays; but nearly 25-years ago, I found myself doing just that! The Welsh Sunday prohibition referendums took place from 1961, with the result dictating whether pubs were able to open on a Sunday for the next seven years. While urban districts ditched the ban at the earliest possible opportunity, many rural counties held on to ‘dry’ Sundays.”
- Evolution of the CAMRA Membership Form – an insight into the origins of a now-familiar sight in pubs and beer festivals – the CAMRA membership form – shared by Dave Goodwin, CAMRA National Executive member for over 15 years and former National Chairman
“The pub where the meeting was being held was in the midst of redecoration and, as we walked in, we had to navigate through scaffolding and signs warning of ‘Wet Paint’ and of course we all had the urge to touch. Inspired by this thought, we had the idea that the best way to get potential members to pick up a form and read it was to tell them not to. The idea of a membership form with a bold title saying ‘Don’t Read This’ was born.”
- Fighting the takeaway beer ban – Nick Boley, National Executive member and Chair of the Campaigns Committee
“During the first coronavirus lockdown, in Spring 2020, pubs and bars were allowed to sell takeaway beer in sealed containers for consumption at home. […] This activity provided a lifeline, albeit a small one, for many pubs, including wet-led pubs. This lifeline enabled them to have some sort of turnover, prevented beer already in cellars from going to waste, and kept some small breweries operating. This was so successful in my local brewpub that the brewer told me he was brewing three times his normal volume to keep up!”
- Petition to scrap the Beer Duty Escalator – Colin Valentine, former CAMRA National Chairman
“The Campaigns Team took this rather flimsy suggestion and polished it up until it became the Beer Duty Escalator Petition, with a plan which included getting 100,000 signatures to ensure it was debated in parliament. […] What we didn’t expect was the response to an email that went out from me to all members on the opening day of GBBF. Thousands of members signed that day – many GBBF visitors also signed it and we hit our target by the end of October and it was debated on the floor of the House of Commons.”
- The formation of the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU) – John Cryne, former National Chairman
“During the late 1980s, it had become apparent that ownership in the brewing world was shifting from purely national operations to one increasingly dominated by global behemoths with global brands. These new challenges for beer consumers, and the organisations representing them, led them to conclude that their impact would be enhanced through collaboration.”
- CAMRA’s Report to the Office of Fair Trading on Grand Metropolitan’s Watney Group Beer Supply Monopoly in Norfolk (1986) – Paul Moorhouse, former Regional Director for East Anglia and National Executive member
“Norwich, in Norfolk, became East Anglia’s major brewing centre in the Victorian era with four regional breweries and pub operators: Bullards, Steward & Patteson, Youngs Crawshay & Youngs, and Morgans. Between 1958 and 1963, in a remarkable series of catastrophic mergers, all four of them became part of the Watney-Mann brewing empire.”
The full articles are available on request, as well as any further information on the campaigns and about the authors – get in touch on email@example.com
CAMRA will be celebrating their 50th anniversary throughout 2021, with a host of activity including a new biography 50 Years of CAMRA, awards for campaigners, pubs and breweries, virtual festivals, and commemorative merchandise. Learn more on our 50th Anniversary page: https://camra.org.uk/50-
CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is a not-for-profit consumer group with over 180,000 members that has been operating since 1971. Our vision is to have quality real ale and thriving pubs in every community.
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