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How the middle class ruined Britain’s pubs

According to the 37th edition of the Good Pub Guide, published today, the smoking ban has transformed Britain’s ‘grimy’ boozers.

Transformed? That’s one way of looking at it. In the ten years following the smoking ban 11,000 pubs - a fifth of the pub estate in England and Wales in 2007 - closed.

There were other factors but the smoking ban was right up there. We know this because research showed a significant spike in the number of pub closures in the year following the introduction of smoking bans in Ireland (2004), Scotland (2006) and England (2007).

Further research showed that the pubs hardest hit were in urban, inner city areas - the so-called ‘backstreet boozer’.

The problem was a lack of outdoor space where they could accommodate customers who wanted to smoke, so smokers went elsewhere or stopped going to pubs at all and the results can be seen all over the country.

That’s the reality, backed up by hard evidence. (See Road to Ruin: The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice.)

According to a report in the Guardian however the Good Pub Guide says the ban has been ‘transformational’, forcing pubs to become ‘cleaner, brighter places with better food and with greater appeal to women and families’.

“Those bars full of fug and male chat quickly became a thing of the past,” the guide notes. “Pubs adapted by installing smokers’ shelters and outdoor heaters, and licensees soon realised that by making their pubs smoke-free, they turned into cleaner, brighter places, and opened up a massive new customer base: women and families with young children who headed to pubs for a meal and even an overnight stay.”

Some of that may be true but several points need to be clarified.

One, “bars full of fug” were increasingly rare. Better ventilation and the installation of expensive air filtration units saw to that.

Two, many couldn’t install smoking shelters and outdoor heaters, for reasons already explained. Far from the “level playing field” demanded by the pub industry (which fought proposals to exempt private members’ clubs), pubs without an outdoor space were at a serious disadvantage.

As for the claim that the smoking ban ‘opened up a massive new customer base’, I’d love to see some numbers to support it. It may be true that gastro pubs (which are closer to restaurants) are doing well. Overall however the UK is still losing pubs at a rate of 14 a week.

Despite this, Fiona Stapley, editor of the Good Pub Guide, says:

“It is clear that this national institution has transformed itself from the 1970s, when pubs were smoky and grimy, the domain of beer-swilling men and only serving scampi and chips (if you were lucky), to the modern-day environment that is family and female friendly, serving excellent wines, craft gins and truly delicious home-cooked food.”

Six weeks ago the BBC broadcast a documentary, ‘How The Middle Class Ruined Britain’. Presented by comedian Geoff Norcott, it didn’t mention the smoking ban but it should have because it’s a classic example of the point he was making.

To be clear, I’m no class warrior. I’m as middle class as they come and, given a choice, I would prefer a chocolate box country pub over a backstreet bar any day.

Nevertheless the sneering middle class snobbery that oozes from the Good Pub Guide is both nauseating and far more offensive than any ‘grimy’ boozer.

PS. BBC Radio Wales is currently asking the question, ‘Has the smoking ban actually saved the pub?’

A researcher called to ask if I would take part in the morning phone-in. I said yes and explained my position.

Ninety minutes later, the phone-in almost finished, I’m still waiting for them to ring back.

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Reader Comments (8)

In other words, the pub guide is saying that adult pub venues no longer exist and have been turned into creches and playgroups for Mumsnet types which no decent adult looking for fun, intelligent conversation, and peace of mind away from kids can expect anymore.

So, they admit the smokerphobic pubs are crap and used only by flat shoed, puritan, Nannying Guardian reading types who don't really believe in diversity if it doesn't fit their prejudicial idea of it, and they support exclusion and discrimination for those they don't like including "dirty, filthy, sub human smoker types" they despise so much.

No wonder pubs are dying. Who wants to frequent dumps like that with people like that in them?

Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 12:49 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Most of us don't bother with pubs anymore. We were driven out, probably by the same sort of arrogant people who are now denying us a general election. That is the reason so many pubs have closed. Nowadays many pubs are horrible second rate eating places full of people who have no idea how to parent their repulsive offspring.

Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 16:39 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

"Transformed", hmm!

As in the way the Luftwaffe "transformed" Coventry?

Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 20:18 | Unregistered CommenterManx Gent

Decimated is a more accurate description. So many pubs closed that the remaining pubs are really just restaurants enjoyed by a small group of puritans.

Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 22:08 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

How is it that writers like this seem so confident that they know exactly what pubs were like back in the 1970s, when many of them probably weren’t even born then? The experience of those of us who are old enough to have actually been there is very different. I don’t remember a time when pubs were unfriendly places for women to go to. Perhaps they tended to be mostly male-dominated places during my parents’ generation (they’re in their 90’s now) but by the 1970’s, when much of my late teen-to-twenties social life revolved around the local pub, women were every bit as welcome as men were. I didn’t even smoke back then, although virtually everyone else did, and, no, I never either experienced personally or witnessed anyone else coughing and spluttering in the “fug” or struggling to see across the room through the thick cloud of heavy smoke. It simply wasn’t like that, ever.

The hard fact is, as several people, including yourself, Simon, have pointed out, pubs haven’t been “transformed” – they’ve been “replaced” by something else, and not just flats or grocery shops, either. Call them what you will – family venues, restaurants, gastros – whatever the correct terminology is for them, pub isn’t it. Just keeping a pubby name doesn’t make a place a pub. I could name my home The Red Lion or The Nags Head, but that wouldn’t make it a pub, would it? Most of these re-born establishments simply aren’t pubs. Pubs are places for social drinking, full stop. Not for eating, not for taking the kids out for the afternoon, not even for taking Afternoon Tea or Morning Coffee. The moment the emphasis moves more onto food (or other non-alcoholic items) than it does on drinking, it’s no longer a pub. In the vast majority of places that call themselves “pubs” now in my area you feel about as comfortable popping in to spend an evening with friends just for a few drinks and a chat (no food) as you would if you spent the whole evening sitting at the little bar area in your local curry house.

Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 1:19 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Agree with you generally, Misty, but in fairness I have to relate the story told by a girl I used to know back in 1981.
As an art student at the time she was asked to leave a Leeds pub for knitting - which apparently made some blokes feel a bit too much like home.
The funniest thing was the name of the pub, The Cardigan Arms.
Well, it WAS Yorkshire!

Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 16:37 | Unregistered CommenterManx Gent

Totally agree with Misty, I started frequenting Pubs when I was 14 and they were pubs, not cafes or restaurants, you went there to drink and chat and if you did, a smoke. I was 14 in 1966, therefore a lot of your correspondents are probably a lot younger than me.

Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 19:14 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

Love the knitting story. But it is understandable to an extent, I guess. After all, everyone surely now knows about the dangers of Passive Knitting ....

Sunday, September 8, 2019 at 22:20 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

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