25 JAN 2018: While international visitors to the UK, still put “the pubs” near the top of their “places to go” lists, it’s no secret that Britain’s boozer business is in serious decline.  In a fall of 2016 column titled ‘Closing Time’ I chronicled the dismal fact that the UK was down to its last 52,750 pubs - this from a peak of some 75,000 in the 1970’s. 

Well, rather than slowing down, this trend seems to be picking up a head of steam and the 2018 ‘Good Beer Guide’ reports that number is now down to just under 47,000 - with an average of 25 pubs a week calling ‘Time gentlemen please” for the very last time.

The reasons for the fall-off are manifold: The smoking ban, increases in the cost of pub suds (now almost £4-a-pint on average) versus drinking discounted booze in front of the ‘telly’ at home, stricter drink-driving laws, runaway costs from dramatically increased property taxes … the list goes on. It’s enough to make even the most good-humoured Brit swear – as long as they don’t do it in certain pubs.

Believe it or not, last year, the Samuel Smith chain of pubs - some 300 locations all over England – took the decidedly peculiar step of banning swearing in its establishments.

The uncompromisingly old-fashioned tastes of the brewery’s famously eccentric owner, 74-year-old Humphrey Smith, are reflected in his pubs. With uniformly Victorian décors, they are bereft of TV’s and music but are known for good beer and reasonable prices. It was however a surprise when signs went up in all his pubs announcing, “We wish to inform all of our customers that we have introduced a zero tolerance policy against swearing in all of our pubs. Please kindly respect this policy.”

“Please kindly” or not, they meant it! When patrons at one Samuel Smith pub, The Arlington Hotel in North Yorkshire, started getting too boisterous and liberal with their language, a mysterious man - whom many believe was the owner himself – appeared out of nowhere and unceremoniously kicked them all out. Can you believe it? I mean shit, c’mon … Oops sorry Mr. Smith: I meant to say, “Goodness gracious. Really?”

For the iron-fisted, almost Dickensian Mr. Smith however, this is clearly no laughing matter. The Guardian anonymously quoted one of the brewery’s landlords as saying, “He (Smith) walked into a pub unannounced and found some people swearing. The managers were sacked on the spot. It didn’t seem that fair – I mean there are places that Smith’s have pubs where the only language people speak is swearing.”

In such refined spots it’s one thing having to step outside to have a cigarette but having to exit the property simply to converse in the local language (pun intended) is another matter.

Some years ago I thought I’d seen it all when on entering a northern pub called, ‘The Dog and Gun’ I spotted a sign on the door stating ‘No dogs - No Guns.’ But really, ‘No Swearing’? That, as they say, really takes the biscuit!

Talking of British pub names, while there are some really bizarre ones like ‘The Cat and Custard Pot’, ‘The Bucket of Blood’ and ‘The Bull and Spectacles’ the most common ones are, ‘The Red Lion’ of which there are 944, ‘The Crown’ (826) and ‘The Royal Oak’ (771).

But in the wake of Mister Smith’s recent ‘decursification’ efforts, there could well be a great opportunity for rival watering holes to rebrand themselves.  Some creatively different names might play well with those forsaken, articulately challenged “we only speak swearing” local yokels.

Such ‘cusstomers’ (sorry!) might be attracted to pubs such as:

•    ‘The Blasphemers Arms’  
•    ‘The Four Letter Innn.’  
•    ‘The Curse and Horses,’
•    ‘The Royal Oath’
•    Or in Mr. Smith’s honor, ‘The Duke of Maladroit.’

If you care to submit some more suggestions, I will try to get them to Mr. Smith. He may soon be looking for something to get customers back into his pubs - before they start joining the ranks of the 25 a week.


Related column: Closing Time

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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his weekly columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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