Thursday, April 21, 2016

COMMERCIAL BREAK : Watney, What, No!

This advert is taken from a June 1954 edition of that very best of British magazines - Picture Post. It was a time when adverts were inclined to be plain and simple - both in their design and in their content. And although I can't remember ever having drunk a bottle of Watneys Brown Ale, I suspect that fell into the plain and simple category as well.

Watneys had the kind of reputation amongst lovers of real ale that Genghis Khan had amongst Sunday School teachers. They were at the forefront of the revolution to introduce standardised, pasteurised, keg beers at the expense of local and regional favourites and the Watneys Draft Red Barrel symbol became a despised talisman to ale lovers later in the sixties and seventies.

Many years ago I read a wonderful history of the Watney Mann brewing company ("The Red Barrel" by John Murray) which told a splendid story of the origin of the family name. The first Watney in the family, Daniel Watney who was born at the very beginning of the eighteenth century, is said to have been a foundling who was abandoned on Wimbledon Common by gypsies. A local farmer found the lad and took him home to his wife. For days they tried to discover his origins by repeatedly asking the lad "what name?" until eventually the question was shortened into "watney" and became the lad's name.

The story is probably about as true as the claim made in the old Watney advertising song : "What's the beer that's always best / Watneys draft red barrel", but truth and advertising were never intended to be close friends.

A quick check shows that a half pint bottle of Watneys Brown Ale cost about 9d in 1954. Believing that beer has become ridiculously cheap in the modern age - which is the cause of everything from the breakdown of civil society to the death of the bumble bee - I did a quick calculation to discover the equivalent today - which would be about £1-83 for a pint. Which, interestingly enough, is just about the price you could pick up a pint bottle of brown ale in a supermarket today.

Let me finish, however, with the simple question posed in this simple 1954 advert - have I tried it yet? What, no.


  1. God, I remember the adverts for Red Barrel. Hideous stuff.

  2. All I can say is Watney's saved me in a world of Anheasur Busch and got me started on my quest for the great craft beers. (It's what we had at our closest-to-a-British-pub place over here.)

  3. Nothing stays the same. Yesterday I dealt with a woman, upset and crying because town people wanted to change the way the Memorial Day parade is conducted.

  4. Don't know whether it is particularly relevant, but you omitted to mention that Watney's bought-out the Halifax Brewer Samuel Webster & Sons Ltd. I take that to mean that you never 'Kept out the Northern Thirst', with a Pint of Webster's Green Label, then?

  5. You should have tried it. You could do a series of posts on all the different ales and try them all.


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