Three cheers to bars and saloons. the victorians got that right too…

A pub smoking ban presents the best of all possible worlds for marketing – a candid opportunity to apply its principles to the various drinking classes

Richard Seedhouse sounds like the sort of chap who would be good in a crisis. Not that I would expect him to fend off disaster, rather he might be relied on to cheer you up. From his public pronouncements as administrator of the Victorian Society, he comes across as one of nature’s optimists. Whereas you or I, on seeing storm clouds pounding their hooves on the horizon, might shudder and turn up our collars, he would rejoice in the imminent good fortune about to befall the manufacturers of umbrellas and patent cold cures.

He tells us that, contrary to crusted and barnacled popular opinion, Queen Victoria was a jolly old soul who liked nothing more than a good giggle. “It was just that she had a policy of looking serious when she was having her picture taken,” he explains. As a zillion passport photographs of human beings resembling orang-utans with a morning head testify, the old girl was by no means alone in her aversion to the lens.

One day last week, Mr Seedhouse awoke in what even for him was an especially sunny mood and, peering through his rose-tinted glasses, saw the happiest possible outcome of the proposed ban on smoking in bars. It would, he said, herald a return of the typical Victorian pub. He raised this cheerful prospect after pondering the distinction in the proposed law between places that serve food, which must be smoke-free, and those that do not. One way around the ban, he says, would be to restore the original interiors of pubs.

A typical Victorian pub was divided into small spaces by ornate partitions of frosted glass and mahogany. The rooms had separate entrances from the street and charged different prices for the same beer. There were public bars for the labouring classes and saloon bars for white-collar workers. Some pubs had smoking rooms, some had men-only “Gents’ buffet bars”. Some had “snugs” where elderly ladies could sip glasses of milk stout and gossip.

The glory of the Victorian pub was that it was all things to all men, and some women. It recognised class distinctions and provided for them. It enabled adults from every background to relax and enjoy themselves in their different ways, all under the same roof.

Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, in one of the worst acts of vandalism in a century whose chief characteristic was destruction, the brewers tore out the interiors of the pubs and created single huge rooms in which the only thing the various classes of customer had in common was the desire for a drink.

If Mr Seedhouse is right, we stand on the brink of a glorious opportunity to rescue the pub from the grip of juvenile binge drinkers and restore it to its central place in society. This would also be an opportunity for marketing, at whose door much of the blame for the destruction of pubs must be laid, to redeem itself. For it is marketing that gives us the notion of segmentation, of splitting markets into various categories according to differing tastes and preferences, and thus satisfying myriad demands.

I should like to see the introduction of a Chavs’ Bar and a Fogeys’ Room. The former would be for the exclusive use of people who favour the kind of drinking environment that might have been designed by a committee comprising Hogarth, Dante, Rabelais, the Marquis de Sade and the Worshipful Company of Barber Surgeons. Its denizens drink from the bottle, scream abuse above deafening music, push broken glass into each other’s faces, vomit immoderately and weep. They have shaven heads and tattoos and wear the kind of trousers that set off optimistically in a southerly direction but, on reaching the calf, lose heart and give up. The Fogeys’ Room would be the preserve of men in tweeds and women in cashmere and pearls who, seated on bar stools, discuss the desirability of restoring the birch as a form of remedial treatment for those in the Chavs’ Bar. There would, of course, be scope for further segmentation reflecting the fashionable taste for social mobility. A Chavs’ Non-smoking Room, a Fogeys’ Pool Room and Karaoke Parlour, a Chavs’ Reading Room, a Fogeys’ Big-Screen Plasma Sky TV Lounge, a Gay Chav’s Chintz Room and Sauna, and a Fogeys’ Inter-pub Arm-wrestling League.

I feel confident that Mr Seedhouse would look favourably on these proposals and, echoing Dr Pangloss, observe that since everything is made for a purpose, it follows that everything is made for the best purpose. Including a ban on smoking.v

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