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Written in 1999

CAMRA in Bradford began when the West Yorkshire branch was founded with an enormous meeting at the Black Swan in Thornton Road.

So many people came you could hardly get in, and it is not an exaggeration to describe it as chaos!

At that time Tetleys were ripping out handpumps like there was no tomorrow, and replacing it with some electric muck which was not fit to drink. They told us when we went to see them that it was the same beer as the handpulled stuff. All I could say was if it was the same in the barrel it certainly was not the same in the glass. This was a crisis for West Yorkshire beer drinkers because nearly all the local brewers had already been closed down (largely by the self-same Tetleys) and the remaining ones such as Websters had already removed handpulls from virtually all their outlets. Websters Yorkshire Bitter had been invented not long before. It was not as bitter as the local drinkers, who put it in much same category as Titbread Wankard.

It was about the same time that the classic beer jokes came to the fore. For example:

In a raffle: First prize a crate of Watneys. Second prize two crates.
And the classic:
“Drink Watneys and the bottom falls out of your world. Drink Whitbread and the world falls out of your bottom!”
Well, the Real Ale campaign to us Tykes at that time had little to do with definitions of real ale, and cask breathers were not even a twinkle in Moggie Jones’ eye (he being the Tetleys off-cummed-un who was responsible for deciding what we could drink). The campaign to us was simply about locating what remained of handpumped ale,and doing what we could to halt the decline. They were going down like ninepins, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that had CAMRA not come along there would have been no handpulled beer at all in our area before the year was out.

Meetings of the branch came fast and furious, invariably packed out. We made a lot of noise, but most of us knew little if anything about beer, although we knew what we liked and did not like! We wrote letters to Tetleys, Websters, the dreaded Charringtons (who remembers Brew 10? Who wants to?) They fell on stony ground. The rape of the handpulls continued.

Some months later the Leeds branch was formed although the Bradford based group retained its West Yorkshire title for the short term. We made a list of all pubs we knew of in Leeds and Bradford which still had handpumps. It was a short list (Eddie Lawler still has it in his Saltaire archives). but we read it out at the next meetings of both branches and by that time half of them had already gone !

A delegation of several of us from Leeds and Bradford went to meet the top management teams at Tetleys and Websters. They must have been worried about us, because they all turned out, head brewers, free and licenced trade managers, PR managers and, yes, even the managing directors. They tried to give us lessons about beer, but we were not quite so dumb and by this time we had learned something about it! We knew about pasteurisation, about the use of substitutes in the brewing process, about chilling and filtering, and, of course, about half-truths put about by PR men. (They would only tell you the half they thought you would find acceptable!) The Yorkshire Evening Post did us proud (it may have helped that I worked there!) publishing a front page article headed “Tetleys tell drinkers to change their tastes”. What a beauty! Leeds branch have this article in their archives. Moggie Whoeverhewas told us that tastes would have to change because hygeine matters made handpulls unusable, and that drinkers were fickle. He believed that the brewers could influence the tastes of drinkers and that Tetleys could change their clients’ tastes within a week. This article did not enhance their cause one little bit, and it was really the best own goal I have ever witnessed.

Meanwhile the campaign was gaining force at national level. Watneys had complained famously of the word-of-mouth campaign which was damaging their business. I have news for them. It was not the campaign which was damaging them, it was their own products. They reached a stage where they ceased to show the name of the brewery outside their pubs in the South of England, illustrating clearly the negative side of brand imaging which they had uniquely captured. Soon the Kirklees branch of CAMRA was formed, and the rump of the original West Yorkshire branch, by now meeting at the Brownroyd WMC and with me as chairman, changed its name to the more appropriate Bradford Branch.

Happy Anniversary ! In those days we were still able to draw a crowd of up to 150 to monthly branch meetings, and we could see some daylight at the end of the beer tunnel, albeit a tiny speck. The slaughter of the innocent handpumps had been slowed, and a few pubs had even put them back in. The health authorites were trying to outlaw the feedback system where surplus beer was recycled. With 25 years hindsight I can say that I am not an afficionado of this system, but at that time we would accept anything to keep a decent pint. We wrote to the authorities on this matter and had letters published in the T&A; which attracted dozens of sympathetic letters from other readers. The tide was just beginning to turn, although we were still almost out of our mixed-metaphorical depth.

The Brownroyd used to serve Yorkshire Clubs bitter ! Now there’s a name to conjure with. Taylors Landlord? I had never heard of it until we went on a branch coach trip to the Hare and Hounds near Heptonstall one night and next day I could not talk properly. But Yorkshire Clubs, now there was a beer. The Yorkshire branches decided to promote it because the brewery would close without more outlets. Most of the Men’s Clubs had changed over to Tetleys and others as a result of brewery loans, so that clubs purporting to be free were very much tied houses. After many hours spreading the word, the Clarendon at Hebden (near Grassington) introduce the now much-lamented nectar into their range. Some weeks later another pub, memory fails me here, did the same. Both these as a result of campaigning by our branch members.

Bradford Branch was not everybody’s favourite branch. I did not know why. I think we were too working class for some. But we had a lot of good members and they got about and spread the word. I can remember announcing to the branch the fact that we now had Yorkshire Clubs beer in 2 pubs, as a result of campaigning by several branches, and that the score was Bradford Branch Two, the Rest Nil. But alas it was shortlived, too little too late, and the beloved York brewery went the way of many others.

A famous milestone for local campaigners was the first local good beer guide (copies still avaialable from the excellent Leeds Branch archive). We travelled across West Yorkshire and listed all pubs we know of which were still selling real ale (by this time we knew what it was, although I should admit that Bob Blagborough knew all along). We were ready to go to print when our great friends in Kirklees decided at the last minute to produce a separate guide of their own. What were we to do? The whole thing was compiled and the great presses were ready to roll. Never uninventive we came up with a masterstroke and published the never to be forgotten:

“GOOD BEER GUIDE TO WEST YORKSHIRE (EXCLUDING KIRKLEES)”
Such were the early days of Camra, not just in West Yorkshire I suspect, but elsewhere. The rest is history. But what of some favourite memories, and some of the outstanding personalities? This is dangerous. One is bound to forget somebody or something and may give offence, but I can not avoid it so I must take the risk, and give an advance apology to all meritorious souls who may feel to have been ignored. First of all I can not remember the names of all the people I met in those dark days, but they were none the less worthy and they probably can not remember mine!
I recall some of the great characters, not just of Bradford but of West Yorkshire. The three “toby jugs” who formed the first committee of the branch, and little Chris Bateman who had to sit between them like a slice of salami in a doorstep sandwhich. Bob Stevenson who travelled the Dales on a one-man campaign. Gerry Garside who invented the real ale holiday. Mike Farrar, Gus from New Zealand (now running a pub in Bradford I believe), Stuart “Stone Jug” Ellis, stalwarts all of the Bradford branch. Lu Cody who just wont go away (I have known him since we were both about 3 years old). Philip Tordoff, star of pub-crawl and classical organ and beer historian par excellence (a great character and a very talented person). And of course the much missed Keith Narey, and his political oppo. Roger Bullock.

On a wider platform I particularly recall characters such as Phil Hardman (founder of CAMRA) and Chris Hutt (campaign chairman and author of the Death of the English Pub, who, in common with certain politicians had difficulty in fulfilling his ideals when responsible for running the show instead of opposing it! But a good bloke and better for having met him). Barry Pepper, all the Leeds team too numerous to mention, but particularly my brother Eddire, Ed Andersen (now MD of Leeds Bradford Airport) and the best wicketkeeper I ever played with Tom Fincham (referring to tiddlywinks of course).

The events I most clearly recall (for some of them it is an amazing feat to remember anything at all!) would include the Nottingham, Keele, Cardiff and Blackpool national AGMs. Gerry Garside and I played the Good Samaritan in Cardiff, carrying a worse for wear CAMRA man up 3 flights of stairs before he told us he was staying on the ground floor. Who was the owner of the outsize pair of underpants found on the landing of our rooms in Keele, or the wearer of the gas mask on Sunday morning during the AGM itself in Nottingham. By the way, just where was Roger Jay? (Apologies to newer members who will not know Roger) Perhaps the greatest moments, socially at least, were the early Camrambles and pub crawls. The most famous of these were our arrival as a busload of some 40 people in Failsworth (the faces of the locals when we told them we had come on a trip to visit their town were a sight to behold) and the ramble over the moors to Soyland on a snowy morning. Gus fell in the snow, tore his trousers stem to stern, the landlady instructed him to take them off and stitched them for him. A local wag could not resist linking his predicament in the snow to the name of the pub. It was “The Blue Ball”.

And finally the beer festivals. The first was held in the Denis Bellamy hall of residence of the University in Little Horton, in those days near Park Avenue football ground. (Who was responsible for building that thing on the Avenue’s pitch? Moggie Jones?) We exhibited nine real ales, all of them available in local pubs and with a map for all visitors to show them where. We sold out during the last session. I was the chairman, and gave the staff a peptalk before opening about staying sober. Best if I do not give further evidence on this in my own self defence. But it was a great success, gaining coverage in the local press and attracting people from all walks of life. We called it a Beer Exhibition, an accurate description, and whilst its scale was modest compared to today’s mega festivals it was the very first of its kind in Yorkshire I believe and set the pattern for later events. It also made a profit, and we made good friends at that time particularly with Sam Smiths and Thwaites breweries, who were very supportive. And of course Taylors, God bless em. We had our share of failures as well. Best not to mention the Air Fayre. But we survived and so did Real Ale.

The future for CAMRA? I am now away from the Real Ale issue, having lived in Spain for several years now, although planning now to spend more time in the UK. But my general impression is that CAMRA should keep to basics, not to complicate life too much, and promote good beer first and foremost. The smooth flow you hate nowadays is nectar in comparison to the virutally undrinkable slop we were served. The cask breather? I couldn’t even tell if they were using it.

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