Blog: Chris Brook-CarterA 24/7 drinking hell?

Chris Brook-Carter | 7 June 2004

The UK drinks industry must have been wincing throughout last night’s documentary by the BBC's current affairs programme Panorama entitled “Cldnt Give a XXXX 4 Lst Ordrs” – a reference to a text message campaign by the Labour Party at the last election, highlighting its intention to liberalise licensing laws.

In it the drinks industry was accused of creating a legal machine to take on the country's once- feared liquor licensing authorities and breaking them down with devastating effect. As one of the trade's new breed of high-powered specialist lawyers tells the programme: "It wasn't an equal contest at all".

The message was that selling alcohol is a business and, in business, cash is king and to hell with the consequences.

The consequences were presented by filming the centre of Nottingham on a Saturday night, an area portrayed as a virtual battleground between police and hordes of semi-conscious drunks.

Last summer, I was out in Nottingham after a Test match and cannot remember scenes that appalling, so either I was lucky, things have got considerably worse in a year, or the film’s footage was a little economic in its objectivity.

That said, 50,000 drinkers crammed into one square mile in nearly 400 bars is a recipe for disaster.

The answer, according to both the government and the drinks industry, is 24 hour opening for bars and pubs. The idea is that the 11pm closing time creates a culture of bingeing for a mass of drinkers who are then all chucked out on to the street at the same time. Twenty-four hour drinking would allow us to drink similar amounts but over a longer period of time, while staggering the times people look to go home.

Though it is highly unfashionable for someone in the drinks industry to take issue with this view, I do have concerns. As I have pointed out in the past, in theory I do support more liberal licensing laws. After all, the majority of us drink sensibly and in this day and age we should be able to choose whether to sit down with a glass of wine after dinner or the cinema at a bar after 11pm.

However, the idea that relaxed opening hours will suddenly transform us all into Mediterranean-style consumers who gently quaff chilled fino while nibbling at olives is ridiculous.

I would love to put an end to the Friday night battle I have with the landlady of my local as she tries to turf me out and I try to finish my pint in peace, but the fact remains that the continental café culture is built around just that, cafés, and not the modern-designed mass drinking pits that masquerade as pubs in town and city centres. 

In short, the UK does not have the drinking physical infrastructure or the marketing mentality to promote this style of culture. Put an end to happy hours, drinking promotions, all-you-can-drink nights and make licencees responsible for the conduct of their patrons – as happens in Australia – and then introduce 24 hour licensing.

The most concerning aspect of last night’s documentary for me is that all the emergency services had serious reservations about 24 hour licensing and no one, at present, seems to be listening to these people on the frontline.

Ominously, Nottingham’s chief constable said the new laws would create "a 24 hour version of what we've got now - and that is my idea of hell".


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