Pride (In The Name Of Love)
For nine long months from December 2008 to September 2009 I was sent away to work in London and Milton Keynes. Everything that you could possibly describe as a pub in Milton Keynes was a Wetherspoons in a glass and steel shed. London, of course, was different.
I was reading Pete Brown’s very enjoyable and informative Man Walks Into A Pub at the time and becoming more interested in pub culture. Moreover I somehow managed to be in a legal job in London with decent hours. So at lunchtimes and after work I explored quite a few pubs, mainly between Soho and Euston.
I’m not going to get into the issue of sparklers, but other than the beer usually being missing from the neck up, Fullers could usually be relied on for a good pint (or half, if it was lunchtime – some of us have work to do), usually London Pride. More recently I’ve also tried Chiswick Bitter whilst in London for training, which was nice for 3.5% (I had a whole pint – it was only training). And last weekend I tried a (Fullers) Gales HSB in The Hop, Leeds, which was both hoppy and had a rich spicy maltiness.
But, whilst they’re reliable, I’m not completely in love with Fullers like I am with say, Thornbridge, Saltaire, Ilkley or Hawkshead.
However, I see that Fullers have been in the news a bit recently. Firstly I saw that David Cameron continued his beer diplomacy (started with Obama and a bottle of Hobgoblin) by giving the Chilean Prime Minister 33 bottles of London Pride for the miners.
Then I saw that in fact Michael Turner from Fullers signed a letter to the Telegraph supporting the Comprehensive Spending Review. This has made some people very angry, but hasn’t it always been the case that (successful, larger) brewers were Tories?
The thing that I do have mixed feelings about is Fullers’ new James May-fronted advertising campaign. The first ad’s not very funny and doesn’t really say anything. It seems to be based solely on May being quite well-known and reasonably likeable: this is James May; you like James May, he’s nice and a bit geeky and middle class; here’s James May holding a glass of London Pride. He’s gentle, quiet and looks a bit like a newly-shampooed Afghan hound in a paisley shirt and velvet jacket who just happens to like the music of Yes. Aww.
And that’s fine. I kind of like James May too. I find Top Gear pretty much unwatchable these days, but I liked the wine programme he did with Oz Clarke and then the subsequent Drink To Britain series. That got Brewdog, Thornbridge and Stalybridge Buffet Bar on the telly, so more power to them.
Also, to be fair, the second advert with its focus on British Craftsmanship does work better in a “shared values” sense. And James does in fact go to the trouble of doing a slightly awkward tasting session on Youtube:
However, if you look at the full advertising campaign, they’ve also got this poster:
Possibly I’m being oversensitive, but isn’t that a bit homophobic? Now, it’s not as bad as very many examples, most notably the Spitfire “Rear Gunners Drink Lager Shandy” ad preserved for the ages on Pump Clip Parade. Also, it’s not really that offensive, but rather childish, lazy and couched in faded, jokey innuendo in the way that Top Gear often is.
It’s just that it’s a bit close to the subtext, “If you don’t drink this, you’re a homosexual, and if you drink it in halves, you’re at least a bit of a homosexual. For the avoidance of doubt, homosexuals are funny”. Although, if you watch the tasting video above, you’ll see James drinking a half without comment.
In my opinion beer advertising, especially for real ale (and a drink called London Pride, no less) should have gotten past this by now. In fact, maybe that’s it: perhaps Fullers have got really sick of that Wikipedia disambiguation page. But you’d think if they wanted to go down that route and focus on a shared value of casual, sniggering homophobia, they would have employed Clarkson instead.