Book Review: The Pub Manifesto

The Pub Manifesto:  A Comedian Stands Up For Pubs by James Dowdeswell. CAMRA. 2018. 240 pp. Pbk. £12.99.


Pub Manifesto represents quite a change for CAMRA.  Firstly, it is not just another pub guide and secondly, it is written by someone outside of the magic circle of established beer writers. James Dowdeswell (born 1974) is a comedian, actor and wine expert.  He was brought up in his parent’s pub, The Anchor, Oldbury-on-Severn, which gets quite a few mentions throughout the book, although the pub is not listed in CAMRA’s own Good Beer Guide.

The book, at times reads as if it was made up from transcripts of his stage show which features a lot of discussion about pubs.  The book does not start well with a rather naïve chapter about the decline in pubs. We learn that 18 pubs close each week and apparently the smoking ban, competition from supermarkets, safe drinking limits and pubcos are all to blame.  If only he had read, “The Great British Pub” by Steve Finn (Editor of The Imbiber), he would have realised that there are a lot of other factors that have contributed to pub closures.

The book is a miscellany of pub information with snippets about the highest pub in the UK, gluten free beer, pub clocks and cider.  We also go off on a tangent with chapters about gin and whisky.  Some of the book is based on one of his stage acts where he tries to work out what constitutes the perfect pub.  He references George Orwell’s essay, “The Moon Under Water” which first appeared in the Evening Standard in 1946.  Orwell’s description of a perfect pub: side street location, draught stout, no music, several bars, friendly staff, cheap lunch, no music and a family friendly garden has been included is various collections of writing about beer and the name has been appropriated by several Wetherspoon pubs.

The book reads as if it is not quite the final draft and would have benefitted from some tighter editing. There are some quite amusing parts to the book and if James was performing locally I think I would make the effort to go and see him.  It is good to see a new beer writer in print and one who does not want to write yet another style guide.

David Harris