Tuesday, 20 January 2015

We are, astronomical, fans of alcohol: World War One and the deadly foe of drink

‘You are, astronomical, fans of alcohol’ 
(British Sea Power: Waving Flags)

1916 poster (courtesy IWM). Campaigns such as this helped reduce
alcohol consumption during World War One

Alcohol is deeply embedded in British culture and there have been numerous state, and other, responses to its control and regulation. However, as Philip Kolvin has noted in a key text in licensing law, ‘over the last half millennium, the political response to our national trait has been ever changing and contradictory’. Currently the provision of alcohol is largely governed by the Licensing Act 2003, but during World War One alcohol became a hot political topic. In particular, a key Government concern was that the war effort might be hampered by the abuse of alcohol. Shortly before War broke out the Licensing Act 1908 had in fact sought to regulate alcohol consumption but was not without its critics and large scale protests.  David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been a key figure in support of the 1908 Act, saw drink as particular problem once the war commenced;

‘We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink; and as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is drink’ David Lloyd George quoted in Beer, The Story of the Pint
Lloyd George had actually started a campaign for people to take the pledge during the War, something that even King George V acceded to, stating that no alcohol would be consumed in the Royal household until the war was over.  Voluntary measures such as this were deemed to be insufficient however and a series of regulatory measures were enacted, these included the reduction in licensing hours and introduction of no-treating orders. The Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act 1914 received its royal assent at the end of August 1914. There had been many attempts at reducing drinking hours before 1914 but these really took root during World War One with the 1914 Act drastically curtailed drinking hours, allowing public houses to be open for a maximum of six hours per day and introducing a compulsory afternoon break in the areas of the country where it was operationalised. These restrictions largely persisted until passing of the Licensing Act 1988 first began the process of loosening these restrictions.

Another measure the Government introduced was the No Treating Order, introduced in October 1915. This meant that any drink ordered had to be paid for by the person to be supplied with the drink – effectively it was an ‘anti-round buying’ measure. The tradition of buying drinks for a group in rounds was a well established and popular one, although the Spectator felt this measure would ‘free hundreds of thousands of men from an expensive and senseless social tyranny’! The Government adopted other measures too, including the establishment of a central Liquor Control board with wide powers to regulate supply of liquor and trying to buy up a number of local breweries and constantly extending amounts of duty payable and attempting price control. These measures often were met with resentment, and sometimes satire as witnessed by Ernie Mayne the popular music hall performer, recording the song ‘Lloyd George’s Beer’, as can be heard here.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of blogs about the effect of World War 1 on law and popular culture, following a previous blog on the Polytechnic, law, popular culture and WW1, and one on thankful villages. Future ones will include pieces on censorship, court martials, spiritualism and intellectual property amongst other things, and if any readers have any ideas or would like to write a guest post, please get in touch. With luck, we will collate these and draw upon them and later provide the basis for some future developments at the Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture.

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