Tag Archives: Britain

British binge-drinking, 1927 edition

27 May

Photo: Christopher Pledger, Daily Telegraph, 2009.

For at least the past decade or so, the British press has been indulging in one of its periodic bouts of hand-wringing at the drinking habits of young women. Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, certainly not newspapermen’s morbid fascination primly disguised as moral crusade, is this bourgeois-epating story from 1927:

Forty cocktails a day “without turning a hair” is the new all-British record, both for flappers and confirmed drinkers.

An anonymous English girl of “good social standing” turned the trick.

Hitherto, 12 to 15 cocktails a day has been considered a very respectable average for the energetic flapper but the Rev. W. H. G. Shapcott’s assertion that he has met a 17-year-old girl who boasted she could get outside of 40 of them between breakfast and breakfast, has caught the imagination of all London and the news and editorial columns of the newspapers blazon her prowess.

The Rev. Shapcott, who is Metropolitan secretary of the church army, says he cannot see the greatness of her accomplishment, despite the editorial hullabaloo, and has refused to reveal the girl’s identity. He has said, merely, that  “she is a girl of good social standing and goes to the Riviera every year.”

“But she is not the only case,” he added, in an interview. “Girls are getting more and more into the cocktail habit. Dozens of them drink their 12 of 15 a day and think nothing of it. But the girl who boasted she drank 40 of them headed the list. When she said that that was nothing, and that the number didn’t turn her brain, I told her that it must be because she didn’t have any brain to turn.”

At this rate, cocktail drinking becomes of the expensive pastimes.

Forty cocktails a day represents a drinking bill of about $5,000 a year—or $15 a day. Forty Martinis, for instance, would represent about one and a half bottles of gin and three-fourths of a litre of French vermouth.

With these figures before them, certain speculative editorial writers are inclined to wonder whether the cocktail girl’s claims should not be classified with the English channel swim hoax.

— “English Girl Found Able to Drink 40 Cocktails Day”, Atlanta Constitution, 1 November 1927, p. 10.

British barmaids and American bars

31 Aug

Under the head of European disillusionments I would rate, along with the vin ordinaire of the French vineyard and inkworks, the barmaid of Britain. From what you have heard on this subject you confidently expect the British barmaid to be buxom, blond, blooming, billowy, buoyant—but especially blond. On the contrary she is generally brunette, frequently middle-aged, in appearance often fair-to-middling- homely, and in manner nearly always abounding with a stiffness and hauteur that would do credit to a belted earl, if the belting had just taken place and the earl was still groggy from the effects of it. Also, she has the notion of personal adornment that is common in more than one social stratum in England. If she has a large, firm, solid mound of false hair overhanging her brow like an impending landslide, and at least three jingly bracelets on each wrist, she considers herself well dressed, no matter what else she may or may not be wearing.

Often this lady is found presiding over an American bar, which is an institution now commonly met with in all parts of London. The American bar of London differs from the ordinary English bar of London in two respects, namely—there is an American flag draped over the mirror, and it is a place where they sell all the English drinks and are just out of all the American ones. If you ask for a Bronx the barmaid tells you they do not carry seafood in stock and advises you to apply at the fishmongers’—second turning to the right, sir, and then over the way, sir—just before you come to the bottom of the road, sir. If you ask for a Mamie Taylor she gets it confused in her mind with a Sally Lunn and sends out for yeastcake and a cookbook; and while you are waiting she will give you a genuine Yankee drink, such as a brandy and soda—or she will suggest that you smoke something and take a look at the evening paper. […]

Likewise beware of the alleged American cocktail occasionally dispensed, with an air of pride and accomplished triumph, by the British barmaid of an American bar. If for purposes of experiment and research you feel that you must take one, order with it, instead of the customary olive or cherry, a nice boiled vegetable marrow. The advantage to be derived from this is that the vegetable marrow takes away the taste of anything else and does not have any taste of its own.

— Irvin S. Cobb, Europe Revised (New York: Doran, 1914), pp. 161-63.

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