British Television and Public Houses

Public Houses have played such a big part in British culture and everyday life that they have been heavily featured in many television soaps and programs. On occasions there has been a conflict of interest as on the one hand government agencies promote the pub highlighting all the great things about being British, especially community spirit.

Dennis Watts serving wife Angie with divorce papers on Christmas day 1986

However, at the same time there are groups who feel that pubs have caused many family issues. The disintegration of family life has been blamed on the public house in keeping the man of the home away from the family. The other problem is the simple issue of health with alcoholism being closely related to the impression that it is rather British to go down to the local each evening and consume a couple of pints of beer. However, the soaps in particular have grasped the notion that the pub is the centre of the local community. The longest running soap is Coronation Street and there is not an episode where the vast majority of the evening’s program is not filmed within the confines of its local pub, the Rovers Return.

The program, that has been aired since 1960, has created story line after story line that has made household names out of the Landlords, the bar staff and the patrons. Past Landlords have included Jack and Annie Walker who ran the bar for 24 years, and Bet and Alec Gilroy who ran the bar for 11 years. Since 1960 ownership of the bar has changed hand on 18 occasions.

If the Rovers return is the pub of Coronation Street, then the Queen Vic is the major establishment of EastEnders. Although EastEnders has only been running since 1985 its story lines emanating from within its local public house have been just as explosive. These have included the murder of Dennis Watts the owner of the pub who was affectionately known throughout the nation as “Dirty Den”. There were no more of a scoundrel in the soap than the owner himself, and the story line of “who dunnit” gripped the nation for months.

Derek Trotter enjoying a Pina Colada in the Nags Head

After his demise the stories of the soap still evolved around the pub with owners such as the Mitchell brothers and Sharon Watts being at the centre of many sagas. If the owners weren’t the central characters then the pub’s managers, such as Frank and Pat Butcher or Alfie Moon, would happily step up to the plate to be involved in the next life changing incident.

Pubs have also been heavily featured in British comedies. The Crown in Men Behaving Badly was the ideal environment for the laddish antics of Tony and Gary. The grubby character of the pub however, did little to enhance the character of the local public house as it gave the impression of it being more like a 19th century bawdy ale house rather than a family pub. The image of the Nags Head in Only Fools and Horses certainly portrayed a more positive image as “the local” for the Trotter Brothers “Del Boy and Rodney”. In an era when the yuppie culture entered the pub trade, publican Mike regularly attempted to satisfy Derek’s desire for Pina Coladas.

The resplendent cocktail didn’t quite fit the image of the normal drink that was being consumed in this South London local public house. Yet still the pub managed to portray an image of community harmony despite its location on the edge of a rough Peckham high rise council estate. The public house as had numerous appearances on British television screens and has enhanced its reputation as playing a major role in British life.