Double standards at the Beeb
not speak its name...?
Today's silly question: have you heard of Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale? Of course you have. An opinion poll some years ago showed that even the most casual pubgoer, with little interest in cask beer, had heard of the organisation.
It's probably the most famous single-issue consumer movement in the world. Sometime this year it's likely to hit the magic milestone of 100,000 members, proof that a growing number of beer drinkers want to belong to an organisation that champions Britain's unique beer style.
All that is a given. So why do I need to raise the issue? The answer is that the BBC, our revered public service broadcaster, thinks you cannot mention the existence of Camra.
You may be aware of an eight-part series currently running on BBC2 called Oz and James Drink to Britain. It features wine writer Oz Clarke and James May from Top Gear touring Britain to sample home-grown beer, cider, whisky, wine and even vodka. During the course of the series, they have both attempted to make their own home-brewed beer that at some stage would be judged by 'beer experts'.
During last week's programme (10 February), judgement day loomed. Clarke told May, as they tooled around in their expensive Jaguar, they were at last to have their beers evaluated. 'I'm taking you to a beer festival,' Clarke said. He told May, who is steeped in Top Gear-style cynicism and makes it clear throughout the series that anyone who takes beer seriously is a big-bellied., bearded bore, that the people running the festival are 'passionate and intense' about the subject.
Who can these people be? As a journalist taught to name names, I waited notebook and pen to hand to scribble down the venue and the organisers of the event. The information did not come. We were not told where the festival was held - it was Worcester - or who was filling large tents with casks of beer.
I immediately recognised Camra activists, including Brett Laniosh, who is a member of Camra's ruling national executive. But this was a Camra festival of a special kind. The walls of the tents were denuded of posters and signs.
Every Camra festival I have ever attended has been ablaze with brewery memorabilia and above all the familiar campaign logo. But not in Worcester. The very name of Camra was banned, verboten. If you looked really hard you might have spotted the logo fleetingly and out of focus on Brett Laniosh's polo shirt - but blink and you missed it.
To ban the name and existence of Camra is not only bad broadcasting but it denudes the whole series of its meaning. Most of the beers that Clarke and May have sampled on their journey have been cask ales. Camra is the story. Without the campaign's 'passion and intensity', cask beer would no longer be brewed in Britain.
The campaign saved regional brewers from takeover and closure in the 1970s. It encouraged the development and growth of the craft brewing movement from the 1980s. Thanks to its efforts, there are now more than 500 micro-brewers in Britain. Along with the remaining regionals and family brewers, they are the only sector witnessing any growth in beer sales and demand.
I repeat, Camra is the story. Yet in this programme it was reduced to a prop, its name and role censored.
Before writing this piece, I waited three days for the BBC to respond to my simple question: why was Camra's name expunged from the programme. No official reply came, but a spokesman did tell me that the Camra organisers were 'happy to take down their banners'. Brett Laniosh tells a different story. He says the production company told him they would only film if the banners were removed, which he reluctantly agreed to do.
There are double standards at work. In the same programme, a cider producer, Denis Gwatkin, was named and his bottle label was shown. He is a commercial producer. But Camra is not a commercial organisation. It's a not-for-profit consumer movement run by volunteers. All its income is ploughed back into its campaigns.
Two weeks ago, a team of leading Camra activists took part in the BBC2 quiz, Eggheads. They were named and captioned as 'the Campaign for Real Ale' and the presenter, Jeremy Vine, asked them what their current main campaigning initiative was.
But on the self-same channel, Camra could not be identified as the organisers of a beer festival or, more importantly, as the organisation that had saved cask beer from extinction.
As James May would say: 'It's all a load of bollocks.'