Exclusive interview with author Pete Brown and his book about a Pub that’s been around since Shakespeare’s time *** 3 Stars
By Gabrielle Pantera
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Daily Star) 2014/10/17 – “Much of the history of pubs and beer is not written down,” says Shakespeare’s Pub author Pete Brown. “They were the places of the working classes, and for most of our history these people could not read or write. I spent a year looking for mentions of the pub in old newspapers, public records offices, anywhere I could find them. Then it was just a case of choosing the right pub, and the George Inn quickly emerged ahead of other old pubs I could have written about.”
This book isn’t about Shakespeare, but about a pub he may have frequented. The focus of the book is a history of Southwark. The George Inn in London is near London Bridge and The Globe Theater where Shakespeare spent much of his time. Changing it’s name over the years, it has been around for about 600 years. The original building burned down and was rebuilt only to go up in flames in a second fire.
There are chapters in the book about the famous writers who came to the inn. The National trust now owns the inn. A detailed time line of the George Inn is included (page 335). The details are fascinating with footnotes along the way covering gossip and news of the day. It was on the road out of London where many great and aristocratic people traveled. It’s where the mail coaches changed horses on their way out of London.
Brown had to restart writing the book after the theft of his laptop, “I had almost finished the research, which happened in a pub of course,” says Brown. “I was four months away from my deadline and I had nothing backed up. My external hard drive had stopped working and I hadn’t quite figured out the Cloud by that point. I literally had to start again from scratch. In some ways it’s a better book because of it, but it’s not an experience I’d care to repeat.”
The idea for the book emerged gradually, over about five years. “There had been a couple of books here tracing the history of individual houses or streets through the ages, and I thought, there’s way more going on in pubs than houses, and many pubs have been around much longer than houses,” says Brown. “A similar book about a pub would be amazing to research and write.”
“This particular book was a little calmer than the one before it, which saw me dragging a barrel of beer from the UK to India by sea, sailing across the Atlantic, drinking with Brazilian prostitutes in a dockside bar at 4am, being held at gunpoint by Iranian guards, bribing my way onto India and partially destroying the function suite at the Deputy British High Commission in Calcutta,” says Brown.
Brown says writing has taken him away from a life at the office of an advertising agency to traveling the world meeting people and drinking beer with them. He has written five books. Shakespeare’s Pub has not been optioned for film or television. Shakespeare’s Pub was adapted for radio by the BBC. Tony Robinson, who stars as Baldrick in the British TV comedy series Blackadder, read it out.
“I wanted to get to the greatest level of granular detail that I could,” says Brown. “This book owes its existence to public libraries. The British Library in North London allows you access to pretty much any book ever written, and allows you to work search online copies of newspapers up to 400 years old. Then the local library near the George Inn in Southwark, South London, had a folder of press cuttings about the pub that’s four inches thick, going back to the Victorian era. Our libraries are essential resources and they must be preserved.”
Brown writes a blog and articles. He’s been named Beer Writer of the Year twice for his books. His books include Man Walks into a Pub (a general history of beer and pubs), Three Sheets to the Wind (a global tour in search of the meaning of beer), and Hops and Glory (his quest to recreate the voyage of India Pale Ale). His latest book, World’s Best Cider, is a global guide.
After winning the previous year as Beer Writer of the Year, Brown wasn’t able to enter Shakespeare’s Pub because he was chairing the judges. World’s Best Cider recently won Drinks Book of the Year at the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards.
Shakespeare’s Pub: A Barstool History of London as Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub, The George Inn by Pete Brown Paperback: 368 pages, Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (June 3, 2014), Language: English ISBN: 9781250049025 $16.99