The post-war saloon-bar modernisation programme began in the era of Macmillan and the Affluent Society. Like most such programmes in England, its main intention was to resist the modern: the character of a pub, or so the landlord would tirelessly reassure his regulars, was not going to be changed, just 'brought out', much as monosodium glutamate brings out the true flavour of food. It soon emerged, however, that every saloon bar in England shared the same character, founded on one simple contradiction. To a generation of interior designers for whom to modernise was the same thing as to antiquate, it was a place where everything was to be simultaneously out of date and up to it, pre- and post-industrial. Saloon-bar repro, undistressed and innocent of all intent to lie about its age, was a thoroughly economical way of signifying at one and the same time the venerably antique and the brand new. The twofold character of the bar was signalled also by the repeated opposition of the Dull and the Bright, the relentless contrast of dark wood and recently burnished metal. Tables stained in Jacobean oak were topped with easy-wipe, machine-dimpled copper. Wall-studs were newly exposed or newly installed, painted or stained black, and smothered with freshly-minted brass. On every wall the traditional black-and-gold plastic of Hogarth frames was screwed to the flock wallpaper. Ah, those would be the days, if they were no longer with us!
LRB 30 March 1989 | PDF Download