Friday, 29 March 2013

Extensions and stay-behinds

This being a Bank Holiday weekend, I'm reminded of the licensing regime that used to exist until comparatively recently. Before all-day opening was brought in, normal Sunday hours (midday to 2.00pm and 7.00pm to 10.30pm) applied on Good Fridays and Easter Sundays for religious reasons. As most people didn't have work the next morning on either day, this was ludicrous, especially as extensions were granted wholesale for Easter Monday, which is followed by a working day.

When I moved to Southport in the late 70s, pubs closed every night at 10.30pm, which seems quite odd nowadays. It crept up to 11.00pm, first on Friday and Saturday, and then throughout the rest of the week except Sunday. Liverpool introduced 11.00pm closing before Sefton, our local borough, and at the point where Bootle, the south end of Sefton, and Liverpool meet, you'd get an exodus of people from Sefton pubs into cars to drive into Liverpool for the extra 30 minutes drinking time. Not to be recommended really.

August 1988 saw the beginning of all-day opening, except on Sunday, and at first it seemed odd to be drinking quite openly at 4.30pm in the afternoon without the doors being locked. I was at Whitby Folk Week when all-day opening began, and two friends and I went on an all-day pub crawl to celebrate; I seem to recall that the first pint the following day took me 2 or 3 hours to finish. While all-day opening wasn't of any use while you were in work, it was certainly welcome on holiday. All-day opening on Sunday appeared a few years later in the mid-1990s.

The reforms that brought in the much-misrepresented 24-hour opening in 2005 gave pubs the chance to choose their hours and my local, the Guest House, chose a closing time of midnight, but in fact stuck to 11.00pm. Our licensee told me that she could now have an extension whenever she wanted without the hassle of applying. Since then, she has extended her Friday and Saturday hours until 11.30pm, and more recently midnight, without having to apply to anyone, and on the understanding that she would revert if it proved uneconomic to do so, which is fair enough. Granting licensees such flexibility within reason is eminently sensible. In addition, as opening hours are no longer fixed uniformly everywhere by the local council, there is little reason for people to drive from one borough to another in search of longer hours, although I suppose it could still happen from one pub to another.

As a consequence, the stay-behind, or lock-in, has become much less common. Obviously all-day opening killed off the afternoon ones. As for the evening ones, here in Southport there are quite a few pubs, such as the Sir Henry Segrave (our Spoons), where you can just walk in and have a drink up to midnight, or much later in the case of the Willow Grove, our Lloyds No 1 bar. In the days of stay-behinds, whenever one was likely, the licensee would discreetly suggest that you hang around until the last customer whom they didn't want to invite had left. The doors would be shut, the curtains drawn, and it was business as usual. In pubs with tills that recorded the time of the transactions, the sales would be noted down and were all entered the next morning. If you were invited to stay, this meant you were seen as belonging to that pub: you regarded it as your local, and they viewed you as a valued regular. You felt as though you were more than just another customer.

My view is that opening hours are nowadays much more sensible than they have ever been during my drinking career. The loss of the illicit pleasure of a stay-behind is more than compensated for by the fact that you can usually have a late drink legally whenever you want. As for 24-hour opening, there was only one bar that applied for it in Southport, and that's gone as far as I know. I'd imagine that in cities there may be a few, but the true 24-hour licence is quite rare. But never mind the truth of the matter, the imaginary mayhem caused by 24-hour opening is a good stick with which to beat those politicians who introduced it. The reality is quite different: both Labour and Tory governments have progressively eased licensing laws, partly as a burning of excessive regulations, easing the "burdens on business" and "freeing up the market for innovation", and partly because it makes sense to treat drinkers like adults who should make their own decisions on drinking, as indeed the vast majority can. It's a pity the nanny-statists seem to be gaining ground again, but that's another story.

Happy Easter, and cheers!


  1. I've been in a few lock-ins and you're right, they do have a different atmosphere to just being in the pub.

    Someone told me once that in the 60's Manchester and Salford had different closing times on a Sunday night and you'd see people coming out of pubs and crossing one of the bridges over the Irwell for another hour's drinking.

  2. This pub apparently crossed the boundary and had different closing times depending on which room you drank in!


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