The days of journalists having big, boozy lunches are gone

Today's journalist is more likely to go jogging at lunchtime than to have a couple of bottles of red

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Once again, I have cause to be grateful to one of my correspondents for a thought-provoking addendum to a recent column.

Last week, I wrote about how I'd given up drinking. Or at least hadn't had a drink since the start of year, and wasn't sure whether I'd take it up again or not.

I said this not in the spirit, so to speak, of expecting a round of applause, but simply to explain that after coffee, tea, cigarettes, red meat and now alcohol, I felt that I didn't have anything else to give up.

My (possibly temporary) vow of tee-totalism captured the interest of i reader John Marsh from Newton Abbott. He has noticed that among media types, people in the entertainment world and opinion formers, the forswearing of alcohol is becoming something of a fashion.

"It's becoming less idle to speculate," he said, "that in 30 or 40 years' time, attitudes to booze might have started to mirror those towards smoking." An interesting point, but he ended with an extremely provocative question. "Is this a cause for celebration?" Should we welcome the onset of an age of temperance? Or will life become more colourless as a result?

It is definitely true that, in the media, there is no longer the hard-drinking culture of the past. That's not to say that newspaper offices have become havens of sobriety, but the days of the big, boozy lunch are certainly gone.

When I first arrived in what was then still Fleet Street three decades ago, I was taken out to lunch by one of the veterans of the paper. I ordered a glass of white wine with my meal. "I simply can't drink white wine at lunchtime," he said sharply. "It keeps me awake in the afternoon."

Today's journalist is more likely to go jogging at lunchtime than to have a couple of bottles of red and then while away the unforgiving hours before the pubs open with a nice snooze. But, to talk to the conundrum posed by Mr Marsh, is this cultural shift one we should regard as positive?

While productivity has certainly increased, there is no doubt that some of the character, and a lot of the mystique, has disappeared from our particular world. Of course, for every Rabelasian figure who had a thousand great stories to tell, there were a dozen bar-room bores, but I can't help feeling that the new age of Puritanism, which has swept through the media in the way it has through other workplaces (with the possible exception of the medical profession), has made everything just a little more dull.

I would hazard a guess that the legendary columnists of the past -  the likes of Keith Waterhouse, Alan Watkins, Jeffrey Bernard - might have been a little less entertaining had they been fuelled by Perrier rather than Laurent-Perrier. Or perhaps I'm just being an old fart, and it is a good thing time was called on the boozers.

All the same, Mr Marsh's vision of a world where, at a social function, hardly anyone is drinking fills me with dread. I don't know what anyone else thought, but I definitely found myself a lot more interesting when I was drinking.