Sarah Sands: They think it's all over for pubs. It isn't now ...

Related Topics

It was the interval of the distinguished As You Like It at the Old Vic last Wednesday afternoon and the audience was frantic to know the score. I legged it past the cafés and shops to the one place I knew wouldn't let me down.

I could not push through the door for the crowd staring up at the communal television screen and then I was further forced back by the rapture of applause and cheering. "What, what?" I asked a woman on the step, holding a sun-drenched pint. She raised her glass to me and laughed breathlessly: "Defoe."

The World Cup has restored pubs to the centre of national life. As Al Murray puts it in his terrible anthem: "Football's not coming home, it's going to the pub." Perhaps because England's performance has been so painful to watch, we have opted to share the anguish.

The pub is the right place to slake our thirst for glory, to deaden our dull dread of defeat. It is true that many traditionalists will decry the presence of a television. They tend to share George Orwell's 1940s fantasy of "draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio". But if television is going to help the communal experience, I think we have to let it in.

The death of the pub has become such a cliché that we hardly notice how many are in robust health. Despite the general retreat into the home for food and entertainment, even though television now offers a zillion channels, it turns out that, given the chance, we all want to watch the same thing and to watch it together. Communities exist, they are just not necessarily the same thing as villages.

Pubs survive against all cultural predictions. Women were meant to hate them – since Bridget Jones, female relationships shifted to wine bars. The smoking ban threatened to kill them off. Higher taxes, longer opening hours, stricter drink-drive limits, men's first steps into child care, conspired against their survival. And at the end of all this, what becomes the chief celebrity playground in London? Guy Ritchie's unpretentious Mayfair pub, The Punch Bowl.

Pubs prosper because they follow the grain of human nature. It took a recession to make us understand that nobody is truly happy in a grand restaurant. Good plain food in bare but friendly surroundings is much nicer. Who wouldn't prefer the York and Albany gastropub to the Ritz? A sorrowful clue to the failing marriage of Mr and Mrs Guy Ritchie was Madonna's attitude to pubs. She tried so very hard to embrace them. But they never suited her. It is a collective experience rather than a star system. Nothing much happens. The table is often a bit wobbly and profundity is achieved through silent reverie in front of a pint rather than zealous spirituality.

Madonna praised British pubs enthusiastically, so when she returned to America she was asked sympathetically if she missed them. "No," she snapped.

Meanwhile, Lady Gaga arrived in the country to drink our pubs dry.

Many pubs are closing, but the ones that get it right are doing a roaring trade. Wetherspoon profits are up 41 per cent on 2009. The founder, Tim Martin, understood that pubs, like football, are built on teams. And that the needs of the customer are not complicated. His secret formula, with which Orwell would surely have had much sympathy, is only this: "You can talk all you like about building brands... but I still say 80 per cent of your view of a pub is how your pint is poured."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

HLTA - Higher Level Teaching Assistant

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The reactions to Renee Zellweger's face say more about us than about her

Emma Gannon
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes are named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London