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Leading article: Closing time

Back in 1950 in his essay on the British pub, George Orwell listed his reasons for visiting his favourite local. They included such things as a good fire burning; it must be quiet enough to talk; pub games only in the public bar; barmaid knows most customers by name; besides cigarettes and pipe tobacco, the pub sells stamps and aspirin; draught stout on tap; beer served in glass or pewter tankards.

The aspirin and stamps may be a little excessive. But apart from that, pub owners could do worse than study Orwell's list. With news that four pubs a day are closing nationally, and of an increasing number of villages without a pub, it is too simplistic to point to the smoking ban as the main reason why more and more people are losing the pub-going habit. The causes for this worrying decline are surely more "Orwellian".

Pubs are not for clubbers. They are places to chat. High-decibel music that makes conversation impossible is illogical as well as annoying. Screens for big sporting events seemed like a good idea at the time, but as there are big sporting events most nights now, these screens also serve to prevent human interaction. The perception that these distractions are cynical attempts to make people drink more may have contributed to the collapse in the use of pubs. The variable quality of beer, and its often excessive cost, is contributing to the decline.

The much-vaunted adoption of the Continental custom of families gathering over food and drink has been a desperately slow one, but it remains not just a desirable development for British society; it could also be the saviour of pubs. First, though, they will have to make the quality of drink, service and ambience the priorities, and stop trying to be alternative venues for sport or drum'n'bass.