How to Behave in a British Pub: A World War II Training Film from 1943, Featuring Burgess Meredith

Fore­warned is fore­armed, so in 1943, the Unit­ed States Office of War Infor­ma­tion cre­at­ed a train­ing film to pre­vent sol­diers bound for Great Britain from earn­ing their Ugly Amer­i­can stripes.

The excerpt above con­cen­trates on pub eti­quette, cast­ing actor and Army Air Corps cap­tain Burgess Mered­ith in the role of a dis­creet mil­i­tary Vir­gil, explain­ing in hushed tones the British pen­chant for non-chilled beer and smok­ing or read­ing the paper unmo­lest­ed.

He also cau­tions incom­ing GIs against throw­ing their mon­ey around or mak­ing fun of kilt-wear­ing Scotsmen—commonsense advice that still applies.

To ensure the mes­sage sticks, he con­jures a cringe­wor­thy, semi-sloshed bad apple, who struts around in uni­form, bray­ing insults at the locals, until he dis­ap­pears in a puff of smoke.

No won­der the reception’s a bit frosty, when Mered­ith, ven­tures forth, also in uni­form. But unlike the brash bad­die who went before, Mered­ith has vet­ted his hosts, approach­ing as one might a skit­tish ani­mal. He offers cig­a­rettes, enjoys a game of darts as a spec­ta­tor, and buys his new friends drinks, being care­ful to choose some­thing in their price range, know­ing that they will insist on rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing in kind.

The film is pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with teach­ing restraint.

In anoth­er sec­tion of the not-quite-38-minute film offi­cial­ly called A Wel­come to Britain (see below), Mered­ith cau­tions young recruits to take small por­tions of food, know­ing how restrict­ed their hosts’ rations are.

The most uncom­fort­able teach­able moment comes when an elder­ly Eng­lish­woman spon­ta­neous­ly invites a black GI to tea, after thank­ing him for his ser­vice:

Now look men, you heard that con­ver­sa­tion, that’s not unusu­al here. It’s the sort of thing that hap­pens quite a lot. Now let’s be frank about it, there are col­ored sol­diers as well as white here, and there are less social restric­tions in this coun­try. An Eng­lish woman ask­ing a col­ored boy to tea, he was polite about it, and she was polite about it. Now, that might not hap­pen at home, but the point is, we’re not at home, and the point is too, if we bring a lot of prej­u­dices here, what are we going to do about them?

(No advice to young black sol­diers on whether they’re hon­or bound to accept, should an elder­ly Eng­lish­woman invite them to tea, when they were per­haps en route to the pub.)

Watch the entire­ty of A Wel­come to Britain, includ­ing a cameo by Bob Hope at the 30 minute mark, here.

For an updat­ed guide to British pub eti­quette, check out the Amer­i­can expats of Post­mod­ern Fam­i­ly reac­tion video here.

via Daniel Hol­land

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: British Pathé Puts Over 85,000 His­tor­i­cal Films on YouTube

1,000,000 Min­utes of News­reel Footage by AP & British Movi­etone Released on YouTube

How the Fences & Rail­ings Adorn­ing London’s Build­ings Dou­bled (by Design) as Civil­ian Stretch­ers in World War II

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Decem­ber 9 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates Dennison’s Christ­mas Book (1921). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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