Tribute – Martin Pope

Members of CAMRA’s East London and City Branch, and more importantly the national brewing industry, will be devastated to learn of the sudden death of CAMRA life member Martin ‘Animal’ Pope on 22 January 2021 at the age of 70. He was a founder member of the branch and I attended the first meeting with him as hanger-on. Incredibly for somebody who lived the axiom of Groucho Marx (I don’t want to belong to a club that will accept me as a member) he was the branch’s first Social Secretary, alongside the sadly departed Brian Marsh (the first Chair) and Pete Roberts (1947-2004) of Roberts Rambles fame. Brian was also Martin’s long-term cycling partner, with whom he explored the real ale of the Home Counties for many years.

There are probably few around now who can remember the brewery visits that Martin organised, but he did so at a time when there were barely 100 brewers in the country and he assiduously identified some of the smallest and most hospitable, dragging people from London across the countryside to visit some gem. Other members will recall his distinctive bearded and increasingly corpulent form at the branch’s Pig’s Ear beer festivals, working there for many years, and in the pubs of east London and in darts leagues in the City and Stoke Newington. Although his active involvement with the branch dwindled, he still helped with surveys for many years. I recall reviewing all the pubs of E10 with him for what I think was the last East London Guide. There were pubs with no draught beer at all, not even bottled Guinness but plenty of drugs, pubs with no customers except those apparently offering sexual favours to the staff, and lots of undrinkable rubbish. No wonder the traditional pub was vanishing! He continued to take photos for the CAMRA website and deliver his devastating verdicts on pubs and beers alike.

                Latterly his locals were around Walthamstow and Wanstead: the George, the Drum, the William and the Rose & Crown, but these were generally staging posts on his way home from almost anywhere. Previously, over the years, they also included the Prince of Wales on Lea Bridge Road, the Anchor and Hope, the London Tavern (E5), the Wheatsheaf (Borough Market), the Windmill (Tabernacle Street), the City Retreat (for darts), the Angel (St Giles Circus), the Leopard and, closer to home, the Cricketers in Woodford. And, of course, back in the 1970s, there were the handful of real ale havens: Becky’s, the Sun, the Anglesea Arms and the White Horse etc. Further afield favourites included the Vaynol Arms in Nant Peris and, until lockdown, most weeks he was to be seen at least once in the Great Western at Wolverhampton, a strong candidate for his favourite pub of all. Choose the day of the week and work from there!

                Martin was a purist and, over the years, his view of what was ‘pure’ in the world of beer evolved dramatically, as did his views on pubs and their offerings. After years of drinking the tasteless keg offerings of the likes of Worthington E and Tartan, he probably became seriously interested in real ale through Young’s beers and the attractions of the Wandsworth 11. I met him in the years of the big six, when it was possible to consider drinking at all the real ale pubs in London and sampling all the real ales in the country and, with his fellow committee member Barry, he had a bloody good go at doing it. Then Watney’s, followed by Ind Coope, decided to launch their own real ales in the late 1970s and the task became pointless, especially given the abysmal state of many of the pubs on offer. I remember doing a crawl with him, around 1974, from the Blind Beggar at Mile End Gate up to the White Swan at Clapton and feeling more and more depressed by the rank quality of the beer and the lack of a friendly atmosphere in many of the pubs. The Blind Beggar had been given a makeover, no doubt to give it a post-Kray fillip, but you wondered why.

                He upped his game and became dismissive of Charrington’s, then Young’s and Fuller’s because they seemed to betray his standards. Greene King, whose Abbot Ale he sported on many T-shirts in the 1970s, was consigned to his rubbish bin. He hoovered up all the pubs of the smaller regional breweries just like he had collected train numbers in his childhood: Ridley’s, Rayment’s, his beloved Brakspear’s, Donnington’s, Batham’s, Simpkiss, Harvey’s and Timothy Taylors, recording it all in his collections of beer guides and subsequently his databases. With a persevering mentality he continued until COVID struck us, polishing off all the Wetherspoon’s across the country (except, of course, those in airports) and most of the micropubs as well, setting out from one of London’s terminals a couple of times a week. In the process he visited almost everywhere in the British Isles, although retaining his favourite haunts in North Wales and the West Midlands. If you wanted to know a good beer he was your man; although committed to drinking the strongest, he was well aware of what a decent well-balanced beer should taste like. If you want to gain his knowledge of British beer, be prepared to accumulate a lot of rail miles and spend a lot of cash, and don’t stop exercising! I doubt that he had serious rival anywhere. So, choose a beer from the Blue Monkey range or, closer to home, ELB, and raise a glass to Martin; if you don’t these breweries will not survive and it won’t be just Martin we are mourning in 2022. Mike Chrimes -!ui.�f�