OPINION: James May is right... but not about everything

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

Ed Bedington opinion on James May interview

Related tags James May Opinion Pubs

Motoring broadcaster and part-pub owner James May recently raised eyebrows in an interview with The Morning Advertiser when he described the country as “oversubscribed” with pubs.

He described the current economic crisis as simply “a cull” that would remove the bad pubs, and he added that pubs were “not monuments and they have to work”. He said “we shouldn’t think of pubs being an essential part of our heritage or an important tradition”.

And you know what, he’s right. 

Well, sort of - pubs aren’t monuments, and they do have to work. However he’s wrong about everything else.

Cornerstones of communities

Pubs are ​an essential part of our heritage and our national identity, they’re often the cornerstones of communities and are envied by other cultures around the world.

Interestingly, this was from a man that when we interviewed him on the Lock In podcast recently admitted to buying his local because the thought of it closing would mean life would be “meaningless” without a pub in walking distance.

So he gets the importance that the pub plays in modern life. But the idea that the current challenges will mean only “bad pubs” will close is sadly not the case, and we’ve seen great operators fall foul of rapacious energy prices through no fault of their own than the circumstances.

Also, Mr May probably has a more narrow definition of what makes a good pub, the kind of place he’d like to visit with good wine and good food at good prices. But pubs are a broad church and mean different things to different people. 

Must work as businesses

His view that “for a long time, pubs got away with being a bit tatty and were due a bit of an update” is perhaps a little out of date.

Pubs have, by and large, professionalised in the past decade or so and moved the dial forward in ways he might not recognise.

However, all that said, he is right that pubs have to stand on their own two feet and work as businesses, not museum pieces to cater to American tourists and out of touch television presenters.

But to do that, the sector would benefit from a level playing field. A reassessment of the overbearing tax burden the sector has to shoulder and reform of things like business rates.

We know we’ve got to get on with it and trade our way out of trouble, and many in the sector are doing just that. We don’t want to be seen as monuments to a by-gone age, but rather a more accurate reflection as a cherished, viable, and valuable part of the cultural life of modern Britain.

  • To read the original interview with James May, click here​.

Related topics Rebuilding the Pub Sector

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