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What to expect

‘Brilliant.’ Alan Johnson

‘Compelling.’ David Kynaston

‘The beer drinkers’ Bill Bryson.’ Times Literary Supplement

The untold story of a British institution.

Pete Brown is a convivial guide on this journey through the intoxicating history of the working men’s clubs. From the movement’s founding by teetotaller social reformer the Reverend Henry Solly to the booze-soaked mid-century heyday, when more than 7 million Brits were members, this warm-hearted and entertaining book reveals how and why the clubs became the cornerstone of Britain’s social life – offering much more than cheap Federation Bitter and chicken in a basket.

Often dismissed as relics of a bygone age – bastions of bigotry and racism – Brown reminds us that long before the days of Phoenix Nights, 3,000-seat venues routinely played host to stars like Shirley Bassey, Louis Armstrong, and the Bee Gees, offering entertainment for all the family, and close to home at that. Britain’s best-known comedians made reputations through a thick miasma of smoke, from Sunniside to Skegness. For a young man growing up in the pit town of Barnsley this was a radiant wonderland that transformed those who entered.

Brown explores the clubs’ role in defining masculinity, community and class identity for generations of men in Britain’s industrial towns. They were, at their best, a vehicle for social mobility and self-improvement, run as cooperatives for working people by working people: an informal, community-owned pre-cursor to the Welfare State.

As the movement approaches its 160th anniversary, this exuberant book brings to life the thrills and the spills of a cultural phenomenon that might still be rescued from irrelevance.

Critics Review

  • ‘Pete Brown is a brilliant master of ceremonies as he brings the history of these fine institutions to life and demonstrates their importance in working class communities across the country.’ Alan Johnson, author of This Boy

    ‘A compelling mixture of social history, vivid reportage and candid autobiography, Clubland makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of Britain in the last century and a half.’ David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain

    ‘Leave any flat-capped clichés at the door: Brown offers an earnest exploration of this crucially formative area of British social history.’ John Warland, author of Liquid History

    ‘Pete Brown writes poetically and with great authority on a slice of culture that has been ignored or derided for many years. He illuminates these arts centres, debating halls and palaces of carefree delight with love and care.’ Ian McMillan, author of Neither Nowt Nor Summat

    ‘At last the working men’s club gets its turn in the cultural spotlight. Pete Brown has written an important history and a heartfelt tribute to the friendship, organisation, humour and community to be found in these remarkable institutions.’ Ian Clayton, author of It’s The Beer Talking: Adventures in Public Houses

    Praise for Pete Brown…

    ‘The beer drinkers’ Bill Bryson.’ Times Literary Supplement

    ‘Brimming with fascinating stories and forgotten characters.’ The Guardian

    ‘Brown’s enthusiasm is infectious.’ The Sunday Times

    ‘Brown’s writing has a pleasingly loose-limbed feel.’ The Observer

    ‘Brown writes beautifully … his observations are fresh and provocative.’ Financial Times

    ‘Big beery fun.’ The Times

    ‘Engaging.’ Daily Mail

    ‘Part Nigel Slater, part Bill Bryson, and wholly delicious.’ Mail on Sunday

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