Down With Alcohol Licensing Laws

George Orwell

Tribune, 18 August 1944

[“As I Please” was a regular column in Tribune from December 1943 to February 1945 and again from November 1946 to April 1947.  This article is excerpted from the second part of Orwell’s 18 August 1944 “As I Please” column.  The present title was not Orwell’s, but was rather applied to the article by Alexander S. Peak.]

I NOTE that once again there is serious talk of trying to attract tourists to this country after the war.  This, it is said, will bring in a welcome trickle of foreign currency.  But it is quite safe to prophesy that the attempt will be a failure.  Apart from the many other difficulties, our licensing laws and the artificial price of drink are quite enough to keep foreigners away.  Why should people who are used to paying sixpence for a bottle of wine visit a country where a pint of beer costs a shilling?  But even these prices are less dismaying to foreigners than the lunatic laws which permit you to buy a glass of beer at half past ten while forbidding you to buy it at twenty-five past, and which have done their best to turn the pubs into mere boozing shops by excluding children from them.

How downtrodden we are in comparison with most other peoples is shown by the fact that even people who are far from being “temperance” don’t seriously imagine that our licensing laws could be altered.  Whenever I suggest that pubs might be allowed to open in the afternoon, or to stay open till midnight, I always get the same answer:  “The first people to object would be the publicans.  They don’t want to have to stay open twelve hours a day.”  People assume, you see, that opening hours, whether long or short, must be regulated by the law, even for one-man businesses.  In France, and in various other countries, a café proprietor opens or shuts just as it suits him.  He can keep open the whole twenty-four hours if he wants to; and, on the other hand, if he feels like shutting his cafe and going away for a week, he can do that too.  In England we have had no such liberty for about a hundred years, and people are hardly able to imagine it.

Copyright © The Estate of Eric Blair