The British pub industry crisis

How did Carol Smilie, Lauren Llewellyn Bowen & Alan Titchmarsh cause the crisis in the British pub industry?


One of the overriding issues for people in addiction is coming to terms with their addictive behaviours. As people come to accept their behaviour, it is very common for problem drinkers to experience a grieving stage where they come to recognise that the life they used to have has to be left behind and with it their old self in order to beat their problem. It was working with people to deal with this grief that I started to think about why people were fantasising about pub life.



When I worked in rehab I regularly faced a fantasy world of what pubs are like from people who had not set foot in one in years and this led to me wondering why pubs were shutting. There are many common reasons mentioned however one overlooked is that the way in which we live our lives has fundamentally changed, and we have Carol Smilie to charge with this crime.

Carol was the prophet and lifestyle guru whose impact on the social landscape inadvertently pioneered the public house decline. In the late 80’she was the doyen of home makeover programming. It was this mentality which has fed the growth of myriads of kaleidoscopic colour charts aided by the garish and ubiquitous orange of B&Q, the invasion of Ikea aided and abetted by the celebrity cook, whose chief ingredients appear to be a limited, yet fruity language, a passion for living in an era you were not born in and over active tear ducts.



Carol and her changing rooms posse started a revolution which has been instrumental in pub decline ever since. The promotion of simple rag rolling through to spending a wagon load of cash on your gardens, that all new outside room, led to a huge change in how homes were used in the UK. Prior to this DIY was functional, it was focussed on a man in a shed making things last longer. Dreary functionality was championed as thrift and independence personified. “Don’t change it fix it” was the post-war mantra that fostered brutalist utilitarianism whilst denying the nation an aesthetic warmth.

Over time homes became style free, soulless bland spaces which were rarely improved, only amended. Rooms were barely used to sit back and relax in and were not used to enjoy for themselves, with families congregating in just one room. So extreme was this approach that some homes even had a room put aside for people who never came. Usually a parlour or best room, often at the front of the house whose purpose was to show off the nice tea service to the postman or the milkman when he passed each morning. If these rooms were ever dragged into service it was to awkwardly host guests at Christmas or more fittingly for a room where life was kept away it was used to host a wake.

The team encouraged the British to use their houses differently. Owners started to put their creative stamp on them. Fixtures and fittings, though serviceable, became redundant in an age of floating shelves, clean lines and radiator covers. The old and dependable were replaced with the glossy and the new.

The net effect was that these changes helped move houses from drab and dreary to places that felt unique, personalised and comfortable. This effect has massively impacted on the viability of pubs. Carol Smilie et al taught the British to love their homes enough to entertain at home, to bring friends back, to cook at home without the sterile Middle class anxiety of “hosting a dinner party.”

Pubs were once places where people could be in comforting, if not comfortable surroundings. Now they are places of compromise, as pubs try to cater to everyone and fail all but a select few.

Homes can offer all the things that pubs can and without the compromises. The décor is to your liking, the food just the way you like, the background entertainment is what you want. There are no errant invasive noises from a Jukebox, your eye-line is not invaded by the sea of mix and match sports tvs, neither entertaining, informing or completely ignored

Carol Smile and her crew have left us with a legacy, of great, homely homes which we share with our friends, a space to relax, entertain and really be ourselves and pubs have been the big losers here and there is still more changing room ahead.


No place like home…

A further effect of this house style revolution has been the property price and house move obsession. People have spent more on their homes, taken on mortgages big enough to burden Bill Gates and moved homes more often than a Hermit crab.

The increased cash drain that houses now make on us all is that we have less disposable income to share with our beleaguered landlords. But it is the repeated house moves which have had a more devastating effect. We no longer feel like pubs are our “locals” anymore. People do not feel connected to these places, freqeusnt them less, so do not have a social bond with others which use pubs and so, pubs have become places where people chat to their friends, rarely chatting to others and so the benefits of meeting people has massively been eroded. Pubs are fast running out of reasons for pub users to use them.


For people in recovery the decay of pubs as the focal point of people’s socialising this change is good news. After long periods of isolated drinking some grief for the good times they remember, or fantasise about and want to return to safe social drinking because they believe all pubs are like Coronation Street. Recognising that the fantasy in their head is flawed partly because they can’t drink safely but also the pub has changed and is a lot less of a social space helps them move in their recovery.

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