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At first ALE was a duplicated sheet printed on one side only and appeared on a weekly basis. It was typed on a stencil, duplicated and rushed to the late, lamented Cambridge Arms, then a decent pub. Here a host of volunteers grabbed their pile of copies and rushed them to their own group of pubs (well staggered erratically from pub to pub is more like it). The first issue to be printed on both sides was No. 8 on 19th February 1976; it had the draw for a darts tournament on the back. Issue 10 had the minutes from a Branch meeting on the back and from issue 25, on the 17th June 1976, most issues were double sided.
In January 1977 the branch purchased its own Gestetner Duplicator to speed production, but No. 154, which should have appeared on 26th September 1978, was late: the excuse was that the duplicator "blew up and wrapped itself around the ceiling".
During the first three Cambridge Beer Festivals, ALE appeared on a daily basis with separate issues on each day of the festival. The editorial on the front was new each day, the back of each issue had the festival beer list on it. These were proper issues of ALE and were numbered as such, a practice which continued for some years while the beer lists continued to contain a significant amount of editorial material. Numbering them as issues of ALE was dropped when they simply became beer lists but old habits die hard and it is a practice which keeps reappearing, which is confusing and unneccesary. There is a difference between maintaining useful traditions and simply sticking to old practices because that is what you have often done. [Indeed. The current practice is to call a beer list ALE when there is significant editorial content: that was a 1998 decision made in ignorance of old customs/traditions - Ed.]
In April 1979 the format changed to an 8 page A4 format produced on a monthly basis. At first it consisted of four sheets stapled together. All 1500 copies of No. 193, May/June 1980, were stapled by hand by one Les Millgate, at that time home-brewing consultant to British Airways.
At his suggestion, rather forceably put, a folded-sheet format produced by professional printers was adopted for future issues. In June 1987 ALE changed again to the current A5 format and was produced on a two-monthly basis, which enabled a better magazine with more editorial to be produced. It was also more popular with licensees as it took up less space on the bar.
For a while in the late 1980s there was a change to professional publication. The editorial content was produced by the branch and handed over to the publisher who then obtained advertising, which paid for the production. At first this looked a good idea, the editor didn't have the worry of all the production problems and a high quality magazine was produced.
However problems gradually developed. There was an insistance on a bland & boring front cover with no editorial and no indication of what was inside, often inappropriate adverts were included, there were objections to editorial items which criticised advertisers and publication was often delayed. In 1991 the branch returned to publishing ALE itself.
Nigel was succeeded by Martin Tomlinson for three years until November 1980 when the redoubtable Nigel Watson took over again for another year. Nigel was an excellent campaigning editor although he could be a little abrasive and controversial at times. His Greene King special edition did upset one or two people at the time.
He was followed by Tony Millns who at various times was also Branch Chairman and Beer Festival Organiser. Tony brought a smooth PR approch to the newsletter, but could also campaign and create controversy. The saga of the tartan cushion covers rumbled on for some time and his rude describpion of an unnamed pub on the southern approaches to Cambridge upset a significant number of licensees who all thought he was talking about their pub.
The next editor was Paul Ainsworth who took over in May 1983 and continued until May 1991, producing around 90 issues. Paul was our longest running, although shortest standing, editor. In April 1986 he warned that the One Pound Pint was looming. Prices in the area ranged from 72p a pint (Tolly & Greene King milds) to 98p a pint (Tolly Old Strong & Flowers Original).
Following Paul was Bob Flood who produced five issues between May 1991 and May 1992. Bob had written many articles for the previous three editors using over a dozen pseudonyms which explains why people have had difficulty tracing the authorship of much of ALE's content.
Strictly the next editor of ALE was Ken Longford, but a series of problems and lack of Branch finances meant that he didn't produce any issues. A brief newsletter, numbered 275, was produced in April 1994 by the Branch Chairman Bob Moss. In the same month the next real issue of ALE appeared under the editorship of Carl Woolf who continued to produce ALE in his own inimitable style until a severe illness intervened (fortunately now overcome). Ian Kitching, the Branch Secretary, stepped in to produce numbers 292 - 294 and No. 295, which was the 1999 Beer Festival Programme. Steve Linley, the current editor, then took over and can write his own description of himself here.
How come? Number 56 never appeared, it got lost somewhere between the typewriter and the duplicator during the last week in December 1976. 24 was followed by "24 Special", produced for the re-opening of the Salisbury Arms; there was a 43 special for the 1976 Freshers Fair and similar 95S and 99S issues for the 1977 Haddenham Steam Fair, all following similarly-numbered ordinary issues. A Volume 1 Number 1 crept in between nos. 180 and 181; there were two nos. 127 but no 128 and two nos. 169 but no 172; 260 doesn't seem to have appeared but the 1991 Beer Festival beer list was numbered 272, duplicating an ordinary issue of ALE which properly had that number. This becomes a nightmare for those libraries which keep archive copies of ALE.
Over the years a number of rivals to ALE have appeared. They include AIL (1976), ALE Caesar (1978), Knackered (1978), Despicab-ALE (1985), Diabolic-ALE (1988) and Cambridge Evening Booze (1990). Funnily enough only one issue of each appeared and their appearance seems to have co-incided with the staff party at the end of the beer festivals. Full of alcoholic humour and rude comments about staff members, their contents are best not revealed to the delicate sensibilities of our readers (well OK, wet tee-shirts, coleslaw, bung starters and hops in pubic hair come into it), but copies are lovingly treasured for blackmail purposes.
Written by one of a large number of pseudonyms