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Sun Doesn’t Set on Pub Drinkers in Britain

August 22, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ Britannia’s waves of bitter and stout flowed unabated Monday - even after Big Ben chimed 3 o’clock - as drinkers toasted the new laws that went into effect permitting pubs to stay open throughout the day.

Ever since 1915, when the government moved to curb drinking by munitions workers, all pubs, wine bars and hotel bars have been required to stop serving alcohol between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Now they can serve beer, wine and spirits uninterrupted from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays. On Sundays, which have always had the shortest drinking hours, alcohol now can be served from noon to 3 p.m. - a one-hour extension - and from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

″It gives us new freedom,″ said Elton Mouna, manager of the Sea Horse pub in London’s financial district. ″It doesn’t treat us like children anymore.″

Celebrating bankers and stockbrokers jammed the pub at 3 p.m. when Big Ben’s chimes were broadcast live and town crier Alfie Howard put down his pint of beer to give the new laws his stamp of approval.

″Oyez 3/8 Oyez 3/8 Oyez 3/8 With the authority invested in me as official town crier, I am commanded to announce that in accordance with the licensing laws of Her Britannic Majesty, from this time, 3 o’clock henceforth, licensees shall dispense beverages for sale,″ he cried.

In Exeter in southeastern England, landlord Shaun O’Reilly turned the Mill on the Exe pub into a makeshift office to persuade patrons they could do business there.

He brought in mobile telephones, photocopiers and faxing facilities, and drafted extra staff to act as secretaries.

″With portable phones and other modern gadgets, many executives do not need to be in the office to work, and a pub is often a more relaxed place for a business meeting,″ O’Reilly said. ″I would hope to see business people using the pub for late lunches and teatime meetings,″ he said. ″This is only an experiment ... but if it works out we will try to arrange these facilities permanently.″

Customer Alan Collyer, a company director, said: ″I have always liked doing business in the pub, and with the new hours it can become my second office. It’s a lot less formal, and it’s easier for your clients to relax, especially now that you don’t have to keep one eye on your watch.″

For the past 73 years, the bartender’s warning bellow of ″Last orders 3/8″ has created an instant traffic jam at exactly 2:50 p.m. as patrons clamored for one last drink before heading back to work.

Ten minutes later, to the cry of ″Time, gentlemen, please 3/8″ - men still outnumber women in pubs - Britain went dry for 2 1/2 hours.

Britons grew accustomed to the ritual, but it confounded parched tourists interested in sampling traditional English ale or having an afternoon snack.

″They just cannot physically understand it,″ Mouna said. ″They can’t work it out. So now we won’t have those problems. We can just welcome guests in, and entertain them as we’ve always wanted to.″

Pubs don’t have to change their hours if they don’t want to, and the National Licensed Victuallers’ Association predicted that almost half the 67,000 pubs in England and Wales would stick to the old ways.

Publicans and brewers agreed that pubs in seaside and tourist towns and city bars will benefit most from increased trade, while residential and country pubs probably would continue to call ″time″ on weekdays at 3 p.m.

″I think most people in the neighborhood are going to stay open, as I am, for a couple of months to see what difference it makes,″ said Aubrey Brightman, landlord of the Rising Sun pub in central London.

The Brewers’ Society forecast at least 25,000 new jobs would be generated by the longer drinking hours and that pubs would win back lost trade from fast-food outlets.

Many pub managers say they’ll expand their food menu and some have even bought coffemakers for the first time. The Sherlock Holmes pub near Trafalgar Square began serving traditional afternoon teas.

The British Medical Association and anti-drinking groups oppose the extended hours, fearing increased alcohol-related illness and drink-related crime.

The Scottish Office said the extended pub hours introduced in Scotland more than a decade ago had little impact on the amount of alcohol abuse.

Home Office Minister Douglas Hogg said he saw no connection between alcohol abuse and the ending of the compulsory afternoon closing time, and many pub- goers applauded the demise of the 2:50 dash for one last drink.

″People would pile drinks into them because they knew that they wouldn’t be able to get another so-called social drink until later in the evening,″ said newspaper researcher Lynn Wilson.

″People aren’t going to rush to finish their drinks.″ added her colleague, Jenny Leach. ″People will drink at a more leisurely and sensible pace.″

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