Monday, 14 April 2014

Allez les Rosbifs!

When I heard recently that the Baron of Beef was in line for Greene King’s latest round of fresh livery I feared the worst, especially in the light of recent dismal efforts. At the time the pub proudly displayed this sign:

Bright, eye-catching, jolly, charmingly naïve in its execution (the image, if not the glossy branding). And it depicted an actual baron of beef (sirloin still joined at the bone) being spit-roast. Pretty much a perfect example of a pub sign, in my view.

How could it be improved upon?

It has now been replaced by this.

OK, it’s not as bright, eye-catching from afar, or as charmingly naïve, but it’s actually a pretty good choice: a detail from Hogarth’s O the Roast Beef of Old England (The Calais Gate), which was painted in direct response to an unpleasant experience that the artist had at the hands of French officialdom while waiting in Calais for a boat back to England. And I’m sure we’ve all had one of those. . .

It is, then, quite pointedly anti-French, as the scrawny French cook buckles under the immense weight of a (single) sirloin of English beef, a fat friar drooling appreciatively over it while emaciated and shabby French soldiers look on enviously over their bowls of thin gruel. And dominating the background, the old mediaeval gate of Calais, built when it was still an English possession, and covered in English royal heraldry.

Hogarth and inn signs go together like chips and gravy anyway, and this is a pretty good choice of image so – and I don’t say this often, but credit where credit is due – well done, Greene King!

(Fear not, dear readers: normal service will doubtless be resumed soon.)

Related points of interest:

The picture takes its title from a popular patriotic ballad of the time.

One mid-19th-century proprietor, James Sebley, later opened an eating-house further along Bridge Street, at what is now Café Rouge, which was famous for its hams. It was said that Mr Sebley could carve so thinly that he could have covered Parker’s Piece with just a pound of the meat.

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