Sunday, November 05, 2006


Photo: Roger Bamber

Bonfire night protest turns heat on brewery
· 60,000 expected to join traditional procession
· Campaigners fight back over ban on local beer

Nick Davies
Saturday November 4, 2006
The Guardian

More than 400 years after Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the monarch and his parliament, bonfire enthusiasts in a Sussex town yesterday embarked on a new plot to unseat a deeply unpopular king.

The pub and brewing chain, Greene King, has enraged the people of Lewes by trying to ban the sale of the locally brewed Harveys ale in the town's landmark pub, the Lewes Arms.

Yesterday, they gathered outside the 207-year-old pub in bonfire night costumes to mock a theatrical Greedy King, who swaggered down the street with a vast gut and an unpleasant leak from a Greene King beer pump strapped to his lower belly.

Lewes has a bonfire-night history of parading effigies of its enemies through the streets before blowing them to bits with fireworks. Recently, they constructed a gigantic Gordon Brown caning a naked Peter Mandelson across the buttocks and an Osama bin Laden straining on a toilet.

Greene King, whose chief executive, or his effigy at least, was blown apart three years ago when the company first threatened to stop selling the local Harveys, can expect a further fiery assault tonight. Up to 60,000 people are expected to take to the town's streets to watch torchlight processions of men, women and children dressed as smugglers, native Americans, Venetian boatmen - and beer drinkers.

Greene King has already incurred the wrath of Camra, the campaign for real ale, by buying up and closing three traditional breweries - Morlands, Ridleys and Hardys and Hansons - in a campaign which has left it controlling more than 2,600 pubs around the country. The company last year reported operating profits of £191m, a 21% increase on the previous year.

The company bought the Lewes Arms in a package in 1998 and, until now, has sold its own beers alongside Harveys. Campaigners say the pub sells some 75,000 pints of Harveys a year, accounting for 80% of the beer sold across the bar.

They add that Greene King's desire to increase the sale of its own products by banning a more popular rival is part of a national trend by big pub companies to transform community pubs into restaurants or even sell them off for housing to maximise profits. Camra says pubs are closing at the rate of 26 a month, a rate which is likely to increase when the ban on smoking in pubs comes into force next year. Greene King yesterday said it would be happy to sell Harveys as an occasional guest beer but a spokesman insisted the company was not willing to change its decision to ban it from permanent sale.

At the Lewes Arms yesterday, the locals pledged to carry on plotting. They describe their pub as a "communal living room" which also hosts the world pea-throwing championship.

More than 1,000 people have signed a protest petition, including the mayor, Merlin Milner, and the local Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker.


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