Fringe Box



Old Bill Liked A Drop Of Friary Ales Too!

Published on: 28 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 28 Feb, 2012

by David Rose

Back in September I wrote a piece about Guildford’s former Friary Brewery, which prompted reader Teresa Carvallho to leave a reply about a wooden advertisement she has from the firm.

I asked her to send me a photo of the sign which she duly did, and it’s an example that I hadn’t seen before.

Unusual wooden advertising sign for Guildford’s Friary Brewery based on a First World War cartoon character known as Old Bill.

I guess it must measure about just over two feet deep by about one foot wide. It is, as Teresa said, made of wood, but has been roughly carved showing, in relief, a man drinking a pint of ale.

I immediately recognised him as a once famous cartoon character dating back to the time of the First World War. His name is Old Bill.

Old Bill as drawn by his creator Captain Bruce Bairnsfather.

He was the creation of the artist Captain (Charles) Bruce Bairnsfather (1887-1959). Bairnsfather was a well known British humourist and cartoonist and his best-known cartoon character is Old Bill.

Bill and his pals Bert and Alf featured in Bairnsfather’s weekly Fragments from France cartoons published weekly in the Bystander magazine during the First World War.

Information on the internet will tell you in 1914 Bairnsfather joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He served with a machine-gun unit in France until 1915, when he was hospitalised with shell shock and hearing damage, sustained during the Second Battle of Ypres.

He was then posted to the 34th Division headquarters on Salisbury Plain. There he developed his humorous series for the Bystander about life in the trenches, featuring Old Bill, a curmudgeonly soldier with trademark walrus moustache and balaclava.

Perhaps the best remembered of these shows Bill with another soldier in a muddy hole with shells whizzing all around. The other solder is grumbling and Bill advises: “If you know of a better ’ole, go to it.”

It is this once famous line that has been changed somewhat for the Friary Brewery sign – “If you knows of a better beer drink it!”

Old Bill in his trench under fire and uttering the famous words:’ Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it’.

I emailed a copy of the photo to a fellow collector of old bottles, old advertising and such things, who replied saying that he had not seen a version of this sign before either. We have been trying to put a date to it.

At first we thought it may be the 1950s. However, the character Old Bill was probably largely forgotten by then.

Perhaps it is as early as the 1920s, when his post-First World War popularity was still high. A film titled The Better ’Ole, based on Old Bill, was released in 1925.

Interestingly, on the Friary sign he appears to have been illustrated wearing civilian clothes, enjoying a pint back home in Blighty after his time on the Western Front.

Pictured below is the latest piece from the Friary Brewery that I had added to my collection.

It is a tin tray (not in the best of condition I have to admit). Difficult to put a date on it, but I guess it’s before Friary merged with Meux in 1956.

However, the lettering of the word ‘Friary’ is similar to that seem on the Teresa’s wooden sign.

Whose round is it next? Oh, can I have a tray please, barman?

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