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Pravda spacer Issue 5
Pravda - The Wetherspoons Magazine
by Martin Bruhns
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It is rather instructive to let one's view stray when one stands in front of the yards and yards of magazines of a larger newsagent. The journals on woodturning, cross-stitching, long-wave radio and four-wheel drive cars are the manifestation of the multitude of interests that makes people's lives worthwhile. And this is only the visible tip of the iceberg - if one considers the multitude of specialists' journals available through subscription alone.
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Wetherspoon News does not necessarily belong into the same category as it is given away for free (like this publication), it's obviously intended as advertising (unlike this one - at least not directly) and has 'over one million readers'. The review copy evidently had gone through the hands of several people before it reached me. It was weathered and crumpled. The first page that fell open were the 'letters to the editor'. Apparently Tim Martin, the owner of Wetherspoon plc, purports to be the editor of the WN and takes it upon himself to answer all the printed letters. There is, for example, the complaint of David Kelly's wife that is put into words by her husband's letter. Though generally a (red and white) wine-drinker she occasionally thirsts after a bottle of alcopop at her local. Unfortunately the straws provided are too short to reach to the bottom of the bottle and once they fall into one are 'very difficult to retrieve'. Martin offers to investigate this problem. He could alternatively have drawn our concerned attention to the 'celebrity interview', a few pages prior to the letters section. In the accompanying photographs, the celebrity can be seen drinking her alcopop with a straw out of a glass. There you are Mrs Kelly - problem solved.
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In the celebrity interview we learn not only from, but also about the celebrity, an actress from a hospital drama, who is described as the 'girl next door' but also posed for 'raunchy shots' for a 'saucy new range' of underwear from a department store (which she was not happy with), as well as for photographs taken of her posing 'fresh-faced and wearing a Gypsy-style low cut top and oh-so tight jeans' in an empty Wetherspoon pub. For good measure we are also given a picture of her among starving Ethopian children and the information that she is expecting to 'meet the love of her life in 2003'. Slightly more condensed this would make an ideal soul-mate ad. And if anyone is in doubt, she poses in a Central London pub-space with both alcopop, beer and her 'oh-so tight jeans' unaccompanied.
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Other articles promise less but provide background information on pubs, the events organised by them and the staff. There is a Kylie Minogue look-alike pulling pints in a pub in Eastbourne. Potential new staff are enticed by a double page of careers. The featured employees from middle-management are successful enough to inspire but not too old to alienate the potential target group, when they come forward with homilies in manager speak that are dotted with adjectives like 'flexible', 'hard-working', 'fast working' and 'achievable'. There are all some features about customers. Some sing the praises of the accessibility of the pubs, their smoking policy and then there are Mike, Derek and Ian. Their ambition is to drink in every Wetherspoon bar within the United Kingdom. So far they have managed 'more than 600'. Let's hope their livers have an ability to expand that parallels the growth of the company.
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The main aim of WN is to throw out a line in which a present customer and reader will entangle himself. And it is very much a man's world, where husbands write for their wives, where bland irony tries to pass itself off for humour. WN portrays the company in the most humane way. Customers and staff are named; there is a glossary of pub-names that try to explain why certain pubs have got the names they have. The Jack Phillips in Godalming, a converted supermarket, was named after a wireless operator on The Titanic who was born in that town. Here a place with hardly a history hijacks a past.
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That a supermarket could be converted into a pub is highly symptomatic. In effect the Wetherspoon pubs are little else than supermarkets. They manage to provide a certain product range at a competitive price - so competitive that individual local traders find impossible to underbid. The reason they can do this is of course that they have the buying power to do it. Unlike a supermarket they only have a restricted range of products. This is where Martin's entrepreneurial genius sets in. By selling himself as a stalwart of beer tradition he can present his potential customers with a wider product range. This is where the WN comes in. Some of the articles provide us with information about promotional events while others discuss superfluously organic wine, the history of gastronomy and brewing, and gives a portrait of a small brewery. The success of Wetherspoon to carry this off can only be judged if one carries the comparison with supermarkets a bit further. There can be little doubt that the position of one of the major supermarkets, as regards their relatively dependent suppliers and their customers, would not be accepted as uncritically. Who could imagine Mike, Derek and Ian crossing the United Kingdom in order to buy potatoes and milk in every Tesco, Sainsbury or ASDA supermarket? In a way the WN contributes to make this seem ridiculous. A public relations exercise that other retailers have not yet managed to master.
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It is evident that the WN aims to link the customer to the pub. Its city portrait (of Glasgow) provides us with a list of the Wetherspoon's pubs in the place. The WN tries to create the illusion that consumers, bar staff and management form a community. Of course we don't. However, given that the 'magazine is FREE' one should be grateful. At least it provides us with something to leaf through while we are sitting in a Wetherspoon pub and are waiting for a date. It also serves as a good guideline. If we get bored looking at its pages we have waited too long, though those of us hoping to bump into the celebrity with 'a Gypsy-style low cut top' in a Wetherspoon's in Sheperd's Bush may find that we turn the pages till the ink fades.
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Pravda - The Wetherspoons Magazine by Martin Bruhns
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