Watch the Signs! Watch the Signs! by Arthur Chappell. Book review

Watch the Signs! Watch the Signs! by Arthur Chappell, Shoreline of Infinity, 116pp

Review by Stephen Theaker

Subtitled “Pub signs relating to science fiction, fantasy and horror”, this is a book that seeks to inform the reader from the very beginning. It was fascinating to read how the Romans used bushes to indicate the best places to get beer, and how pub signs, when they were introduced in the 14th century, were actually a form of licensing. Pubs would have their beer tested by men who sat in the beer, we are told, to see if it was sticky. If it was, all was well. If it wasn’t, someone was watering it down. Later we learn that the entire Wetherspoons chain was inspired to some extent by George Orwell’s essay “The Moon Under Water”.

After that introduction to pubs in general and their signs in particular, the book moves on to those of fantastical interest. We learn for example that there have been many pubs named The Vulcan, in honour of that god, usually located close to steelworks, and the sign shown here includes the god, the plane and the science officer of the USS Enterprise. It’s fair to say that most other signs in the book are of more tangential relevance to science fiction and fantasy, with more being drawn from myths and legends than literature or film, but it’s a surprise to find that there is even one pub called The Hobbit, let alone several.

There’s the occasional infelicity of spelling or punctuation, but this is a book where it’s the pictures and the information that count, not the style, and there’s plenty of both. Not all of the pictures are of print quality, and there’s a lot of white space in the book that might have allowed the photographs to be a little larger, but the publisher does give owners of the paperback the opportunity to buy a half-price copy of the ebook, which includes colour versions of the photographs.
Given the interest many BFS members have in beer – its provision was the primary concern of at least one of our AGMs, and one FantasyCon saw our members drink the bar dry – I imagine that this book will find an appreciative audience among them. Even those of us who grew up around pubs not unlike those in An American Werewolf in London, and thus retain a wariness of the places, will find it of interest. Readers who find the subject particularly compelling are directed to the Inn Sign Society, which you may be surprised to learn is about the same size as our own society.