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BOTTLED-UP BRITS SAY `BRAVO!’ TO BEER RULE

SHARE BOTTLED-UP BRITS SAY `BRAVO!’ TO BEER RULE

British pubs toasted the end of a 123-year-old tradition Sunday as customers raised their glasses in a final farewell to the prudery of Queen Victoria's court.

Pubs were allowed to remain open Sunday from noon until 10:30 p.m. for the first time since characters like Bill Sikes swilled hootch in the dark corners of London's taverns.Pubs also stayed open for business between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., until now, a four-hour hiatus during which they were forced to close.

"This is good news for pub regulars, families, tourists and publicans," Robin Simpson, director of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said in a statement. "Hopefully it will be as successful as weekday opening."

Originally, Sunday pubs hours were restricted under the Victorian Licensing Act of 1872, which only allowed establishments to open for two hours at lunchtime and four to five hours in the evenings, according the BLRA.

During World War I, under the Defense of the Realm Act, the hours were scaled back to a total of five. The government of Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George assumed that if workers spent fewer hours in pubs each afternoon, productivity at Britain's busy munitions factories would rise.

It was more than 70 years later, when legislators passed the Licensing Act of 1988, that restrictions forcing pubs to close on weekdays and Saturday afternoons were finally abolished.

Beginning this Sunday, pubs, liquor stores and supermarkets were permitted to sell beer, spirits and wine throughout the day on Sunday.

Whitbread Plc, a U.K. brewer and pub operator, said all of its 1,600 managed pubs and most of its 2,200 leased pubs will remain open. Similarly, rival brewer Bass Plc will keep the majority of its 4,000 pubs open the extra four hours.

"We are obviously delighted," A Whitbread spokesman said. "We think it's going to add to people's quality of life. It will ensure that people have a more relaxed day."Whitbread said it's too early to speculate about what effect the extra hours will have on profits because attendance and sales levels are still unknown. The brewer, however, applauded the timing of the decision, which will mean extra business in pubs during the popular summer months.

Rival pub chain J.D. Wetherspoon Plc said every one of its 110 themed pubs in and around London will remain open all day Sunday from now on, no matter what the turnout.

"It will give people the chance to be more leisurely when they are out drinking and eating," said Eddie Gershon, a spokesman for Wetherspoon.

In the past, pubs in tourist areas have been granted special permission to remain open all day Sunday. In the hustling Camden market area of north London, 16 pubs have been doing a "booming" business throughout the summer, according to the trade paper "The Licensee."

Brewers will now turn their attention to the next obstacle to be tackled by the industry: an extension of hours on Friday and Saturday nights beyond the mandatory closing time of 11:00 p.m.

Bass Taverns spokesman Jerry Watson said "We will take one step at a time."