Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

A Report of the Society’s Formal Dinner at Gray’s Inn, 16 October 2014

by Norman & Elin Murphy

Celebrating a Centenary

The Society has held a biennial formal dinner at an Inn of Court since 1998. This was our ninth, and it was a corker. We always try to have the dinners in October as near as we can to Plum’s birthday on the 15th, and this would have been his 133rd, but this year we were celebrating something else. A hundred years ago, on 30 September 1914, P.G. married Ethel Rowley Wayman at the Church of the Transfiguration in New York City, and your committee, always ahead of the game and with their fingers on the pulse of public opinion, saw that this was something to celebrate. And we did so in style.

The frontispiece of the programme introduced us to the theme of the evening with a picture of the church, known to New Yorkers since 1880 as the Little Church Around the Corner. The picture doesn’t really do the church justice because it was taken in the winter and a major feature of the church is that it has one of the finest gardens in the city. In Uneasy Money Elizabeth Boyd tells Lord Dawlish that ‘it’s a little bit of heaven dumped right down in the middle of New York’. Wodehouse mentions it by name five times in his stories, while the 1920 show Sally finished with the song ‘The Church Around the Corner’ sung by the entire company with picture of the church as a backdrop behind them.

On the back of the programme is a picture of the plaque presented to the church by The Wodehouse Society (U.S.) in 1994, the 80th anniversary, to commemorate the event.

Inside the programme was more information on P.G. and Ethel as well as some classic quotes on love and marriage – just one more reason to hang on to your programme if you are lucky enough to attend our celebrations.

The evening began with the traditional champagne reception, whose success, as always, was soon demonstrated by the noise of people shouting to make themselves heard. A number of our Scottish members came dressed in their clan kilt or tartan trews, making a deep impression on our visitors from overseas. These included American Wodehouse Society President Karen Shotting proudly wearing her presidential medallion. Baroness Reinhild von Bodenhausen (author of P.G. Wodehouse: The Unknown Years) is also seen left with Society Patron HRH The Duke of Kent.

In addition to the Duke, we were delighted to welcome our new president, Sir Terry Wogan; Wodehouse biographer Robert McCrum; Society Patron Lucy Tregear; actor Sir Michael Gambon; actress (and widow of our late president Richard Briers) Ann Davies; academic Sophie Ratcliffe (A Life in Letters) and Sebastian Faulks, author of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, seen below left with Tim Andrew and Sir Edward Cazalet, the dinner’s primary organisers.

We were summoned to dinner by the thumping on the floor of the magnificent silver-bound stave dating back to Elizabeth I and processed down to the impressive Hall, which was built in 1556. Although destroyed in the last war, it was rebuilt exactly like its predecessor. Luckily, Gray’s Inn had removed their treasures before the bombing, so we sat below the great screen (1589) which saw the first night of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in 1594.

Seating Society members and their guests with people they want to talk to is always a problem but, as ever, the committee got it right. Thus, 120 of us, including our generous sponsors Oldfield Partners and Jupiter Asset Management, sat down to enjoy a splendid meal whose details we will not torment you with. We will only say that the seared Shannon farm beef fillet was a revelation while the Churchill’s Special Reserve port had all the authority of the port consumed by Esmond Haddock and Bertie Wooster in The Mating Season.

Before we knew it, it was time for the toasts: the Loyal Toast proposed by Oliver Wise was followed by the toast to Wodehouse and the Society proposed by our president.

Sir Terry regaled us with delightful, humorous stories amply demonstrating his admiration for Wodehouse. He received a well-deserved enthusiastic round of applause after he proposed his toast.

Then, after a short break, came the entertainment: a celebration of the Wodehouse wedding centenary written by Tony Ring. Sir Michael Gambon and Lucy Tregear played Plum and Ethel reminiscing about their marriage and the highlights of PGW’s long career, including his honorary degree from Oxford in 1939.

Plum and Ethel’s recollections were punctuated by readings and songs. The Duke of Kent (who had played such a splendid Jeeves at the 2012 dinner) intoned the Public Orator’s citation for Wodehouse’s presentation as a Doctor of Letters and was considerate enough to do so in English rather than Latin. Lara Cazalet gave us an extract from an article Leonora had written about ‘Plummie’, and Lara, Paul Kent, and Jeremy Neville read extracts and one-liners from the canon. Sebastian Faulks read us a passage from his own book, and David Cazalet had us laughing with his interpretation of ‘Printer’s Error’.

And we were once again fortunate enough to have Lara and Hal Cazalet singing wonderful Wodehouse songs for us. They were accompanied by the marvellous Bruce O’Neil, Head of Music for the Royal Shakespeare Company. We don’t know what the correct phrase is, but there is always a certain something, a certain emotion in listening to Wodehouse’s great-grandchildren singing the lyrics he wrote so many years ago and doing so with an interpretation and sympathy for the words that makes them sound very special.

Finally, the Society’s Chairman, Hilary Bruce, came to the microphone to thank, in her own inimitable way, all those who had made such a splendid evening possible: the Wodehouse Estate, our sponsors, the staff at Gray’s Inn and the hard-working organisers Tim Andrew, Sir Edward Cazalet and Tony. She concluded by presenting gifts to our toastmaster, Sir Terry Wogan, and to all the performers who had made the evening such a success.

And then, after 11 pm, it was at last time to go reluctantly home, but with memories of a splendid evening and the satisfaction of celebrating such a meaningful centenary as it should be celebrated.

All photographs of the evening were taken by Katy Rugeris (www.katyphotography.co.uk). To order photos, write to Katy at katy@katyphotography.co.uk.