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)

Christopher Makey reports

2016 Biennial Dinner

At 7pm on the evening of Thursday the 20th October 2016 members of the PG Wodehouse Society (UK) gathered at Gray’s Inn for their pre-dinner drinks to prepare themselves for the Dinner. Punctually at 7.30pm we were summoned into the most attractive hall and within ten minutes, taken up by finding our correct tables and introducing ourselves to the other members on the table, we sat down intrigued by the ‘Borough Market’ tasting plate before us.

Before dining commenced our Chairman, Hilary Bruce, made an announcement that was shocking to all who had not read the obituary column that morning in The Times and the Telegraph. Two days earlier the founder of the Society Lieutenant Colonel Norman Murphy had died aged 83 after a brief illness. Norman was well known to all members of the Society and the thoughts of all members immediately turned to Elin who had married Norman in 2001. What had brought them together was a common love of the works of PG Wodehouse. Elin being one of the few people who could match Norman’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the works and life of PGW, it was a match made in Blandings, the nearest equivalent to heaven on earth one is ever likely to find. It is a measure of the very deep affection that both Norman and Elin are held in by the members of the Society that within minutes ‘Murphy’ stories were being traded by our members. If there was a common theme it was the speed both of his delivery and his walking. As the acknowledged pre-eminent authority on the world of Wodehouse and the author of a number of incredibly learned works on the life of PGW it was unwise to miss a word uttered by Norman but the brain sometimes had some difficulty keeping up.

Grace was pronounced in exemplary fashion by Oliver Wise and very fortunately for those of us whose Latin is a little rusty an English translation was provided. Following Grace we settled down to serious troughing and it quickly became apparent that both the food and the service would match the ambience of Gray’s Inn Hall, to say nothing of the wine. I understand that Rathbone Investment Management and Oldfield Partners want no thanks for their very generous sponsorship of the Dinner so I will refrain from doing so save to note that without their generosity there are likely to have been fewer ‘sore heads’ the following morning. It is very much appreciated.

The meal, all four delightful courses, came to an end and replete we had the Loyal Toast delivered by Sir Edward Cazalet and then the toast to PG Wodehouse and to the Society proposed by Peter Nieuwenhuizen President of the PG Wodehouse Society in The Netherlands. Members of the Society will remember the glorious description given by PGW of the embarrassment of a young Englishman on the Riviera about to launch into French. Sadly, I suspect, few of our members could attend a meeting of the Dutch Society and give an address in Dutch, certainly not one that was as witty and entertaining as that given by Peter to the Society in English. He did note that whereas we had been going for 20 years the Society in The Netherlands has now been going for 35 years! There was also a very faint underlying suggestion that no dinner attended by members of the Society in The Netherlands would end without at least one or two bread rolls being thrown.

We then moved on to the entertainment, once again written and directed by Tony Ring. Entitled ‘That was The Year, That Was’ it was a look at 1917 when Wodehouse created a theatrical record which stands to this day of having five shows running simultaneously on Broadway. Even Tim Rice only managed four in one year as he noted in his introduction to Wodehouse songs, read with great aplomb by HRH The Duke of Kent. The history of that achievement was set out in an imagined conversation between PG Wodehouse (Nigel Rees) and Guy Bolton (Robert Goodale). Ann Briers narrated and Curtis Armstrong stood in for three Broadway Directors (Messrs Erlanger, Savage and Comstock) giving each the terrifying brio that he must have possessed. Lily Armstrong played four American Young Ladies in New York, clearly not to be trifled with. The writing and the performances were terrific and very much enjoyed by the members present. An additional huge bonus and one that Society members have come to expect were some of the Wodehouse songs from the Shows that were interspersed through the history of the year and sung beautifully by Hal and Lara Cazalet. It would be invidious to pick out the highlight but it was the encore by Lara Cazalet of the chorus to ‘Bill’ dedicated to Norman Murphy. A wonderfully fitting end to a marvellous evening.

Well not quite the end. Following the performance members of the Society were invited to mingle which they did to great effect, the last members being moved on by the delightful Commissionaire (very ‘sound’ on rugby) some considerable time later. It should be noted that those present included a number of members of the American Society, including its President, a Dutch Contingent and the delightful Gabriella Valentino and her charming husband. The next meeting of the Society at the Savoy Tup on the 23rd November 2016 will include a talk by Gabriella on translating Wodehouse into Italian. In case you wonder if there is much call for translations of this type you should know that to date there have been 592 editions of the works of Wodehouse into Italian!

A marvellous evening and up to the very high standard the Society has come to expect over the years.

Lara Cazalet

Curtis Armstrong and his daughter Lily, studying their scripts