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Clubbing Together at a Wonderful New Venue

Elin Woodger Murphy reports back from the Society’s first meeting at the Savile Club in London, on 25 September 2017

On Monday, September 25, the Society returned to clubland in style – and if all goes well, that’s where we’ll be for some time to come.

Twenty years ago, when we first started congregating for thrice-yearly meetings in London, it was at the historic Savage Club, a room located within the grand building that houses the National Liberal Club. This suited us very nicely for several years until we moved to the roomier, glorious Arts Club. Eventually, wholesale redevelopment of the club forced another move, whereupon we entered our Wilderness Years, meeting in somewhat lowlier venues – first The George pub on the Strand, then the Savoy Tup. Following our rather unfortunate experience at the Tup this past July (the less said about it, the better), it became clear that we must find a more welcoming and appropriate venue, so the Committee went on the hunt. They searched high, they searched low – but it was only when they walked into the Drawing Room of the Savile Club (more about which here) that they knew the Society had found a real home again. (And very many thanks to member Patrick Kidd for ‘sponsoring’ the Society and thus making it possible!)

As we had booked the Savile at necessarily short notice and thus had to change the date of our meeting, we were concerned that our numbers would be small for our first gathering in new surroundings. We needn’t have worried! Thanks to email, Twitter, and word of mouth, the news had made it out to the people who needed to know, and the Drawing Room was packed. Faces we hadn’t seen in a while had returned to join the throng once more; and, gratifyingly, there were numerous new faces as well.

Bartenders behind a well-stocked table attended to the needs of thirsty members who flowed freely about the warm and inviting room as they sluiced and chattered. The walls were bedecked with portraits that looked down either sternly or (sometimes) approvingly upon us happy Wodehouseans. Most were of rather stuffy-looking gents, but one portrait attracted considerable attention, being that of “a generously endowed half-naked woman patently in roguish state of frolic, pointing a nipple at an onlooker”. (My thanks to Tim Andrew for that line.) As the evening progressed, it became clear from comments that not only were the considerable attractions of the venue boosting attendance, but having the meeting on a Monday was a draw for various reasons as well.

But this was not just any old meeting; it was also the Society’s AGM, and so in due course our Chairman, Hilary Bruce, called us all to order and took us speedily through the business part of the proceedings. We learned that as of May 31, we had 892 members, nearly three quarters of whom live in the UK. Our membership was boosted when we announced that Alexander Armstrong had become our President, and we were reminded that membership could be further boosted by bestowing gift memberships on the deserving in our lives – just click here to learn more.

Hilary reported that our website and our journal, Wooster Sauce, are both doing well. The latter played a big role in the celebration of the Society’s 20th anniversary, thanks to two expanded, full-colour editions (in March and June) detailing the Society’s history. Hilary mentioned two notable events of the previous financial year: in July 2016, the planting of a tree and memorial to mark the death of Percy Jeeves at the Battle of the Somme 100 years earlier; and, in October 2016, the death of our much-missed founding Chairman and Remembrancer, Norman Murphy.

We then listened with appreciation as Hilary thanked the Wodehouse Trustees for their support, as well as those people behind the scenes who help to keep the Society ticking along, including webmaster Chris Reece and book examiner Louis McCulloch. She also paid tribute to Mike Swaddling, who has stepped down as the Website Editor, and noted how he had made the website so much more accessible. Mike will continue to help the Society in other capacities, including serving as our liaison for the International Wodehouse Association.

Meanwhile, the position of Website Editor is vacant. If you are interested in hearing more, then drop an email to chairman@pgwodehousesociety.org.uk.

Hilary also expressed her (and our) gratitude to Sue and Bryan Williams, our Database Managers. They took on a very complex job and faced up to it bravely, rescuing our database from what looked like a horrible death and giving it new life. As Hilary said, “What they’re achieving is going to pay dividends, and we’re extremely grateful to them.”

Continuing on the thankfulness theme, Hilary also paid tribute to those Committee members who have taken on the “big” jobs – Paul Kent, our Entertainments Impresario; Ian Nilo-Walton, Treasurer; Christine Hewitt, Membership Secretary; and Elin Woodger Murphy, Wooster Sauce Editor. She then turned over the spotlight to Ian, who reported that our finances are in very good order and, thus, things are tickety-boo.

Back to Hilary for the election of Officers: Ian, Christine, Elin, and Hilary. Not surprisingly, all were re-elected to their positions with no pretenders throwing up a challenge. Then Committee members Paul Kent and Tony Ring were re-elected, and that tickety-boo feeling continued apace. On this happy note, we broke for a short while to refresh ourselves at the bar and elsewhere before resuming the meeting with Paul Kent now at the helm. And the first thing Paul did was to thank Hilary – as well she should be! – for her many years of service to the Society as our Chairman, for which we are all grateful.

Paul had had a speaker for the original meeting date, but he couldn’t make the new date at the Savile. So Paul came to his own rescue and wrote a paper on, appropriately enough, clubs – both those in Wodehouse’s fiction and those in the real world (including, of course, the Savile). To précis this paper would not do it justice, believe me; it is just too rich in Good Stuff to give an adequate overview here. Members will just have to wait for a future edition of Wooster Sauce to read it in full and, thus, enjoy it as thoroughly as those attending Monday night’s meeting did.

I can tell you this, though: Paul ended his talk with a quiz question, the correct answer to be announced later in the evening. Those present were challenged as follows: “At the Drones Club outing to Le Touquet as described at the opening of Uncle Fred in the Springtime, how many members of the Drones attempt the channel crossing?” (Answer below.)

And with that challenge, the formal part of the meeting came to a close, but many members lingered on, sluicing and chatting with gusto. Laughter rang out from all corners of the room, and conviviality was the order of the night. There was no doubt at all that we belonged in clubland, and what could be better than to come together in a beautiful, historic club in Mayfair? Plum would have approved. We certainly did!

– Elin Woodger Murphy

Answer to the challenge: About 87.