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A Good Life, and a Good Night

It could have been a sombre occasion. With ironic timing, the sad news of our President’s death had hit national headlines and our private emails less than 48 hours before the scheduled Society evening at The George on Tuesday 19th February. For the small number of committee members who arrived early to set up, there was concern as to what the general mood of the evening would be. Richard had been the first President of the Society in its current form from its inception, so we were in uncharted waters, and one wondered how members would react.

Relief came early, in that by the time Hilary Bruce stood up to deliver the parish notices, numbers appeared to be unaffected, and there didn’t seem to be much less than the usual hubbub. No doubt the many fine qualities of the man were being discussed (and another subject which we will come to later) and maybe, because these were all so positive, it helped to lift the mood.

It was obviously a situation that HB had never wanted to find herself in, but at the same time, the enormous affection which Richard enjoyed did make an unpleasant task somewhat less so. The simple phrase “lovely man” was unavoidable. She also mentioned how easily he made people smile, and never said no to any request the Society made of him. She ended with a quote from an unlikely source, Socrates, but entirely appropriate given the TV series for which Richard was most famous – to the words “Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued” everyone present stood and raised their glasses to the memory of Richard Briers.

Next came a much more pleasurable event – the presentation of a memento to the 3,000th member of the PG Wodehouse Society (UK). Christopher Keeling was given a copy of A Man Of Means to mark the occasion, and he told us the circumstances of his ‘conversion’, having been pounced on by the irrepressible Murray Hedgcock – but he said that he “couldn’t be more proud”.

Then it was time to move on to the ‘elephant in the room’ – the BBC TV series of ‘Blandings’. No words need to be wasted here, as the general feeling of our members about the adaptations has been made apparent, and Hilary had decided that none needed to be wasted then and there either, largely for the same reason. In the end, she said, what the BBC did was no direct concern of the Society, but maybe, just maybe, it had helped to bring a younger audience to the books of the Master.

With a final, heartfelt plea for those who had not yet done so to amend their subscription standing orders to the new amount (the words “we know where you live” were not actually uttered, but …) she then put us, after a short break, into the hands of our impresario Paul Kent for the evening’s entertainment – Wodehouse Bingo.

Now some of us have had an uneasy feeling for a while about the side of Paul’s nature that comes to the fore when devising these occasions, but the word ‘fiendish’ is often used (and was indeed admitted by Paul himself during the course of the proceedings). And the amusement that he had cooked up this time did nothing to change our minds.

The rules were as follows: we had to divide ourselves up into teams of up to five, and write a random 12 numbers between 1 and 25 on a piece of paper. Our quizmaster had a list of 25 questions, all on the works of PGW, the answer to each of which was a number under 25. All clear so far? If you got an answer to a question that matched one of your random numbers, you crossed it through, and the first team to cross off all 12 numbers shouted “Bingo!” (as Rosie M Banks would have done on discovering that her turtle dove had just blown the housekeeping on the 3.30 at Towcester). Anyway …

Some of those present may have thought that, in addition to a passing knowledge of the Wodehouse oeuvre, a second class degree in mathematics looked to be required eg.“the number of Dunraven Street, where Bertie lived, plus 6”, or “Bertie’s fine for knocking off a policeman’s helmet, times 5”. You get the drift. Other brain teasers included Bertie’s estimate of Jeeves’ hat size (9), the number of Bertie’s aunts (4), and the number of pubs in Market Blandings (12).

The final question was reached without a ‘full house’ (although one team did, to the obvious scorn of the others, claim afterwards that they had called out “Pig h-o-o-o-ey!”) So Paul had to read the answers out to see which team had the highest score, resulting in a dead heat for first place and a nerve-wracking tie-breaker. The winners then gallantly declined – credit where it’s due – their prize of a round of free drinks.

As the dust settled, the general feedback was that Maestro Kent had once more come up with the goods. Despite the fiendishness, for which he was forgiven, the format of the evening had provided an opportunity to interact extremely sociably with fellow Wodehouseans. And maybe Richard Briers was casting a downward eye as the evening came to an end, and was glad that his passing had not dampened for too long the natural joie de vivre of the members of the Society which had so thrived under his Presidency.