Lancing Club Annual Dinner 2014
Halloween night found us once again at the House of Commons – a superb venue for what proved to be another brilliant occasion – sponsored by Greg Barker MP, OL. Having survived the security inspection at the Cromwell Green entrance, we found our way to the Strangers' Bar which filled quickly with faces both half-remembered and familiar too while the wine was freely available. It was a first chance for many of us to meet the new Head Master, Dominic Oliver – and to welcome Head Boy Oli Hancock and Head Girl Dulcie Pearson.
We were a capacity crowd of 115 for dinner in the Strangers’ Dining Room. Dinner had an appropriately English theme – Suffolk game pate, English lamb and pear tart – but the wines were French – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Our new Club Chairman, Andrew Farquharson invited us to toast ‘The Queen’ and then introduced the Head Master, Dominic Oliver, in his first Autumn Term at Lancing - who started with a George Eliot quote “delicious Autumn … were I a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.” He reminded us, in this centenary year of the outbreak of WW1, that 179 Lancing pupils had lost their lives in that conflict. The College holds a remembrance event each year but is looking at new ways to commemorate those who fell. Ten Head Master’s Scholarships have been awarded this year as a ‘Living Memorial’. He had done some research too: 127 years ago (1877) was the year of the first Test Match between England and Australia, the first Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, a dead heat in the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race – and the year in which the Lancing Club was founded. Finishing with another quote (Walter Bagehot: “The ability to stay quiet is one of the conspicuous failings of mankind”) – he proposed the toast of “The Lancing Club”.
Andrew Farquharson thanked the Head Master and wished him well in his new role. Andrew explained that he now had taken on the job of leading the Lancing Club into the new century. He thanked the Events Committee and in particular Neesha Gopal and Nick Parker for arranging the dinner - and welcomed the newest member of the Committee Renje Chen. Thanks too, to the College and a special welcome to Head Boy, Oli Hancock and Head Girl, Dulcie Pearson. He then introduced our guest speaker – an Old Etonian – but hugely welcome to the Lancing Club Dinner.
Henry Blofeld OBE – so well-known a voice on Test Match Special – greeted us all (how else?) as his ‘dear old things’. He spoke warmly of so many friendships made through cricket. It was mainly through friendship with Harry Brünjes (Chairman of Governors) and Sir Tim Rice (‘everybody’s favourite OL’) that he was here to speak. In 1962 he had visited Lancing and met Ken Shearwood, got to know him well and recognised him as a great man. He recalled that Ken had five first-class games of cricket – average 5; caught 5; stumped 5 – but was better known for his time with Pegasus Football. He sent his warmest wishes to Ken – now aged 93 – and we all joined in.
Henry told us that he had now spent 43 years in the commentary box. He described some of the greatest moments of those times with Brian Johnson and John Arlott. ‘Johners’ was the most extraordinarily funny man: he obtained the job with BBC Outside Broadcasts purely through the ‘old pals’ connection with Wynford Vaughan-Thomas: his first broadcast was of the explosion of a WWII bomb in St.James’s Park – which was done from the shelter of a ladies’ loo. He was dynamite in the commentary box – which was usually filled with suppressed giggles. At the age of 80, he was persuaded to go to India for the Bombay and Madras Test Matches – which he agreed under ‘no curry’ terms. However he fell victim to the diet and claimed to have invented the ‘Boycott Curry’ (got the runs, but moving slowly). John Arlott had started life as a Hampshire policeman – and his break came when India visited in 1946 – and he was the only commentator available who knew anything about cricket.
This was the very start of Test Match Special – where he was welcomed as ‘a vulgar voice but an interesting manner’. Lunch for John was always a ‘two-bottle’ affair – with six bottles of claret after lunch. After lunch one day at Lords – in ‘mellow’ form – the first-ever ‘streaker’ appeared. Trevor Bailey, commentating, got it slightly wrong and called him a ‘freaker’. John responded with “Yes – a freaker – not very shapely, masculine – seen its last Cricket for the day – a policeman now holding his helmet over the offending weapon – 8000 in the Mound Stand, some of whom have never seen anything like it before”.
Henry said it had been a good evening – lots of fun – and he sat down to tremendous applause.
Club President Sir Tim Rice thanked Henry for his splendid contribution to the evening. He also thanked the Events Team who had organised the event. He then invited us all to join in the singing (words provided) of Triumphales, led by Andrew Farquharson – and the roof was duly raised. All over by 10:15pm, with time only for rushed farewells, before we made our way out through the eery space of Westminster Hall to join the Halloween throngs outside.
Angus Ross (Second’s 1954-1959)
To view or download the guest list for the dinner, please click here.