Autumn Dinner – October 2021


A purple, almost regal, glow greeted over 100 members and guests for the first Society of Old Friends Guest Dinner in 18 months.

A palpable sense of excitement and anticipation pervaded the atmosphere during the pre-dinner drinks reception.

Then Master of Ceremonies, Richard Birtchnell, called members and guests in to the candelit dinner suite, followed by the announcement and formal entrance of the Society President, Steve Robinson and the Guest of Honour, Gyles Daubeney Brandreth.

After a brief welcome from the President (and a slightly belated grace), a sumptuous 3 course dinner was served and thoroughly enjoyed.

As always, the meal was interspersed with the Society ‘moments’ where the President had the pleasure of taking wine with the Past Presidents who were in attendance, and then with the members of the fantastic committee that make our Society work.

Then, after the Loyal Toast to Her Majesty, at precisely 9pm, the President asked all members and guests to stand, to spend a moment to remember and to toast ‘absent friends’ – this means different things to different people but this is long-held tradition and is always a special moment for the Society.

After the obligatory comfort break, the President stood to propose a toast on behalf of all Old Friends to the guests and to offer his formal welcome to the Guest of Honour.

Then Gyles Brandreth stood and, for nearly 40 minutes (without notes), enthralled the audience. Gyles shared stories of the many people he had met, the hands he had shaken (he shook the hand of the man who shook the hand of Oscar Wilde, for example) and he shared many memorable moments from his life.

The friendly jokes and witty banter were plentiful and sometimes cleverly masked, such as his admiration for the President’s enthusiasm who, he said, had managed to “take a three-minute introduction to me and cram it into 20 minutes

There were hilarious stories (all true, for sure) about his brief contretemps with the British electorate as an MP, of the hosting of the Annual Funeral Directors Conference and his fond recollections of his extremely privileged access to members of the Royal Family and, in particular, Prince Philip and The Queen.

Gyles also displayed a wonderful appreciation for the Society, its heritage and its traditions. For instance, he took time to recognise the President Elect, John Logan, and the work done by Honorary Secretary, Tina Russell, and pointed out that Stanley Vaughan had been an active Old Friend when Rt Hon Earl Mountbatten of Burma attended a Society Dinner in 1977, alongside Barbara Cartland – all without reference to any notes!

He was also effusive about the warmth of the simple moment of handshake for every member and guest as they arrived at the event, and he shared the moment of reflection that he himself had at the 9 o’clock toast.

Our Honoured Guest, concluded his speech with four lines of beautiful and very apt poetry which are captured below:

From quiet homes and first beginning,

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,

But laughter and the love of friends.

From ‘Dedicatory Ode’ by Hilaire Belloc, written in 1923

The formalities culminated with the raffle and the winners were Gary Fletcher, Paul Hicklin and Simon Webb (who had cleverly decided to share resources) and Sue Robinson (who generously asked for a re-draw) resulting in a delighted Helen Wade as the next name out of the ‘hat’.

Unsurprisingly, the party went on well into the wee small hours for many and the next day numerous messages flooded in, from guests and members alike, about just how much they had enjoyed the evening and particularly the Honoured Guest.

The following are just a small sample of the many wonderful messages received;

  • “Just dropping you a line to congratulate you and the team on a brilliant evening in the company of Gyles Brandreth” Gareth Farrell
  • “What an excellent dinner last night. Susan and I really enjoyed the event. Very good food and Gyles was great speaker.” Graham Davis
  • “What an absolutely fantastic night. Gyles was ridiculously funny and he made me laugh tears repeatedly.” Chris Exner
  • “It was a cracker Steve. Well done. GB – A legend.” Ian McAra
  • “Lovely evening with the charming Gyles Brandreth” Jonathan Whitmore
  • Finally, this particularly lovely message from Jim Vaughan; “Gyles Brandreth was fantastic and he should probably do an advert for the society as I am sure we are all a little more in love with OF this morning than we were yesterday (if that is possible).”

The last word, however, goes again to Gyles who, in an email after the event, said;

It was lovely to meet Old Friends and their friends:

it was a very special evening and I was honoured to be part of it.

Congratulations! And thank you for inviting me!

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