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News Archive: Year Nine

Club haunted by eerie music

2nd September 2015 Our speaker this time was Susi O'Neill, a.k.a. Ms Hypnotique, who is officially Britain's third greatest exponent of the theremin, the world's first electronic, instrument invented by Leon Theremin in 1920. It is played by moving one's hands within an invisible field around two aerials and it produces eerie keening noises that many will be familiar with from the soundtracks to certain 1930s and 1950s horror and sci-fi movies, such as Spellbound and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Theremin himself was championed by Lenin, who saw this futuristic instrument as a symbol of Soviet progressiveness, and Theremin was allowed to tour the US promoting it. His lifestyle of hanging out with avant-garde musicians and wealthy socialites must eventually have ruffled some feathers, as he was suddenly recalled to the east, where Stalin packed him off to a gulag; he managed to escape that in the end when he used his natural ingenuity to come up with an improved system for organising the trains in the gulag, and the KGB took an interest in him. (In fact he had invented a number of other things, like an alarm system and a wireless covert listening device.) Ms Hypnotique also regaled us with tales of the interesting places her theremin has taken her, including the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square (where she discovered there was no power supply—without which a theremin can make no sound) and Britain's Got Talent. Many thanks to Susi for struggling in with the instrument and associated equipment.

Hirsutes seize the Tashes trophy

15th August 2015 The Tashes, New Sheridan Club's annual cricket match played between those with facial hair (the Hirsute Gentlemen) and those without (the Clean-Shaven Players) took place on 15th August. Owing to a limited number of players being able to make it in the end, the game was played with single batsmen and even so play was over by about 3pm. However, a good time was had by all. The trophy went to the Hirsutes and Man of the Match was Torquil Arbutnot for his devastating bowling. A full match report will appear in the September edition of the newsletter.

Club briefed on novel fortification

5th August 2015 Our lecture came this time against the odds—rescheduled from April it happened to fall on the day of the tube strike. However, the NSC shifts for no man and we actually had quite a respectable audience struggle in. Our speaker was Simon Pile, telling us about Fort Burgoyne, a Napoleonic fort that he looks after in his role at the Land Trust. Built to plug a perceived gap in the defences, guarding the rear of Dover Castle, the fortification is massive in scale and innovative in design, offering a low profile that rendered it hard to damage with artillery. The assumption was that an enemy would thus send in ground troops who would be trapped in the dry moat and mown down by hidden guns. Of course, it was never tested, and it switched armament and uses in the First and Second World Wars, before eventually being used just for storage. As restoration work continues buried munitions are constantly being uncovered, but the ultimate aim is for it to earn its keep—whether as a museum, hotel, conference centre, etc. Simon is hoping to organise a trip for Club Members to go an visit the site.

NSC sweeps the board at the Chap Olympics

11th July 2015 At the 11th Chap Olympiad, held once again at Bedford Square Gardens in London, Members of the New Sheridan Club (for the first time ever, I believe) tooks Gold, Silver and Bronze Cravats (respectively Ed Marlowe, Artemis Scarheart and Dawn Parsonage-Kent, pictured left). Organised by The Chap magazine, the event is a big social occasion attracting some 1,500 spectators. The games themselves are tongue-in-cheek Chappist contests in which effort and competitiveness are frowned upon and dapperness, élan and creative cheating are applauded. Following the opening ceremony, with the lighting of the Olympic Pipe, which is passed among contestants on the stage, the games this time were: Tea Pursuit, in which pairs of contestants, one with a teapot and one with a teacup, must pour tea while both are mounted on moving bicycles; Pyramid of Dextrous Dandies, in which groups of players form a human pyramind while simultaneously attempting to pour a Champagne fountain; Beach Volleybowler, where teams toss a bowler hat over a net and attempt to land it on an opponent's head; Well Dressage, where contestants parade around the stage on a hobby horse, competing with each other in the realm of elegance and panâche; Umbrella Jousting, which does what it says on the tin, which contestant pedalling bicycles towards each other and jousting with umbrellas—it usually ends in hand-to-hand combat on foot; Freefrom Bread Basketball, in which players lob bread rolls and attempt to land them in a bread-basket, which an opposing team of gluten intolerants try to stop them; Aunt Avoidance, in which players must get from one end of the track to the other while strategically placed aunts try to stop them with absurd requests; the Corby Trouser Press Challenge, in which athletes were expected to change into six consecutive pairs of trousers placed in Corby Trouser Presses; and Not Playing Tennis, in which two players are given tennis rackets, balls and nets and must studiously not play tennis. Half-time entertainment came from cabaret scamp Champagne Charlie. In the early days the Olympics was simply a coming together on like-minded souls, bringing food and drink and generally making a day of it, but for some years now it has been a ticketed event with a pay bar; minions of the operators, Bourne and Hollingsworth, are posted at the gates to confiscate any booze. Needless to say, NSC Members take great pride in inventively smuggling alcohol in, hollowing out books, loaves of bread or event a melon to conceal a bottle inside. This year hiding places included a lettuce and a baby's bottle. As is traditional, NSC types repaired to the Jack Horner pub for more libations. Congratulations to all who won prizes, successfully smuggled, or simply got royally trolleyed.

Club treated to sultry evening of sex and violence

1st July 2015 Our July meeting fell on what was apparently the hottest day of the year—heat is always a problem for those who like to dress properly, and it was perhaps no surprise that we were a bit thin on the ground. Our speaker this time was Lord Rupert who was fizzing with excitement about this passion for VHS, the video tape format that dominated the market in the 1980s. He cheerfully admits that the picture quality is not very good—unlike the rival tape format Betamax. Yet VHS won the battle to become the standard because the consortium behind it was happy to allow it to be used for all manner of entertainment, whereas Betamax's backers would not allow pornography to sully their format. Rupert pointed out that the porn industry is as big as Hollywood, so that was a clincher. Much of Rupert's fondness for the format derives from its game-changing role in democratising video—in a pre-internet age, this was the first time that moving images could be disseminated without official control. Moreover, people could use the format to make their own video content. It beckoned in the age of the "video nasty", low-budget, artistically barren horror flicks with levels of graphic violence that would never have got past the BBFC for the big screen. Not only violence but sex and Nazis were also good elements to throw into the mix. In the hysterical media backlash many films were labelled as "video nasties" which were no such thing. Even now a number of flicks remain banned, while others are so rare that they command £10,000 on the open market. Rupert waved one tape that he said was worth £2,500.

Club sinks to new depths for summer party

6th June 2015 Our summer party, 20,000 Cocktails Under the Sea, this time celebrated all things nautical. The venue was the wooden-decked cellar bar of the (aptly named) Water Poet pub in Spitalfields, which we adapted with portholes on the walls, blue-green lighting and a projection of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on one wall. We had live music from the Bohemianauts, playing grog-sozzled, accordion-driven shanties, dark demi-monde ditties and wild gypsy anthems. In addition to our usual Snuff Bar and world-famous Grand Raffle, we had a competition to design a non-Euclidian undersea city to house dread Cthulhu in his slumber of aeons, a game to shoot Lord Nelson (ably played by Action Man) with a foam dart gun, and a whale-hunting game, where players must stand on one leg (Ahab only had one) and catch a small white whale with the hook on the end of an unwieldily long harpoon. Many thanks to all who came, and to Greg Taylor, David Bridgman-Smith and Lorna Mower-Johnson for donating raffle prizes.

Fact and fiction entwine around notorious shipwreck

3rd June 2015 Our speaker was Member Greg Taylor, talking on the subject of the sinking of the Lusitania 100 years ago last month.It is a subject that has always fascinated Greg—so much so that he spend years researching the subject to write a book about it. Although a work of fiction, Lusitania R.E.X. uses as much fact as Greg could unearth, so rich is that period with intersecting narratives of the rich, famous and influential, combined with imagined events that attempt to explain some of the more mysterious facts about the tragedy. The Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, despite being an unarmed civilian liner. The Germans claimed she was carrying war supplies, which was almost certainly true, although even this makes it hard to explain the mysterious second explosion that ripped the ship apart causing her to sink in minutes, taking almost 1,200 men, women and children with her. Some of these were US citizens, and the act precipitated America into the war. The German embassy had actually placed newspaper adverts advising Americans not to travel into the war zone by ship; moreover, the conventions of the time required that warships should warn vessels before attacking and allow passengers to evacuate before capturing or sinking the vessels, yet the Admiralty had let slip their standing orders to shipping to ignore such warnings and to ram enemy submarines instead, which admittedly left the U-boats with little choice but to torpedo ships without warning. Greg's tale includes Alfred Vanderbilt, who was on board and inexplicably gave away his life jacket, plus German spies, Irish nationalists and a secret doomsday weapon… Many thanks to him for his talk, and for donating a signed copy of his book as a prize in the Grand Raffle at our summer party the following Saturday.

Question of "What if?" hovers over Club meeting

6th May 2015 Our speaker was the Earl of Essex (quite possibly the holder of the record for the most addresses to the Club), talking this time about Lord Halifax, the aristocratic politician who could have been Prime Minister instead of Churchill. Essex gave us a detailed portrait of Halifax's life and times (even referring to him as Lord Irwin when discussing the period from 1925 to 1934 when this was his title), how he enjoyed hunting and shooting, despite having been born with no left hand and how his early uninspiring political career gave way to the period for which he is most remembered: his time as Foreign Secretary taking a pro-appeasement stance and having endless meetings with Hitler. When confidence in Chamberlain as PM dropped, the job was offered to Halifax, who turned it down, begging the question of how the war might have turned out if Halifax had accepted—when German forces surrounded British troops at Dunkirk, Halifax tried to persuade Churchill to negotiate a peace settlement… Many thanks to Essex for his talk.

Surreal dandy flick bemuses viewers

8th April 2015 Our Film Night presentation for April came from Darcy Sullivan, offering The Final Programme, a somewhat psychedelic movie from 1973. It is based on a novel by Michael Moorcock (the first of the Jerry Cornelius series), though he washed his hands of it, which is a good indicator of how troubled the production was. The plot concerns a future in which war and famine rage and a group of scientists seek to create an immortal self-replicating human by splicing together man and woman using a super computer. But they need the help of playboy scientist Cornelius, as he has just inherited the formula from its creator, his father. Cornelius agrees (though his motivations aren't clear), but his main interest is in defeating his psychopathic, drug-addled brother who is holed up in the family mansion experimenting on their sister, whom Jerry is keen to save. Jerry must negotiate the defences of the house and engage in shoot-outs with his brother using guns firing needles; for some reason the scientists come with him, bumbling into booby traps and wandering around in a Maurice Agis "Dreamspace" style environment (of its time, I suppose). Clearly there was some attempt to have token action (pleasantly undermined by a final fight where Jerry calls out to chief scientist Miss Brunner, "I'm losing!"), but in his introduction Darcy himself ilustrated the studio's discomfort by comparing the UK poster and the one for the US (pictured)—where the film was titled The Last Days of Man on Earth and desperately pitched as a Planet of the Apes style adventure. For all its confusion, however, the film is an engaging romp with moments of camp, stylish strangeness that only flicks from that era can muster.

Club makes its own entertainment again

1st April 2015 At our April meeting we were hoping to hear about Fort Burgoyne, an 1860s coastal fortification, from its minder Simon Pile, but sadly he had to pull out at the last minute. Our thanks go to Dr Tim Eyre for his off-the-cuff talk on Eritrea and also to Paul Gunn who apparently gave a bow-tie-tying masterclass (sadly all over before I got there, hence no photos). Scarheart allegedly tied a bow tie for the first time in his life… Scarheart himself also organised some parlour games, including one called Reverend Crawley's Game (pictured), in which contestants stand in a circle and hold hands, but not with anyone directly next to them. Then they must untangle the knot without anyone letting go of anyone else's hand. Sheridanites are nothing if not resourceful.

Transvestites take the Club by storm

4th March 2015 At our March Club Night the speaker was Eugenie Rhodes whose subject was "What a Drag!", a history of cross-dressing. (Anyone who thinks the NSC are a bunch of staid killjoys would do well to note that the subjects of our talks for the last three meetings have been swearing, fist-fighting and transvestism.) Eugenie observed how, throughout history, people have dressed in the clothing of the opposite sex for reasons of safety or subterfuge. An obvious Classical example is Achillles, but she also mentioned examples of women who dressed as men to travel without harassment or suspicion. In fact many of the cross-dressers were women who wanted to do all kinds of things, from fighting to practising medicine, which were only allowed for those who appeared to be men. But we were equally treated to the likes of Fanny and Stella, Victorian men who dressed as women (much to the horror of the Establishment) as well as the Chevalier D'Eon and the notorious Abbé de Choisy who seems to have used his guise as a woman as a way to pray on real women. Many thanks to Eugenie for her talk.

Bleak but stylish Brit Noir flick at Film Night

11th February 2015 Our Film Night this month, presented by Sean Longden, was the 1958 Nowhere to Go. Made by Ealing Studios, this couldn't be further from the "Ealing comedy" stereotype, concerning Paul Gregory, a north American expat in London, who steals a fortune from a trusting widow and allows himself to be caught, planning to sit out the three year sentence then collect the money again when he gets out. But when he gets a surprisingly tough ten-year stretch he enlists the help of a fellow villain to escape: and that is where his problems start. The whole criminal fraternity know he has the money and there is, it seems, no honour among thieves. A young Maggie Smith is a disillusioned debutante who decides to help him, taking him to her family home in Wales. But when Gregory sees the police question her he assumes she'll betray him and makes a run for it. Stylishly shot with many popular noir tropes (such as shadows that seem to form bar around our antihero), the film is nevertheless striking in having virtually no sympathetic characters. Why was Gregory written as an American (or Canadian; it's unclear)? Just to appeal to the US market, or as a reference to the postwar idea that Yank gangsters were the real villains? Why did the urban plot suddenly take us to the country for the miserable denoument? To show that Gregory belongs in the moral quagmire of the city and can't survive outside it? The film provoked much debate. Many thanks to Sean.

Club braces for two-fisted delivery

4th February 2015 Our lecture this time came from “Chuckles” Younghusband (red shorts, 168 pounds, undefeated), who took us for a brief whirl through the history of bare-knuckle boxing, with a particular focus on the Victorian Camden-based hard man, Tom Sayers. Chuckes cheerfully admitted that it would have been a more thorough presentation had he been able to find time over the weekend to do a bit of research, but we nevertheless learned that in the early days it was a case of two men standing still and pounding away until one of them fell over; the largest invariably won, and it was not until the rise of the stocky but diminutive Daniel Mendoza that the idea of dodging or blocking blows caught on. Sayers was even lighter at 150 pounds, but went on to beat national heavyweight champion Bill Perry before accepting a challenge from US champion John Camel Heenan. The two-hour bout ended in chaos and was declared a draw, and Sayers did not fight again, but he had become so popular that public subscription raised a mighty £3000 pension and his funeral was attended by 100,000 people.

Foul language echoes through the Club's halls

7th January 2015 Despite January being traditionally a time when no one goes out, our gathering did fill up in time for this month's lecture, which was an address by Maximillion Conrad on "A Brief History of Profanity: Abridged but Uncensored", which he introduced as, "A chap's guide to swearing like a stevedore. A shocking romp through the underbelly of society, to leafy spires of academia, to illuminate the many forms and uses of swearing, blasphemy, lewdness and vituperation!" It was always a risk, given that both his talk and his slides were cesspools of filth, but it seems NSC types are hard to shock and there was no outcry, fainting or raids by the Vice Squad. Mr Conrad explained that the concept originated as an oath, usually on God or some part of Him, swearing that something was true or would be done. This was effectively to involve God in a three-way contract, and it was felt that to do this over something trivial was to use His name in vain—hence "swearing". In these early days offensive oaths were all religious in nature, and many of the anatomical or scatological terms we now find shocking were just everyday terms for facts of life. By Victorian times, however, they reached a peak of sensitivity about the body—even the word "leg" was considered too racy to use in front of ladies. Today we are more easy-going (the BBC does not even have a list of banned words any more and few newspapers would probably bother to miss out crucial letters when printing a swearword) but the concept of "bad words" persists, perhaps nowadays focusing on racial slurs. Many thanks to Mr Conrad for an enlightening talk.

Club finds it is not a number

6th December 2104 Our Christmas party, I Am Not a Number, I Am a Free Chap, had a 1960s theme, focusing on the dapper rebellion embodied by everything from the Mods to surreal and stylish TV series like The Prisoner and The Avengers. The part of Rover, the guardian in The Prisoner, was played by a large weather balloon lit from underneath by a colour-changing LED lamp. The venue was The Bear in St John’s Square, a new venue for us with very reasonable food and drink prices and a late licence. The venue’s compactness was made up for by the ample outside space where we had our games, which this time included an elaborate one in which one player had to rescue The Prisoner (gamely played by Action Man in the trademark blazer) from the beach at The Village, using a helicopter on the end of a stick, while another player meanwhile tried to swat him with Rover—in the form of white balloons filled partly with water and partly with air, meaning that they moved and bounced in rather unpredictable ways. We also had our traditional shooting game, this time having invested Club funds in a new foam dart gun. (The fins on the darts of the old gun had become some malformed that it was virtually impossible to hit anything.) The target was, of course, JFK, played by a cardboard cutout in a remote controlled toy convertible. Attractions also included our seasonal lucky dip in which guests reached into a dustbin filled with shredded newspaper and pulled out some piece of worthless tat to take home and treasure, plus our traditional complimentary Snuff Bar. Diehard mod Matthew “The Chairman” Howard provided us with a suitably groovy soundtrack, a playlist that he had been painstakingly assembling for weeks beforehand. Highlight of any NSC party is, of course, the famous Grand Raffle of diverse items, some genuinely desirable others more amusing in the context of the theme. Thanks to all who trolled along to what was a very successful party indeed, both NSC Members and interested visitors, including
those souls who took the plunge and joined up on the night.

Club asked, 'Whither style?'

3rd December 2104 Our guest speaker was Mr Ian Scott Kettle, a designer and teacher of fashion design at Central St Martin's, talking on the subject of A History of Men's Accessories. His focus was on the difference between fashion and style, looking at periods when there seemed to be upsurges of confidence in defining and expressing personal style. He also presented his own range of accessories, ranging from fairly conventional ties and bow ties (but made from unexpected materials) to rethought cummerbunds and gaiters and even a coif (seen here being modelled by your beloved Secretary). Considering how unconventional some of these items are, the audience was very much in accord with Mr Kettle's love of strong personal style and were very curious to try out the wares on offer. Many thanks to Mr Kettle for taking the time to come and talk to us.

Chairman strikes blow for Little Britain

5th November 2104 Our speaker this time was none other than Matthew "The Chairman" Howard, with the latest instalment in his series of irreverent travelogues, A Package to India, relating his own, less than glamorous, experiences in that country, how he "went on a package holiday to Goa by mistake and ended up in Bombay on a Third Class train", and featuring a rapid-fire series of sight gags on PowerPoint. We were also once more graced by a TV film crew; I had been initially told they were interested in "vintage lifestyles" but it turns out the documentary is actually about Mayfair and the colourful types who live there. In this case they were shadowing Club Member Manthe and her partner Anthony. Manthe certainly made an entrance, arriving in rather 18th-century garb with a parrot called Sebastion on her shoulder…

Club gets a lesson in dressing a villain

1st October 2104 In the mid-1930s the term "wide boys" emerged to describe criminals and those working on the fringes of the law. One vital element was the wide boy look and the fashions they wore. Our speaker at the October meeting was Historian and NSC Member Sean Longden who looked at how wide boys dressed in the literature of the period and how their fashions were depicted on screen and in literature. In attendance were a number of Sean's chums in solidly 1930s and 1940s outfits. Sean himself even sported a bow tie (something he does not normally do) in honour of his observation that in the movies of the time the bow tie is a mark of the villain…

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