News Archives: view stories from Year One of the Club (October 2006 to October 2007), Year Two (October 2007 to October 2008), Year Three (October 2008 to October 2009), Year Four (October 2009 to October 2010), Year Five (October 2010 to October 2011), Year Six (October 2011 to September 2012) and Year Seven (October 2012 to September 2013)
Question of "What if?" hovers over Club meeting
6th May 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 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 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 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 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 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 Our 2014 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 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 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 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…
Strict schoolmistress offers art historical discipline
3rd September The speaker at our September meeting was Kellyanne O'Callaghan, addressing us on the subject of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, one of the last of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Kellyanne took a feminist approach, arguing that EFB, like other female Pre-Raphaelites was not taken as seriously as the men, despite being popular and commercially successful at the time. She examined how EFB's approach differed from her male colleagues' when handling the same mythological subjects, depicting female characters as strong and in control rather than passive and helpless. Kellyanne herself is a secondary school teacher and the assembled throng were perhaps startled by the authoritative tone and enforced audience participation, with plenty of exercises and games deployed to drill some learning into our skulls…
Club succumbs to poisonous influence
6th August On a day hot enough to prompt some of the male Clubmen to remove their tweed jackets, the Club gathered, paper fans fluttering, to hear Mr David De Vynél talk to us about the history of submarines. Sadly they were disappointed, because David decided to talk about the history of poisoning instead. His focus ran from Mary Blandy, whose trial for murdering her father by poison in 1751 caught the public attention because she was well-to-do, through the boom years of the 19th century, when arsenic trioxide was easily available and both deadly and unpleasant. Poison was almost exclusive a woman's weapon, presumably because they not only lacked the physical advantage for violence but also because they would usually be the one preparing food and so would have the opportunity to administer it. More disturbing, with the advent of Friendly Societies and Burial Clubs, effectively a cheap for of life insurance, there developed a nasty practice of producing children, insuring their lives then poisoning them for profit. When an Act banning the insuring of children's lives for more than £3 was passed, child mortality dropped off dramatically. Many thanks to David for this talk.
Ancient curse makes for jolly evening
26th July Once again a mob of Sheridanites descended o n the capital for our annual summer party. This time our theme was all things Egyptian and in particular the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and the Egypt-mania it inspired in popular culture. The venue was once again the Adam Street Club (whose underground vaults have so far doubled as a Mexican cantina, a WWI trench and now an ancient Egyptian tomb). Sadly the club has been bought by developers and was to close two weeks later—in fact it was looking a bit empty already as some of the furniture had gone…
As usual we had our Snuff Bar and the Grand Raffle, with fine haul of themed nonsense as prizes. Live music came from three members of the Top Shelf Band, for whom wearing the fez is second nature. Our games this time included Shoot the Nose Off the Sphinx (no one managed a direct hit—it may be time to invest in some less knackered darts for the dart gun, as seen above); Unwrap the Mummy (Pass the Parcel by any other name, with the person who removes the last bandage finding a chocolate sarcophagus at the centre)—no pictures unfortunately as I was operating the music in this game—and our Tomb Raider game, in which players lower their faithful servant Abdul (looking a lot like Action Man in a fez) on a rope into the tomb where they have 60 seconds to scoop up as much treasure as they can, using a wire hook on Abdul’s hand—harder than it looks. Many thanks to all who came along and made such an effort with the costumes!
The prizes for the Grand Raffle. The black boxes were Cursed Prizes (one held a lollipop with a scorpion in in, one held some "Camel Balls" bubble gum, one held a roll of bandages and a bottle of embalming fluid—actually gin—and one was just a box of sand). The canopic jar was handmade and donated by Lorna Mower-Johnson and mercifully contained sweets rather than viscera
Club holds its own in bloodiest Chap Olympics yet
12th July The Chap Magazine organised the tenth Chap Olympiad, its annual celebration of a sporting contest for people who don't really like sport and don't want to damage their trouser creases by exerting themselves too much. The line-up of games changes every year: nowadays they are actually quite vigorous, involving charging at each other or whacking people with umbrellas, whereas in the past we had such games as the Martini Relay (relay teams make a Martini cocktail in stages, with the winner chosen on the quality of the finished drink), the Ten Yard Saunter (where the winner is the last person to cross the finish line) or Shouting at Foreigners (where contestants must somehow get a foreigner to do a specified task). We had perfect weather this time, sunny but not too hot and only the briefest of rain showers and much ingenuity had been applied to the traditional smuggling of alcohol into the event, including hollowed out fruit, loaves of bread and even a book—Mikhail managed to conceal an entire bottle of Bombay Sapphire inside a melon. (The event is largely organised by Bourne and Hollingsworth who are keen to sell punters drinks, but many of the old guard remember when the Chap Olympics was just a group of people coming together with picnics in a park, and somewhat resent the co-opting of it into a ticketed event.) The New Sheridan Club had its traditional gazebo up, functioning as a rallying point as well as a shelter from the rain and sun. NSC Members made a good showing in the events—our Chairman Torquil Arbuthnot was even briefly knocked out during the Briefcase Phalanx game and had to be taken to hospital—but for the first time in many years we didn't take any of the main prizes. However, Mikhail Korausch was awarded the prize for Best Moustache and Katie Holt won Best Dressed, so honour was maintained. Half-time entertainment this came in the inspired form of Sir Leopold Alexander, Victorian Strongman, and music was provided by NSC clubman and DJ Vince Moses. Afterwards there was a general move to the Jack Horner pub where we baffled the non-Chaps, who were very much in the minority. Huzzah.
Tug of Hair, which is basically Tug of War using an extension of Atters' moustache
There seemed to be an awful lot of mass bundles on stage this time. Here Zack gets involved in his own particular way
Bodyline bowling comes under Club's scrutiny
2nd July Our guest speaker on this sunny day was the Earl of Essex (probably the most prolific speaker we have), this time talking about D.R. Jardine the man who captained the English cricket team during the infamous "Bodyline" Ashes series. Essex gave us Jardine's background as a schoolboy cricketer at Winchester, where toughness and self-belief were taught, and outlined just how devastating Australia's batsman Don Bradman was known to be. Bodyline was developed as a way of neutralising Bradman, bowling fast and short so that the ball bounced up at the batsman's body or face, forcing him to knock it aside defensively into the hands of fielders standing in a crowd around him. The Australians were outraged and even telegraphed the MCC declaring the strategy to be unsportsmanlike—a word that incensed the MCC in turn. Jardine's behaviour (which some of his own team condemned) still divides opinion, but in time Bodyline bowling was effectively banned. Many thanks to Essex. We were also lucky enough to be treated to a rare visit from New Zealand Members Dirk Hensius, who brought with him a splendid all-wood churchwarden pipe. A fine evening all round.
Victorian eccentric who brought us the cuppa
4th June The speaker at our June meeting was Eugenie Rhodes, whose subject was the Victorian botanist-adventurer Robert Fortune. She had originally been planning to cover Reginald Farrer as well, another eccentric plant-hunter, but she found Fortune quite fascinating enough to fill a whole talk. Fortune is best remembered as the man to whom you owe your cuppa—before him, tea had to be traded from the Chinese, who guarded its secrets closely. Fortune risked his life (at a time when venturing more than a day's journey from the treaty ports meant a death sentence for foreigners) going under cover, disguised as a mandarin, to collect specimens of tea plants in China and bribed local experts to advise the British on setting up their own tea plantations in India—with the result that the price of tea plummeted in Blighty, bringing it within reach of the common man. Fortune himself, pretty much a self-made man, managed to live up to his name and make himself rich by selling the other exotic specimens he collected on his travels. Many thanks to Eugenie for her talk.
Who says thin men aren't jolly?
11th May Our Film Night for May was The Thin Man (1934), presented, ahead of the remake that will apparently star Johnny Depp, by Mai Møller. Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, the story concerns Nick and Nora Charles (played by William Powell and Myrna Loy), he an ex-private detective and she a wealthy heiress. The plot is kicked off when a friend, Clyde Wynant, disappears after a murder. Wynant is the “thin man” of the title, but audiences apparently assumed that the epithet referred to the film’s hero, Nick, and all five of the sequels ran with this concept: After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) and Song of the Thin Man (1947). The film was not a major investment, shot in just 14 days, but it was one of the ten highest earners of the year, endearing itself to audiences mainly because of the wise-cracking dialogue between husband and wife, who exhibit a flirtatious chemistry throughout (yes, even though they are married). Critic Roger Ebert, who places it on his personal list of Great Movies, particularly praises Powell, whom he believes “is to dialogue what Fred Astaire is to dance. His delivery is so droll and insinuating, so knowing and innocent at the same time, that it hardly matters what he’s saying”. Whatever the reason, the film’s innovative blend of mystery, romance and comedy created a template that remained popular with studios for many years. In addition to the film sequels there was a spin-off radio series in the 1930s, a TV series in the 1950s, a TV movie in 1977 and a Broadway musical in 1991. NSC Members might also appreciate the sheer amount of time that Mr and Mrs Charles seem to spend in bars, cocktail in hand. (In fact on the film’s release one Southern distributor complained to the studio about the excessive amount of drinking that goes on.) And if that isn’t enough, Nick and Nora have a dog, a wire-haired terrier called Asta, who appears in all six films.
Club awed by Hitler's personal pscyhic
7th May The speaker at our May meeting was Birgit Gebhardt, whose subject was Erik Jan Hanussen. The child of two failed Austrian cabaret artists (and born Hermann Steinschneider) he went on to become an immensely successful stage clairvoyant, mentalist and hypnotist, earning a fortune, which he spend on a yacht and mansion, and surrounding himself with beautiful young women. But his life was full of ups and downs—he also gave personal seances and fortune tellings, and under German law, although the stage shows could be classified as entertainment, the private services were different, repeatedly leading to his being charged with fraud. He also became very pally with the Nazis, frequently lending money to high-ranking officers and giving Hitler lessons in oratory, crowd control and the use of psychology and dramatic effect when staging meetings. But Hanussen's whole identity was a lie: not only was he not the Danish aristocrat he claimed to be, but he was also Jewish. His world tours may have served to get him out of trouble, but their success was often hampered by his inability to speak anything other than German and Yiddish. He was a tyrannical taskmaster, leaving a trail of disgruntled assistants ripe for spilling the beans on him. It's not really clear what led to Hanussen's sudden and squalid demise—kidnapped by SA men, shot and buried in a field. It may have been the discovery of his Jewishness, but it was more likely that he had become too much competition for Hitler's attention in the eyes of Goebbels and Goering, or that his famous prediction of the Reichstag fire may have been the unwise public use of insider information. (The Nazis blamed the Communists, as an excuse for Hitler to seize greater power, but in fact the Nazis had done it themselves; so Hanussen's trick put them in jeopardy.) Thanks to Birgit for a fascinating talk.
Club studies alien cultures
5th May NSC Member Incy Wincy Spider organised a grand day out, the second annual Order of the Fez, incorporating a fun treasure hunt around the British Museum. The hunt took us all around the various collections as we sought the individual items on display that would allow us to answer a series of riddles (who said Chappism wasn't educational?). More than 20 intrepid types, drawn mostly from the ranks of the New Sheridan Club and the Eccentric Club, convened on the steps of the BM, then made a beeline for a suitable backdrop for a group photo. The biggest hoot was the reactions of the general public: as I arranged the group photo, within 30 seconds a semicicle of camera-toting onlookers formers around us. This attention continued as we scattered to pursue our quest. Well, all apart from Minna, Dave Hollander and Anton Krause, who were found to have high-tailed it pretty sharpish to the nearest boozer… At the end of the day Incy awarded a prize for the most correct answers and a prize for the best dressed participant (which went to Darcy Sullivan). Many thanks to Incy for his organisational zeal and finesse.
Bow ties, it seems, are cool
2nd April The speaker at our April Club Night was Mr Mikhail Korausch. A Frenchman by birth, Mikhail first joined the Club a couple of years ago, seemingly with a primary interest in photography, though with a day job in banking. However, after his return to France it seems he has worked as a teacher and travelled the world, before reinventing himself as a maker and seller of bow ties. He was inspired to get into this game by his frustration at being unable to find bow ties of satisfactory generosity and plumpness. (He passed round examples of inferior ties, flimsy in weight and seemingly glued together.) He sourced silks from Italian mills and taught himself to cut and sew the kind of tie he wanted, generously proportioned, with a proper lining and not over-pressed. His ties come in various sizes and different shapes—the classic butterfly shape, the straight batwing, with diamond-shaped tips and a more informal shape with rounded ends for relaxing at home, gardening or working on the car. Everything is done by Mikhail himself, including the photography on his website and he has even sourced bespoke boxes made from a sort of flexible plywood. You can see Mikhail's range at www.labowtique.com. In the top picture he is wearing a large butterfly (top) and a smaller diamond. We were also treated to a bowtie striptease from inveterate bowtie-earer Curé Michael Silver (see picture right)…
Club considers the dead
23rd March Our March film night finally saw what was originally intended to be the second part of our February Valentine’s-themed double bill. The film was The Dead (1987), proposed by Chuckles Younghusband, and it couldn’t have contrasted more with the Harold Lloyd comedy we showed the previous month. An adaptation of a James Joyce short story, the longest in the collection The Dubliners, the film follows an Epiphany party thrown in 1904 by two elderly sisters, and focuses on their nephew, the quiet academic Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta. Much of it is gently comic, observing the hostesses’ concerns over the running of the party, carriage drivers who don’t know their way around Dublin, the behaviour of Freddie, browbeaten by his mother and turned to drink, and Gabriel’s nerves over the speech he must make at the end of dinner.
As Chuckles himself observed, not much really happens. Apart from a few scenes in carriages at the beginning and the end, the whole film takes place inside the sisters’ house, giving it a warmly enclosed feeling, rather than anything claustrophobic. But towards the end a folk song is sung, and this triggers a memory in Gretta: a long-forgotten beau used to sing it to her, a young man who loved her so much he allowed himself to die for her. As she tells this story to Gabriel he reflects what a small and unexciting role he has played in her life, and considers his elderly aunt’s all-too-imminent passing. “Better to pass boldly into the other world in the full glory of our passion than to fade and wither dismally with age. I’ve never felt that way about any woman.” All over Ireland snow is falling on the living and the dead, faintly, “like the descent of their last end”. It is worth noting that the director John Huston, better known for masculine action films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), was himself dying as he made it. Thanks to Chuckles for suggesting the film.
Motorcycle madness seizes Club
5th March Our March meeting featured a lecture by Mr Stephen Myhill entitled Thrilling the Million: The Lure of the Speedway. "No brakes, no gears, no fear," Mr Myhill explained by way of introduction. "I will entertain with stories of the early days of the dirt track. Motorcycle speedway racing in the UK is nearing its 90th birthday. In the boom years either side of the war, speedway riders were among the highest-earning sports stars. So drop your clutch, twist your throttle and go elbow-to-elbow with the kings of the cinders." My Myhill was true to his word, and we learned all about the birth of the sport (in Australia, where a promoter desperate to get the punters in to his athletics events, decided to include some motorcycle racing) and the specifics of the bikes—engines that run on methanol at absurdly high revs with only really two speeds (on and off) and prone to exploding. We heard about the high-earning stars with unlikely names (Split Waterman, Sprouts Elder, Acorn Dobson, etc), and the chap who arrived at the track fresh from Savile Row in a new bespoke threads but couldn't resist showing off on a bike—with his suit jacket billowing over his head he inevitably crashed, ruining the entire outfit. Many thanks to Mr Myhill for his oration.
Double bill of love proves too much
23rd February In recognition of St Valentine's Day earlier in the month, our February Film Night was scheduled as a double bill of films about love, the (perhaps odd) pairing of Harold Lloyd's silent comedy Girl Shy (1924) with John Huston's sepulchral last film The Dead (1987). However, come 9.30 when we were about to show the second film, it transpired that a number of people who were keen to see it would not actually be able to stay till the end—so we decided to postpone it till the following month.
Harold Lloyd made over 200 movies and is most remembered for his hair-raising stunts. In fact in an accident with an exploding prop he lost a finger and thumb on his right hand, which he would subsequently disguise with a special glove (and watching Girl Shy I did notice how it is always his left hand that is to the fore). His later films were more character-based—usually a character called Harold in his trademark round spectacles (which were just plain glass), a hapless but determined Everyman. In Girl Shy he plays a small-town naif who is terrified of women and stammers uncontrollably when under stress, yet who (rather inexplicably) writes a treatise on The Secret of Making Love, in which he documents his fictitious conquests. In fantasy sequences we see two of these, telling glimpses into the obsessions of the time—the Vampire (the man-eating Theda Bara type, a term later shortened to “vamp”), against whom the correct technique is indifference; and the Flapper, shown as dizzy and silly, drinking and smoking ostentatiously but also strangely girly, playing with dolls, etc. (Interestingly, we tend to picture a flapper with a Louise Brooks bob, but here she still has the Mary Pickford curls.) The way to win her, by the way, is to unleash your inner caveman (see picture above).
On the way to the city to find a publisher Harold meets a girl and they are smitten with one another. But when the publisher laughs him out of the office her realises he could never support her so he pretends that he was never interested, that she was just another conquest. However, the publisher then realises he could make a fortune selling Harold’s book as a joke (The Diary of a Boob) and offers him a hefty advance. Now Harold must race across town by a series of unlikely vehicles (cue all the hair-raising stunts we expect) to stop the girl marrying a rotter. We tend to think of silent comedies as broad slapstick with exaggerated expressions and gestures, but I was struck by the naturalism of the performances. Although it is silent you can often see what the actors are saying—and it is ironic that key plot points revolve around the fact that under stress Harold’s stammer prevents him from speaking! Thanks to David Pile for suggesting the film.
Plucky few make their own entertainment
5th February Members found themselves relying on their wits and inner resources at our February meeting, as strikes in London dealt a body blow to the public transport system, meaning that our scheduled speaker, David de Vynél, was unable to make it. Those Members who did struggle in were treated to a quiz by Artemis Scarheart, reprising some questions from a full scale NSC pub quiz he organised some years ago, and also a game proposed by Craig Young, something apparently devised by C.S. Lewis, wherein players take it in turn to read poetry by Amanda McKittrick Ros without laughing—Amanda is widely considered one of the worst writers in the English language. To give you an example, here are some lines from "Visiting Westminster Abbey":
Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with ‘blue’
Undergoes the same as you.
Famous some were—yet they died;
Kings—Queens, all of them do rot,
What about them? Now—they’re not!
Unwelcome guest makes for a welcome screening
12th January For our first Film Night of the new year, Isabel Spooner-Harvey, currently exiled to the former colonies, suggested the comic caper The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), concerning an acerbic radio personality, Sheridan Whiteside, who, while on a cross-country lecture tour, slips on the icy steps of Ohio couple Ernest and Daisy Stanley. He invites himself to recuperate in their home—which he promptly takes over and dominates from his wheelchair. The film was originally a stage play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, who wrote it as a vehicle for their friend Alexander Woollcott—on whom the character of Whiteside is closely based—inspired by a true story. Apparently one day Woollcott showed up, unannounced, at Hart’s Bucks County estate, and proceeded to take over the house. He slept in the master bedroom, terrorised Hart’s staff, and generally acted like Sheridan Whiteside. On his way out he wrote in Hart’s guest book, “This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent.” Hart related the story to Kaufman and, as they were laughing about it, Hart remarked that he was lucky that Woollcott had not broken his leg and become stuck there. Kaufman looked at Hart and the idea was born.
In the end Woollcott was too busy to play the role himself in the Broadway run. For the film version Bette Davis wanted to play Maggie Cutler against John Barrymore as Whiteside. But Barrymore was allegedly too drunk to handle the rapid-fire dialogue. Charles Laughton, Orson Welles, Robert Benchley and Cary Grant were all considered, but eventually the part went to Monty Woolley, who had played it on Broadway. He was unknown to screen audiences, but Time gushed that, “Woolley plays Sheridan Whiteside with such vast authority and competence that it is difficult to imagine anyone else attempting it.” Critical approval was universal, with the New York Times summing it up as “unquestionably the most vicious but hilarious cat-clawing exhibition ever put on the screen, a deliciously wicked character portrait and a helter-skelter satire”.
Sadly Isabel couldn't be there to introduce the film, but it played to a full house and went down well (despite an early hiccup where the film kept playing with dubbing in Spanish—the only Region 2 DVDs available are from Spain!).
Club subjected to exercise regimen
2nd January As the first Wednesday in the month was actually New Year's Day, we though it shrewd to push the meeting back a day (pushing it back a week was not an option as there is a regular booking by someone else), which inevitably confused a number of people. However, we had a reasonable turnout for Gillian Greenwood's unusual talk on sorting out aching backs and necks, using the principles of pilates, developed in the 1940s. Many of us are deskbound these days and poor posture can lead to all kinds of chronic problems. Once the awkward business of finding our pelvic floor muscles was out of the way, Gillian gave use some simple exercises to do. I must admit I had expected a level of scepticism and was surprised by how interested the audience was and how willing to engage in the exercises Gillian gave us to try out. Many thanks to Gillian for the talk and the years of pain-free slouching, sloping and mooching we have ahead of us.
Traditional ceremony to check Menders is not dead
20th December It has long become a tradition that the New Sheridan Club gathers at the Dover Castle public house, in Weymouth Mews, on the last Friday before Christmas, as a final bout of mutual shoulder-clapping before we all go our separate ways for Crimbo. As much as anything it is traditionally the one point in the year when we see Lord Mendrick (above), who spends the rest of the time teaching the children of the rich in Araby or the Orient. This year was no exception and was, as you can see, enlivened by some curious treats that Suzanne Coles brought back with her from Germany, including garish Teutonic meat products and various things dipped in chocolate, such as fresh chillis and a banana. (As you can see on the right, Matthew Howard lost no time in menacing everyone with his sausage; Mrs Palmer-Lewis is holding a chocolate-coated banana on a stick.) The wood-panelled back room that we think of as ours had actually been reserved by another party, but for some reason they spent all their time in the main bar and we quietly annexed the back room. Huzzah. Happy Christmas to one and all, and I'll see you in Hell. Sorry, in the New Year.
Festive gathering celebrates German celluloid classic
15th December Our December Film Night was an ambitious attempt to show a subtitled version of Die Feuerzangenbowle (1944). This German film, the second of three adaptations of a 1933 novel by Heinrich Spoerl, occupies a special place in the hearts of all Germans, it seems. One online commentator explains, “To Germans this film is like It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca and Citizen Kane all rolled into one. Lines from it are like proverbs.” Birgit Gebhardt tells me that screenings are like Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings here, complete with props and rote voicing of lines. Sure enough I caught Manfred Kronen singing along to the song of the hiking schoolchildren in one scene. No official version with English subtitles exist but Manfred found a subtitle file and we managed to sync it with the video.
Set in the 1930s, the plot concerns a successful young writer who joins some friends around a Feuerzangenbowle, a communal yuletide punch, essentially mulled wine, over which a sugar loaf soaked in high proof rum is placed on a rack and ignited: as the sugar melts and caramelises it drips into the vat of beverage. (For the occasion Hal made up a batch and Manfred was able to source the sugar loaf: see picture right.) The men reminisce about the pranks they got up to in their schooldays, and our hero Pfeiffer reveals that he was home-tutored and experienced none of this. He begins to feel he missed out on something, so he hatches a plan to go to a small town high school where no one will recognise him and disguise himself as a new pupil. (The actor, Heinz Rühmann, had played the same role in another film version ten years earlier, so he was really a bit old for the part this time round.) All goes to plan and he leads his teachers a merry dance with japes and pranks aplenty.
But his urbane girlfriend catches on and comes to persuade him to stop messing about: he is on the brink of heading back to Berlin but, as he passes the school, realises he would rather stay in that homely town with those homely people. In the meantime he has taken a shine to the headmaster’s wholesome blonde daughter. The story ends with his revealing his true identity, having secured the heart of Eva. Oddly, at the very end in voiceover Pfeiffer reveals that the whole story was made up: “Everything but the very beginning. The only true things are the memories we carry with us, the dreams we spin and the desires which drive us. These are the things that should keep us content.” So the message is that you can’t change your past, but should focus on changing the future? Interesting sentiments for a film produced in 1944 which would have had to get past the Nazi board of film censors.
The film also considers the different teaching styles and attitudes of the teachers, which the cool, efficient, authoritarian Brett (a character not in the book) coming across as effortlessly commanding respect. A sop to the film board? But one of the boys, dramatically depicted as keen to “denounce” our hero, is despised by pupils and teachers alike, so it is hard to say exactly where the film’s attitude to authority lies.
Thanks to Manfred and Birgit for their help.
Tommy and Fritz call a truce for Xmas party
14th December As a nod to the impending First World War anniversary next year, we themed our party around the famous truce in No Man's Land on Christmas Day in 1914. Thanks to sponsorship from The King's Ginger, we offered a gingery Christmas Punch, and one lucky raffle winner took home their own bottle of the Ginger Nectar. Our traditional shooting game this time had a remote-controlled zeppelin as the target, while our other game reproduced the famous No Man's Land soccer matched using a lovingly modified table football table. Musical entertainment came from Patrician Hammond and her band playing pop tunes from the WWI era, which proved enormously popular. God Save the King! (More pictures here.)
Club soothed by music of the Orient
4th December Instead of a lecture, this time Member Charles Tsua treated us to a recital of tunes on the guqin, or "ancient zither". Made from a single piece of wood, shaped and hollowed out at the back to create a sound box, the zither was originally strung with strings of silk, although metal and nylon are more common these days. Originally there were five strings, representing the five Chinese elements (wood, metal, earth, water and fire), but I gather that various princes added a couple more for good measure. Charles filled us in on history the guqin, telling us how it became usurped by the intelligentsia, who swathed it in symbolism and philosophy and declared that poor people shouldn't be allowed to play it; certainly by modern standards it is a very quiet instrument and better suited to being heard in a small, private room rather than a bawdy alehouse. There is written music for it, some quite ancient, but the instructions tend not to details things like rhythm, which leaves modern players plenty of leeway for their own interpretations. Many thanks to Charles for his performance.
Expeditition to map the public houses of the City of London
20th November Every year NSC Member Mr Ian White, a stalwart of the Campaigns for Real Ale and Real Cider, organises a pub crawl for us in some district of London, showcasing fine ales and fine pub archi-tecture. This time it was in the City. Because many of these pubs are typically closed at weekends, we moved the crawl from its usual Saturday night slot to a Wednesday evening. And a most agreeable night it was, as these photos attest. Many thanks to Mr White for organising it once again.
Club hears tales of a benign dictator
6th November Our speaker this time was Mr Mark Gidman, whose subject was 'Marshall Tito and Yugoslavia: The Communist Bourgeoisie Republic?'. Mr Gidman examined Tito's origins and early inclinations towards Socialism, but mostly focused on the ways in which he differed from other Communist leaders—in fact he split dramatically from Stalin, to such an extent that it seems lucky to have avoided invasion. But was it luck? Tito was skilled at sculpting his public comments and responses, and his soft approach to Communism made him popular with the West. (Indeed he loved visiting other heads of state.) He seems to have realised early on that a purely state-run economy was doomed, and instituted worker-run businesses that were allowed to make and share a profit. When other Communist states had closed borders, her allowed Yugoslavians to leave freely—with the effect that they went abroad to work and sent the money home to Yugoslavia, boosting the economy. Mr Gidman was at pains to point out that, while Tito did have a secret police, there were not the show trials found in other regimes; overall he can be seen as a fairly benign dictator. He was lover of fine living and fine tailoring, and although he owned little he was always delighted to accept lavish gifts. When he died his was the largest state funeral in history.
Club delivers double-whammy of celluloid terror
21st October For our October film night we went with a Halloween theme and offered a double bill, starting with the original 1922 horror classic Nosferatu, based closely on Bram Stoker's Dracula, directed by F.W. Murnau, starring the extraordinary goblin-like Max Schreck as the vampire, and full of breath-taking lighting effects and Expressionist camera angles. Then after a short break we showed the much more recent humorous horror romp Shadow of the Vampire (2002), which tells an imagined version of the making of Nosferatu, starring John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Schreck, in which members of the crew start to vanish mysteriously during production. Ed Marlowe kindly presented, introducing the films and explaining just how much of an impact Nosferatu has had on cinema in general, and the horror genre in particular. (For example, in Stoker's original the vampire can tolerate to walk around during the day, while the horror convention that a vampire is actually destroyed by the sun's rays was invented by the Nosferatu film.) He also insists that the dance in Michael Jackson's Thriller video is based on Schreck's claws-up sideways movement…
Very little is known about Max Schreck as a man, other than that he was a bit of a loner. Shadow of the Vampire takes this as a starting point to suggest that he really was a vampire, discovered by Murnau while he was scouting locations. Short of funds and desperate for a hit, Murnau enters into a grisly pact for the vampire to play an actor playing a vampire—in return, the vampire gets access to the prima donna of a leading lady… Although I had seen both films before, there is no doubt that itwas very valuable seeing them together, especially as Shadow of the Vampire makes playful references to actual shots from the original (in some cases splicing original footage together with reshot versions using Dafoe), and we can see how much Eddie Izzard does resemble the actor he is playing, Gustav von Wangenheim.
Thanks to some vigorous marketing by the Teahouse Theatre, we had a goodly turn-out. However, owing to a bit of a cock-up with an online listing we were obliged to delay the start till 8pm to make sure everyone had arrived, but even so there was a hardcore who stayed until the second film finished at 11.30—and gave it a round of applause. Many thanks to Ed and to all who came.
Manfred leaps into breach and breech
2nd October Sadly our scheduled speaker at the October Club Night had to pull out at the last minute. Fortunately, however, Manfred Kronen volunteered at short notice to tell us all about how to drill a rifle barrel (he works as a gun designer). He brought in various lumps of metal to pass around, to illustrate the various stages of drilling a whole through a metal bar, polishing the drilled surface, cutting the spiral "rifling" grooves inside (which cause the projectile to spin as it leaves the barrel, stablising its trajectory), then honing away the outside to get the finished barrel down to the desired weight. One gets the impression that the barrel is the heart of the weapon, but we learned that it is at the point that the chamber is attached to the barrel that it becomes a licensable firearm. We also learned that, contrary to what you might hear on CSI, a bullet cannot necessarily be traced back to the gun from which it was fired, because by the time another hundred rounds have been put through the barrel its profile will have changed anyway. (A handy tip if you're planning some murder.) Many thanks to Manfred.
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