December 1989 Pulpit by Auberon Waugh

Auberon Waugh

December 1989 Pulpit


The Betjeman society, dedicated to celebrating the memory of the country’s greatest – perhaps its only seriously excellent – poet of this century, is planning to hold an afternoon thé dansant at the Waldorf Hotel, Aldwych on Saturday 16th December, from 3.30 pm until 6.30 pm, for those who can stand the pace. The organiser, Philippa Davies (of Haleswood, 2 The Crescent, Canterbury) has been promised that it will be ‘an elegant romantic affair’ to ‘the accompaniment of tinkling tea-cups and a smooth quartet’ with ‘all the raffish air of love in the afternoon.’

The cost of this outing is £16 a head, which may seem a stiff price for a few cups of tea and whirl round the Waldorf to a smooth quartet. But it is all in a good cause. Unfortunately, however, by the time this appears, it may well be too late to buy tickets, since applications should be received by November 15th. No doubt Mrs Davies will be happy to supply details of future events, but for the moment, this elegantly romantic affair may seem to belong to the sad page of missed opportunities:

‘One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more triumph for devils, and sorrow for angels
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!’

* * * *

One of my innovations on first becoming Editor of this magazine three and a half years ago was a Literary Lonely Hearts column in the classified advertisement section. Impressed by the extraordinary niceness of the readership I had inherited from my predecessor, Emma Soames – they were intelligent, well-read and humorous, too, but above all nice people – I felt concerned for them. I feared that in the general dispersal of intelligent society to such places as Brixton, Tottenham and the provinces beyond which has occurred with changing property values, many of the nicest people would feel isolated or lonely.

Literary Lonely Hearts were only a moderate success. Occasional advertisements trickled in, but they never took up the pages and pages and pages of self-revelatory appeals I had hoped. Perhaps because amiable, intelligent people tend to be shy, perhaps because the wrong sort of people answered the advertisements, my idea never really took off.

Perhaps the Betjeman Society’s thé dansant will eventually fill the gap. For the rest, we have the Academy, which, short of some unexpected disaster, will open its doors on Tuesday, December 12th at 10.30 am sharp. The Committee met on October 30th to elect its first 200 members. As promised, I supply a draft Constitution and rule-book, as they seem to be emerging from the Committee’s deliberations to date.

  1. The Academy is a proprietary club, owned by Namara Limited, run by a Committee which may be appointed and dismissed by the Proprietor. It need not make a profit but must not make a loss after the second year.
  2. The Committee is: Auberon Waugh, Editor of Literary Review; Hon. Victoria Glendinning; Laura Cumming, Deputy Editor; Hon. Sophia Sackville-West, Director Academy Book Club; Nairn Attallah, Namara Limited.
  3. The club will occupy a single room in the basement of 51 Beak Street, W1 where wines and spirits, coffee, cold food and toasted sandwiches will be available, facilities for cards, chess, dominoes, reading and writing will be supplied.
  4. The club will be a sanctuary for congenial people in the West End of London, seeking a familiar and welcoming environment. Dress will be informal although shoes must be worn. The club will remain small and intimate. No more than 30 members and their guests may be present at the same time. Members will be expected to talk to each other and to the guests, even if unacquainted, unless a member, seeking solitude, sits in a nooky corner behind a newspaper.
  5. The Independent, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Literary Review, Spectator and, if it continues to improve, New Statesman and Society will be provided for this purpose.
  6. Members are limited to one guest each, unless by special arrangement. They are responsible for their guest’s behaviour.
  7. The club will be confidential. Nothing heard or seen in it may be communicated to the press under pain of instant expulsion. No publicity shall be given to membership, failure to be elected, or expulsion. No photographs may be taken except by special permission.
  8. Members may also be expelled by a majority vote of the committee for the following reasons:

(a) gross or boorish behaviour on the club premises;

(b) repeated rudeness to other members, guests or staff;

(c) persistently introducing objectionable guests;.

(d) being judged, after fair and careful deliberation, a generally objectionable person.

Apart from expulsions under rule (7) above, however, members may not be expelled or asked to resign for anything they have done, or been reported to have done, off the club premises.

  1. Subscriptions of £50 a year for country or foreign members, £75 for London members must be paid by bankers’ order, cancellable on relinquishing membership.
  2. Members who have the misfortune to be sent to prison will not be expected to pay subscriptions while inside, and may resume the unused part of their subscription on release.
  3. Tips are welcome but not obligatory. They will be shared between John the Steward and Jock the Barman, who may or may not decide to give some to casual workers.
  4. The Academy will be open 10.30 am – 11 pm weekdays. The premises will be available at weekends by special arrangement.
  5. After the first 300 members have been elected by application to or invitation from the Committee, further elections will take place, up to a maximum of 600 members, on proposals received by the Committee from one member, seconded by another.

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