The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation by Ophelia Field - review by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer

Two Fingers to the Tories

The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation


HarperPress 544pp £25

Towards the end of her thorough and entertaining book, Ophelia Field writes that ‘of course, the main reason for the Kit-Cat name’s current familiarity worldwide is the chocolate bar’. In 1937 a young man in the marketing department of Rowntree’s factory in York suggested that the name of an elite and influential club from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries should be filched for selling chocolate. It was certainly a catchier name than Chocolate Crisp, which it succeeded. That Field tells us of this legacy of the original Kit-Cat Club is a sign that she has left no stone – or confectionery – unturned in her pursuit of completeness. It is also an opportunity to show us that even at a distant remove the Club still had a literary connection: the man in the marketing department was none other than a moonlighting Nigel Balchin.

The literary standing of the original club, founded by a publisher called Jacob Tonson in the 1690s, was considerable. Congreve, Steele and Addison were among its luminaries; so was Vanbrugh, who, during his membership, made the journey from playwright to architect. Tonson was the neighbour in Gray’s Inn of a

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