Scenes of Beauty and Glory at the Garrick Club

Our New Honorary Life Member is Installed
Report by Michael Read

At a joyous gathering on November 2nd in the Garrick Club, the Society conferred its Honorary Life Membership upon Sir Donald Sinden Kt CBE DLitt FRSA.

Our chairman, Professor Richard Foulkes, in a gracious and comprehensive citation, explained that Sir Donald was qualified for his award fivefold – as an actor whose range of performances in all media during seven decades had seldom if ever been equalled; as an author whose books have furthered our understanding of theatre history and fired new research; as a lifelong collector whose evident pleasure in the acquisition of original items from our theatrical past has often been incorporated in his performances and generously shared with others; as a tireless campaigner to good effect, particularly in his brilliant past service as chairman both of the Royal General Theatrical Fund and of the Theatre Museum; and last but not least as a raconteur, whose superb supply of anecdotes, whether drawn from his own prolific experience or received from the mouths of his predecessors, gain all in the telling.

And here more than ever was a time for the telling, when to roars of acclamation he received from Richard his certificate of honour and delivered a characteristically entertaining response, which, in provoking frequent applause and laughter, was a masterpiece of audience control. Sir Donald, who has now attained his ninetieth year – unbelievable as that seems – proved once again that his skills as an actor and raconteur are as dazzling as ever. How that room similarly thrilled to the voices of Buckstone, Mathews, Irving and Toole, in whose line Donald Sinden incontrovertibly stands, when they too were banqueted there and knew how to say a few words!

Banqueted, yes; for thanks to members of the Irving Society, of which Sir Donald is patron, the occasion was most agreeably combined with their annual dinner. From a champagne reception in the Irving Room, where glasses were raised in tribute to ‘H.I.’ – the Nelsonian ‘Immortal Memory’ of the acting profession – we proceeded through avenues of busts, as if they were living heroes lining our route, exchanging glances with us as we wandered by, guiding us genially towards the Milne Room, where our tables were ready. There, dinner was of the highest standard, as one would expect of the Garrick Club, washed down with lashings of the finest Chardonnay Louis Latour 2010 and Chateau Côtes de Bordeaux 2008, and rounded off with coffee and chocolates.

Among the speakers was STR past chairman Ian Herbert, who delighted us with tales of his thwarted attempts to go on the stage. To Ian go our thanks for hosting the occasion for both Societies in the most appropriate setting for the Guest of Honour, who was elected 52 years ago. ‘The Garrick Club displays its priceless collection of theatrical portraits as carelessly as postcards on a student’s wall,’ as Peter Thomson has memorably written; and all around, while we ate and drank and chatted and laughed, the walls of our dining room were dripping with beauty and glory.

If any of this appeals to you and you are interested in 19th and early 20th century theatre, why not check out the Irving Society’s website at theirvingsociety.org.uk and follow the example of many STR folk, including our new Honorary Life Member, by belonging to both? The Irving Society publishes an excellent journal, First Knight, and its chair, Frances Hughes, who is a distinguished member of the STR, will be addressing us at the Swedenborg Hall on January 15th. Her subject then will be the Incomparable Max and, judging from her speech at the Garrick Club, we are in for a treat.

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