The 211th Club Annual Dinner was held on Friday 2nd February at the Chester Grosvenor Hotel and was attended by 224 people.
Members and their guests arrived at the Westminster Suite from 6.15pm to be greeted by the President and the Vice President. Meanwhile, a floor below in the drawing room, in a prestigious and secret location, top table guests were being entertained by their hosts under the watchful eye of Dinner Secretary David Starbuck-Edwards and his beautiful assistant, Paul Crudge. And what an esteemed gathering there was that night enjoying the expensive champagne, with the top table guest list reading more like the New Year’s Honours List, including as it did, two OBEs, 3 MBEs and a Knight of the Realm. The military top brass was on show, represented by a Lieutenant Colonel, a Colonel and our very own Major Huntriss. Not to be outdone, the Clergy fielded a Bishop and two Canons, one of which, the Vice Dean, was present as one of the speakers. The Lord Lieutenant of Chester was accompanied by our own Deputy Lieutenant and Past President, Michael Trevor-Barnston, with the Vice-Chancellor of Chester University completing the brace of Deputy Lieutenants on top table. Presidents from the Artists Club, The Chester Caledonian Association, The Royal Scots Club and The St James’s Club were joined by the Vice President of the Old Boys and Park Green Club.
Our own President and Vice President joined our distinguished guests at 6.35pm, exactly to schedule. A considerable amount of hand shaking and champagne was followed by a few photographs before the Dinner Secretary’s instruction to ‘Form Up’ was received. Word had come from Paul Crudge that the annual cat herding had been successfully completed – gentlemen had taken their places, and all was in readiness.
The top table line was formed in the prescribed order and no sooner had Major Huntriss issued some inspirational words of encouragement, “Let’s try not to bugger this up, chaps,” than MC Chris Caroe announced the start of proceedings. Watching the top table 21 enter the dining room in line was compared by many members to the sight of the England rugby team coming out of the tunnel and onto the pitch at Twickenham. Arguably there was slightly less athletic prowess and vaseline on display, but the amount of bandaging and strapping was probably about the same.
Canon David Chesters delivered the Grace and then the meal proper kicked off. It really was a game of two halves with the first two courses completing a ‘surf and turf’ duo of salmon followed by beef. Not a carbohydrate in sight so far, but a delicious start with each course accompanied by ‘stunning’ wines (PQR’s description). All remarked that the opening French white provided refreshing aromas of lime and lychee with a subtle hint of white pepper, but that the main course Italian red, by contrast, combined the unique style of the Sicilian terrain with the red berry fruit, layered structure and soft tannins of the grapes. Well, whatever, but the general hubbub and jovial atmosphere in the room seemed to suggest that members were just as appreciative of the quantity of the wine as they were the quality.
Just when members were checking the closing time of McDonalds, out came the carbs for the second half in the form of Ham Hock Toast, followed by the Fruit Crumble Tart. The passing of the Taylors Port was followed by the arrival of the brandy and jugs of beer, and the contented throng settled back after a hearty and delicious meal in the vain and eternal hope that some form of entertainment was about to ensue.
The President opened the formalities by delivering The Loyal Toast, and then it was onto the main event.
The Vice Dean, Reverend Canon Dr Barry Wilson rose and delivered a superb toast to The Chester City Club, reminiscing about his life journey from the slag heaps of Stoke-on-Trent to addressing the esteemed members of the Club. The usual sweepstakes had been organised, and the opening address of a little over 8 minutes raised hopes for those who had wagered on a brief series of speeches.
Unfortunately at that moment, the President was announced, and estimates were rapidly recomputed upwards. Having dealt with the perpetual and tiresome comparison with Donny Osmond, the President paid tribute to Lt Colonel Ben Wilde, CO of 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment, and Frank Rogers, a member of the Artists Club, who had been invited to respond to the toast to ‘Our Guests.’ Well-deserved plaudits were given to David Starbuck-Edwards and Paul Crudge, before the President offered some invaluable advice on the perils of returning home after too much Club Claret. Members were delighted to hear the Tim Leaman snail gag one more time, and laughed politely, despite having heard it on several previous occasions.
No sooner had the President sat down than the towering figure of David Mackenzie arrived at the lectern to deliver his maiden City Club address. DMac opened up by alienating all Welsh and Scottish rugby fans by suggesting (probably correctly) that the following day’s Six Nations fixture was, in fact, the wooden spoon playoff, before welcoming our guests in his own inimitable fashion. The President of the Artists Club, Dr Ulrich Pfeiffer, came in for special Mackenzie treatment, having once delivered a speech on German humour. “A short address, by all accounts,” observed David, before turning his attention to the Scottish credentials of our own Miles Tutton, who, for some mysterious reason, was rejoicing in the post of President of the Chester Caledonian Association, having once had Arbroath Smokies for breakfast, despite never having been further north than Preston. The attention then turned to the President – a Brummie who had ‘done good’ through ‘hard work and low ambition’. David rounded off a superb and hilarious speech with a story about the pitfalls of wearing underpants that are too tight…….
The line up was completed by Frank Rogers, who kept the assembled throng in stitches with 20 minutes of quick fire gags – “I apologise for appearing to be nervous, but the last time I stood in front of curtains like these, my grandfather disappeared through them in a box,” was followed by a plethora of hilarious anecdotes delivered in Frank’s inimitable style.
As Frank sat down, the stopwatches were checked, with 62 minutes recorded as the winning time. The President and his Top Table guests retired to the bar, and members filed out, some to stay in the Grosvenor, some to retire to the Club, and a few of the younger contingent to try out their dance moves at Rosie’s.
As Friday became Saturday, and conversations became more non-sensical and repetitive, the 211th Annual Dinner very quickly started to fade in the memories of those who began sauntering home around 3am, ready to start training the following day for the 212th Annual Dinner.