An outstanding OP Society centenary dinner
What may have been the largest and most memorable dinner ever held by the OP Society since such events began in 1926 took place at the College in Drake Hall on Friday evening, 21st April 2017.
A record 240 OPs signed up for the centenary-related event. Reception drinks were served inside and outside Drake from 6.45pm and dinner began at about 8.00pm. Officially, the evening ended at 11.00pm but long after that OPs were still in Drake enjoying the evening, swapping life stories and catching up with long-lost friends.
[Members of the 1962 1st XV gather before the dinner]
Grace was given by The Hon. Anna Sterling (00-01). A loyal greeting from the OP Society to The Queen, together with her reply, was read out by Commodore Anthony Morrow (58-62), Extra Equerry to Her Majesty, before The Loyal Toast. This was followed by a Toast to other members of the Royal Family proposed by Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott (58-63), Chairman of the Board of Governors. The Toast to the College was proposed by the Headmaster, Thomas Garnier, followed by a Toast to guests and absent friends proposed by Merrick Rayner (68-73), Chairman of the OP Society since 2013.
[Anthony Morrow reads a message from The Queen]
A succulent three course meal included home cured sloe gin salmon, duo of lamb and whole chocolate crème brulee. A generous bequest from Nigel Hollebone (59-63), the late President of the OP Society, subsidised some of the fine wines offered with the dinner.
Speeches were given by the Headmaster, the Chairman of the OP Society and the Guest of Honour, Sir Steve Redgrave. A screen behind them showed images from outstanding sports achievements by Pangbournians down the years.
In his remarks, Thomas Garnier talked about the College, Then, Now and in the Future. He presented an armada dish commemorating the school’s centenary to the author of the centenary history, Robin Knight (56-61), and followed this with a strong plea for OP backing of the school’s current drive to increase its stock of bursaries. The College is also raising £100,000 in 2017 for external charities, including the Nabugabo Community Learning Centre in Uganda, and he asked for OP support in this endeavour too.
Sir Steve Redgrave spoke revealingly about the commitment needed to win gold medals and world championships and complete marathons (he once raised £7.8 million when doing the London marathon). Breaking down tasks in training and in life, he said, is the key to the sort of incremental gains that can be made over time. As chairman of the Henley Royal Regatta committee, he finished by congratulating the College for the contribution it has made to UK rowing since the 1960s and ended by affirming his abiding mantra: “The more you put into something, the more you get out.”
[The HM with Sir Steve Redgrave]
Merrick Rayner used his speech to thank the many people who had worked to make the evening a success. They included the Headmaster for allowing the OP Society to hold the dinner at the College and for providing overnight accommodation for 120 OPs, the Development Office including Karen Hartshorn and Anne Huddart for making most of the arrangements, Mark Huddart for taking photographs of the evening, and the caterers Iain Hedley and Kelly Ford for their herculean efforts which included transporting food from the Mess Hall (under reconstruction) to Drake Hall.
[Ron Obbard & Iona Sadler run the bar with Andy Temple]
Moving on, Merrick thanked various OPs – Robin Paine (55-58), Michael Duck (69-73), Edward Bence (64-68) and James Allenby (57-62) – who have facilitated centenary events around the world this year. Two Lords present at the dinner – Lord Sterling and Lord Mountevans (Jeffrey Evans 61-66) – were hailed by name, with Merrick thanking Jeffrey Sterling for lending the OP Society his magnificent Gloriana royal barge to row the course at Henley on finals day on Sunday July 2.
Also highlighted as an honoured guest was Cherry Jenkins, partner of the Society’s President from 2012-15 Nigel Hollebone who died in 2015. To a standing ovation, she accepted a gift from the OP Society in Nigel’s honour. Merrick concluded by wishing James Paterson (xx-xx) the best of luck for the following day when he was taking part in the London Marathon on behalf of Tusk Trust, a conservation charity. OPs may support James’s fund-raising effort at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/JamesPaterson17
Following the speeches, diners began to circulate around Drake. The bar, ably run by Bursar Ron Obbard, Hon OP Andy Temple and the Domestic Bursar Iona Sadler, remained open to 11.00pm but OPs were to be observed with a glass in their hand around the campus long after that.
Next morning more than 100 OPs turned out in the Mess Hall from 8.30am for breakfast. A Pop-Up Shop run by Anne Huddart carrying a selection of OP and Centenary merchandise occupied the top of the hall and brisk business was done.
Too many OPs of all vintages attended the Dinner to name all or even some of them. Many had travelled from distant parts including the USA, Spain, the Canary Islands, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands. Twelve of the unbeaten 1962 1st XV occupied one table in Drake and next day had lunch with Lionel Stephens (their coach) in The Swan. It was notable, too, that there was a healthy turnout of both young and female OPs. At the other end of the age scale, Keith Evans (33-37), Arthur Coxon (41-44) and Richard Olden (42-46), all in their nineties, made very welcome appearances. So did a number of retired members of the academic staff including Ian Busby, Jim McBroom, Robin Brodhurst, Alan Vasa and Graham Simmons.
[1962 1st XV in the limelight again]
[Karen Hartshorn with Andy Wells]
[The two Clares table for the 1990s]
All in all, it was a memorable evening that all those present will recall for years to come. The College in its centenary year is in good heart and so are OPs and the OP Society.
Photographer Mark Huddart took 294 images of the dinner. To see them all, go into https://tinyurl.com/m36ye98
Alternatively, 64 of the Mark’s images can be viewed on this website in the Gallery > Reunions