Monday, 20 September 2021

From the green room

THE festival’s events for children were hugely popular but three contributors in their nineties proved age

THE festival’s events for children were hugely popular but three contributors in their nineties proved age is no boundary.

Judith Kerr, 93, who wrote the Tiger Who Came to Tea, delighted all who saw her, Bletchley Park veteran Jean Valentine, 92, was at Sinclair Mackay’s talk at Fawley Court and David Render, a mere 91, told of his wartime exploits as a tank commander.

FATHER and son Malcolm and Hugo Rifkind could not resist a bit of familial joshing.

Times columnist Hugo said that his father was there to talk about his first book to which the former Tory minister responded: “Yes, we all know you have written two.”

THAT great rock survivor Wilko Johnson wowed the Kenton Theatre with tales of his life with Dr Feelgood and the Blockheads and his survival from what was diagnosed as terminal cancer.

An audience member reminded the guitarist that he had once appeared at Henley town hall. Wilko, in true rock ’n’ roll style, had no recollection at all!

FORMER England cricket captain Mike Atherton was a visitor to the first festival and returned this year to talk about his contribution to the book Team Mates.

His chosen subject was Angus “Gus” Fraser, the former Test fast bowler who is now managing director of Middlesex, this year’s county champions.

JENNI MURRAY arrived with three companions, her chihuahuas Madge, Butch and Freda who delighted visitors to the green room at the Hotel du Vin.

She was interviewed on stage at the Kenton by Olympic rower Katherine Grainger who had originally called the festival just to buy tickets for Murray’s talk but when the organisers found how keen she was to go, they asked her to put the questions.

Needless to say, Grainger was a great success.

DAME Margaret Hodge talked about the profligacy of public spending as she drew on her experience as chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee.

The Barking Labour MP then left for Oxford for another speaking engagement. It was only when she got there that she realised she had left all her notes for the speech backstage at the Kenton.

Cue a Saturday afternoon dash by festival director Jon Ryan to Oxford.

FORMER minister Ann Widdecombe travelled from Devon for another Henley appearance positively relieved that she would not have to be at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. “I don’t miss it in the slightest,” she said.

JOURNALIST James McManus, who was appearing with James Naughtie to talk about their spy thrillers, had a bizarre journey to Henley.

His train was halted by cows on the line and he was forced to share a mini-bus with American football fans en route to a game at Wembley.

NO doubt who Ken Livingstone was delighted to bump into on his way to the Henley town hall — Tony Laithwaite, the wine seller who lives in Peppard and whose company has been a long-time supporter of the festival.

The two met, appropriately, outside the Hotel du Vin. “I get my wine from him, he is very good,” said the former Mayor of London.

IT could only happen in Henley — a set of car keys was found on the floor at the town hall after one event. The car? A Ferrari. Keys and owner were soon reunited.

ACTOR Derek Fowlds was coming off the stage at the Kenton Theatre after charming the audience with tales of Basil Brush, Yes, Minister and Heartbeat as Paddy Ashdown arrived for his talk.

Fowlds told the former Liberal leader: “I live in Bath, not far from you.”

Ashdown, who lives in deepest Somerset, replied: “I think of Bath as the South Midlands.”

Both saw the funny side.

SPORTSWRITER Alan Fraser signed copies of his golf book, The Hitler Trophy, and discovered one of the first customers was called… Alan Fraser.

COMEDIAN and actor Ben Miller was hugely taken by the old books with vegetation apparently growing out of them that adorned the front of the Kenton stage.

On his way to his chair for his interview he stopped, bent down and said: “Aren’t they wonderful?”

In fact, the books adorn each venue every year thanks to Helen Lynas, from Caversham, whose daughter Kate works for the festival.

WHAT connects former Sussex cricket captain John Barclay and Stonor, the setting for a talk on Evelyn Waugh, who was a frequent visitor to the village?

Stumped? Well Barclay’s middle name is Troutbeck and a forebear, the wonderfully named Lancelot Troutbeck, taught Waugh at Lancing College in West Sussex.

School was perhaps not the happiest time in the author’s life and when he wrote the comic opus Scoop he called the butler Troutbeck by way of redress.

THE Duchess of Cornwall’s son Tom Parker Bowles revealed that his mother avoids spicy food and garlic before public engagements.

The food writer and critic said: “As she has got older, garlic and chillies are especially a no-no. You can’t go stinking of garlic when you are shaking hands the next day.”

DRAMA at the town hall when the lights went out during Henley author Elizabeth Hazeldine’s talk.

Worries were allayed when it transpired that this was deliberately done to add spookiness to her talk, Murder in Henley. It worked!

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