Date: 28th February 1973
Venue: The Staff House,
University of Birmingham
Sponsor: Scott Atkinson
C V Hancock Dinner for the Club’s 21st Birthday
The dinner was held at the Staff House of the University of Birmingham on 28th of February 1973. Our sponsor was Scott Atkinson
Before dinner we drank sherry. As we were told later, C.V. Hancock loved sherry. He envied Falstaff who was able to buy two gallons for five and eight pence, but he did not insist that it came from Spain – indeed on one occasion he apologised for only offering Spanish Sherry. We enjoyed our sherry an amontillado from Spain and also envied Falstaff.
We went into dinner and the Chairman introduced the guests. They were Keith Brace Literary Editor of the Birmingham Post, and Patrick Southall, Chairman of the Midland Flyfishers. He also welcomed Michael Clapham, an associate member, who was only too rarely able to be with us. He then explained to us the implications of an unexpected problem. That afternoon for the first time the Staff House was struck by the gas strike. There was no gas in the kitchen, so while boiling was still possible, they could not roast or bake. The effect on the menu will be referred to in due course.
Our sponsor needed no introduction to members. As well as being a founder member of the Club he was a friend and fellow fisherman of C.V. Hancock, our first secretary and one of the creators of the club.
After the hors-d’oeuvres the sponsor raised a doubt in our minds as to whether this really was the Club’s 21st birthday as apparently there had been a dinner before the first dinner. Members were however not too perturbed as they were already beginning to suspect that they were going to enjoy an especially agreeable evening; their expectations were to be fully realised. The sponsor had considered all CV’s interests and wondered whether the dinner should be geographical, topographical, historical orl literary. There was in any case no doubt that it should be partially piscatorial but otherwise he decided on a compromise including references do the Club’s history and some of CV’s favourite dishes, if these could be ascertained.
We ate poached Severn salmon with hollandaise sauce and drank Puligny Montrachet 1970. The fish really came from the Severn though the sponsor had not been fortunate enough to catch one for us himself. C.V. had loved the Severn and when he founded the Midland Flyfishers he was looking forward to the Severn’s revival as a salmon river.
Several of the splendid quotations printed in the menu were repeated and elaborated by the sponsor. The quotation from the Club’s minutes referring to, “outlandish dishes from the remotest margins of the Celtic fringe” had seemed at the time to be merely an apt and witty phrase. Members now learned that it was inserted to annoy Professor Bodkin. Returning to salmon the sponsor told us that the quotation from the Berwick Advertiser of 1891 was probably the result of the eating of kelts by the unwise or perhaps the hungry. Buckland of course was neither of these but in his usual spirit of scientific inquiry he certainly ate a kelt. We do not know the effect on his digestion. Members then learned that C.V. did not like Champagne. He was even inspired to verse on the subject: –
The wine is full of gas.
To me it is offensive.
You like it, silly asses,
Because it is expensive.
Then came the first course to be affected by the strike. Instead of roast saddle of lamb we had boiled saddle of lamb with caper sauce many members felt that this dish, which they had never had before was delicious. In any case there was no doubt that Mister Reynolds and his staff had risen splendidly to the occasion.
We were then told of what turned out to have been a fortunate decision. The original choice for this course had been roast suckling pig as C.V. had eaten it in Yorkshire and found it excellent. When he returned the following year and asked for it again, he was told that “this year the litter all lived”. Many members were glad of the saddle of lamb doubting the pleasures of boiled suckling pig even with caper sauce. C.V.’s favourite wine was Pontet-Canet. An uncle advised him at an early age that it would never let you down. C.V. asked for it whenever wherever he went. The sponsor thought that there were probably fishing inns in the west of Ireland still trying to get rid of Pontet-Canet ordered for C.V. when he stayed there. Some members, even non fishermen, intrigued by the thought of a surplus of old Pontet-Canet, perhaps being sold off cheap, made a mental note. On this occasion however we did not drink Pontet-Canet. The secretary does not quite know why not. Perhaps his reputation for not letting you down has spread, and it is too expensive. We drank claret from the neighbouring vineyard, Grand Puy Lasooste 1962, and very nice it was.
We went on to our next course affected by the failure of the gas. C.V. would have had much to say on such a subject. Instead of “Grand Marnier Soufflé”, we had “Peaches with Orange Sorbet”. Well done Mr Reynolds again.
The sponsor then told us more about C.V. and of his investigations for the dinner. He had approached C.V.’s sister who had kept house for him for many years to ask about his preferences in food. All he had succeeded in getting from her was that “he was very fond of fish”, which of course Scott Atkinson did know. So, it is strange that with one exception which we will come to, our first secretary, in many ways the person who most created the atmosphere and pattern of our dinners and who was undoubtedly seriously and keenly interested in the pleasures which we enjoy here, has left us very little about his personal tastes – one wine and “very fond of fish” it doesn’t seem much. However, the exception is important even if it didn’t help in the planning of our dinner. His views on the packed lunch are worth quoting in full:
“It is a fallacy to suppose that the inner angler requires no nourishment during a long day’s fishing. On the contrary he requires plenty of nourishment and of two kinds. Let there be no nonsense about sandwiches and drinking from the spring. The ingredients of a well composed packed lunch are: – a cold chicken, fresh young lettuce, salt, butter, bread, a pot of strawberry jam, a plum cake, a camembert cheese, a bottle of port, three syphons of soda, a bottle of whiskey and two handsome cigars to smoke on the way home.”
Our sponsor could say of C.V. that “fishing was his life”, that “his erudition overflowed into everything that he wrote”, that he was one of the last Bible Scholars of All Souls, that he was outstandingly clubbable – he founded two fishing clubs, a photographic club, a literacy club, a railway club and was one of the founders of this club – that, like Frank Buckland, he had an insatiable curiosity about life as a whole and about its parts. Those of us who knew him were reminded that those who did not were illuminated by many splendid anecdotes told by our sponsor. C.V. was of course a confirmed bachelor and once sitting next to a lady journalist at a public banquet there was apparently not much successful communication. Over coffee she remarked, “Mr Hancock, you’ve never married.” “No,” he replied. “Oh, I do think it’s so right of you!” she said.
On another occasion he lost his glasses, and through some error they were returned to the Birmingham prison instead of the Birmingham Post. They ultimately reached him with a note that they had “a Hancock but these are not his initials or his glasses”. C.V. replied, “I am sorry that you have a Hancock, but I am glad that they were not his glasses.”
Our menus terminated with the brief and cryptic phrase “kiss wife”. Most members were willing even though it did not say whose wife. It appeared though that C.V. told of a fisherman who had a list of jobs to be done before going fishing. This was the last item.
C.V.’s habit of tying flies of various locally obtained materials led to his procurement of locks of hair from the wives and daughters of his friends and also to the disappearance whenever he arrived of a cat from the house of another friend.
Grateful to Scott Atkinson, we were reminded with great pleasure of a man who had enriched the lives of all of us whether we had known him or not.
We drank port, Cockburns 1955. “Fishermen are partial to port.” So are members of this club. We are not in the habit of drinking formal toasts, but on this occasion, we were happy and proud to drink to our first secretary and the inspirer of the club C.V. Hancock.
The chairman asked Michael Clapham to thank the sponsor which he did with his usual erudite wit reading us Hilaire Belloc’s very appropriate verses on Champagne.
There were present 53 members and two guests as follows: –
K.H.A. Brace, P. Southhall, W.J. Bate, C.P. Norbury, Sir A.P. Thomson, T.G. Austin, S.T. Walker, R.S. King-Farlow, M. Clapham, G.S. Atkinson, P.C. Holden, N. Hawkes, P.J. Feeny, E.H. Moore, Dr. C.F. Hawkins, G.C. Barrow, Dr. H.W. Hickman, W.E.C. Stuart, P.B. Whitehouse, P. Connolly, A.C Bryant, F. Bell-Scott, F. Briscoe, Col. H.G.V. Milward, Col. G.B. Grey, Dr. P. Cannon-Brookes, S.W.B. Landale, M. Roberts, H.P. Chatwin, Dr. A.G.W. Whitfield, F. Vernon, L. Hargreaves-Beare, R.E. Threlfall, W.L. Barrows, Prof. Sir Melville Arnott, M. Horton, C.L. Chatwin, M. Fea, J.B. Parker, Dr. S.P.S. Oswald, R.E. Moore, F.E. Pardoe, D.N. Byrne, Sir D. Capper, O. Hahn, N. Crabtree, M.V. Manzoni, Sir T. Hartford, Dr. A.C. Houghton, C.J.E.G. Firmstone, Dr. J. M. Malins, T.H. Gallie, Prof. T.J.B. Spencer, C. King-Farlow, Dr. B. Williamson, J.P.H. Walker