Ladies and Gentlemen, if I'm allowed to call you that, good afternoon. Thank you, Roger, for your lovely poem and your wise advice. And thank you Gyles and Joanna and The Oldie for organising this splendid lunch. Dame Beryl Bainbridge once described The Oldie as “a Zimmer frame for the mind” – and I know that our minds, if not our bodies, will soon be whizzing round that metaphorical dance floor…
I am particularly pleased to be with you for the second year running – there are a few consolations to being a confirmed “Oldie”, but an invitation to one of your very special lunches, particularly a birthday one, is surely a highlight!
In his masterly piece, “The History of The Oldie”, Richard Ingrams wrote that, rather than commission articles on particular subjects, The best thing to do was to get the writers first and then let them write about anything they liked. Well, today you’ve got me - not as writer, but as speaker – and I am going to honour Richard by speaking, briefly, about anything I like.
Firstly, I would like to thank you all – friends old and new - for being here to help me celebrate my birthday. You might not believe it, but I have actually been trying to keep quiet about reaching three quarters of a century – and, as you see, have failed dismally. I know that some of you were around in 1947 – by the way, a vintage year for claret. It was also the year when the first of the Ealing Comedies was released, the school leaving age was raised to 15, Gardeners’ Question Time was first broadcast, the University of Cambridge admitted women to full membership and soft loo paper went on sale for the first time, in Harrods – much to the nation’s relief.
It was also in 1947 that the then-Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten – two of the most remarkable people in our country’s history.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s philosophy was clear: ‘Look up and look out, say less, do more – and get on with the job’ - and that is just what I intend to do. Both he and Her Majesty have always been the very touchstone of what it truly means to “get on with the job”, and an inspiration to each one of us here to do the same, whatever our age.
Ladies and Gentlemen, remember that we all still have - in the founding editor’s phrase – a ‘snap in our celery’. So please, keep writing those books and poems, painting those pictures, making those films, making those jokes, supporting those charities, and giving service in the way that you do. Gyles tells me that we have in this room just under ten thousand years of accumulated experience and endeavour. No wonder we are all exhausted!
But nothing daunted, on we go! Looking forward, looking up, looking out, saying less, doing more – and now, getting on with lunch.
Finally, forgive me if I have taken up too long with this speech. To turn once again to one of Dame Beryl’s favourite quotes: “I didn’t have time to make it shorter”. So thank you.