St Paul's Supports CharityDate: 14 February 2011
There was a splendid service in St Paul's Cathedral on Friday morning, led by the Bishop of London, in thanksgiving for the legacy of John Lyon and the life of the Harrow Foundation.
John Lyon was a yeoman farmer in Harrow who founded the school of that name and whose charter (granted by Queen Elizabeth I) extended to the foundation of the nearby John Lyon School for less privileged boys and a trust for maintaining two roads from London to Harrow and Kenton.
So what's the theatrical connection? Well, John Lyon's gift of a farm in the area now known as Maida Vale led to the endowment that, in 1991, was invested for charitable purposes to benefit the inhabitants of nine London boroughs, and those purposes are today defined as promoting "the life-chances of children and young people through education."
Sport, music, prison programmes and theatre are thus all on the agenda (I'm the charity's drama adviser) and shrewd investment and good housekeeping means that the overall pot is now worth around £200m; this year, the charity celebrated spending its first £50m.
The John Lyon's Charity has some distinguished governors, but what I really like about it is that the administration is a lean machine of five or six people who sift and scrutinise each application for grant aid as if they were parting with their final few pennies. Unlike some big charities, they don't spend, spend, spend. They make every donation really count.
And the bias is towards helping children in deprived areas and with limited opportunities. The service celebrated this with fine ecumenical fervour, the church full to the chops with the serried ranks of boys from both schools, a bevy of school governors and diginitaries, a large choir and a small jazz band from Holy Trinity and St Silas Church of England Primary School in Camden.
The guests included Lady Soames, a popular chairman of the National Theatre in the Richard Eyre period, Timothy West and Prunella Scales, and Angus Fraser, the former Middlesex and England cricketer who is a governor of the John Lyon School.
Tim West, resplendent in a sharp green tweed suit and his Garrick Club tie, is an old boy of that school and told me at the reception afterwards in the nearby Saddlers' Hall that, in his day, there was far more animosity between the posh boys in Harrow School and his own more raggle-tailed mob down the hill.
He is President of LAMDA these days, too, and full of beans about the drama school's development into new premises on the Talgarth Road under the leadership of Joanna Read, former artistic director of the Salisbury Playhouse. The JLC mostly funds projects and programmes, but the LAMDA re-build, like that of the London Film School, is the sort of capital investment undertaking it sometimes favours, too.
The sermon, given by the chaplain of Harrow School, was a stirring defence of Christian action in a multicultural context, the sort of speech David Cameron was trying to make the other day but in which he failed miserably (his remarks have been a PR disaster in the rest of Europe).
"Value-neutral multiculturalism is bogus amd spiritually bankrupt," said the chaplain, James Power, and political correctness must never be allowed to make us feel ashamed of the Christian impulses of hospitality towards, and engagement, with other faiths and cultures.
We certainly drank to that in the Saddlers' Hall, though Gus Fraser and I also managed a toast to the great Essex and England cricketer, Trevor Bailey, who had died so tragically in a fire at his home on the previous day.
In his post-playing days, Bailey did many fine things, among them radio match commentary and journalism. For twenty years, he was football and cricket correspondent on the Financial Times, and a stalwart of the FT's basement bar in the paper's then offices at Bracken House, right opposite St Paul's Cathedral.
I remember, one evening, he was being helped into his coat and was grasping the very last of quite a few gin and tonics in his right hand.
Without pausing in his speech, or breaking his physical rhythm, he passed his right arm, plus gin and tonic, through his right sleeve, without spilling a drop, and glugged it finally as he did up the buttons, deposited the glass and marched off the premises, erect as a guardsman.
A notable technician as both bowler and batsman, Bailey's expertise in physical coordination extended even to the details of his social life. What a trouper!