Thursday, 2 April 2009
...And so the day has come, the 1st of April, when the Eccentric Club of London and the UK was going to name the Greatest British Eccentric of the Year 2009.
It was advertised as a revival of yet another long-standing tradition and the panel of judges was to be chaired by Lyndon Yorke, the winner of The Great British Eccentric Award in 2001. Questions were asked: where does this tradition originate from? Has it been celebrated by the Eccentric Club since 1780s?
Some of the members of the present club and some of those who belonged to the elitest old Eccentric Club in Ryder Street, St James’s, felt that the event might roll down the route of becoming a “monster raving loony” clown-parade, or a smaller scale replica of the Muncaster Festival of Fools. Either way, they’ve argued, it was little to do with the club and its definition of eccentricity...
Indeed, the very award won by Mr Yorke in 2001 was introduced by Kellogg’s Fruit & Fibre, putting some commercial taste into the very idea of the contest. It is still unclear what has motivated Kellogg’s to utilize such an event for its marketing. Could it be that, in fact, marketing purpose was only an excuse for the organisers to celebrate a much greater issue – the inherent eccentricity of our culture which still fascinates millions of people from all walks of life worldwide?
And the Eccentric Club itself, though remembered by many as a “stiff-upper-lip” exclusive aristocratic and business establishment in St James’s, had staged events like this in the past: after all, from 1890s to 1940s majority of its members were actors (and not just any actors, but many comedians, music hall performers and even, God forbid, clowns!), and they knew how to put on a show!
The older generation may well remember Little Titch in his Big Boots, who was a member of the Club, or fascinating pictures by Alfred Hind Robinson of “Punch and Judy” Festival, held on 10th of September 1921, organised by the Eccentric Club, and involving 13 minstrel troupes, 5 clown duos and 17 punch shows! Fun events like this were seen as a good social entertainment helping the Club to raise the much needed funds for the charitable causes.
Earlier, in the 1800s, the Society of Eccentrics, a predecessor of the Eccentric Club, was arranging for similar purposes performances of Robert “Romeo” Coates, a son of a wealthy sugar planter from the West Indies, a wannabe-gentleman and an amateur actor, who, by talking out of script to his audience, was making those watching him either laugh or walk out in outrage.
So, in a way, the Greatest British Eccentric Annual Award celebrated by the present Eccentric Club on 1st of April 2009, is a continuation of a great and long-standing tradition. The organisers believe that it should have demonstrated the neverending public interest to various manifestations of “practical eccentricity” – defined by the club as originality of creative persons on a lifelong quest – for themselves, their purpose and for new experiences.
Both members of the public and the media are fascinated by those brave enough to stand in such a contest, and the strength of their personalities and the interest to such an event may still do an awful lot of good for the charitable fund-raising and promotion of true human values which we sometimes seem to forget...
But let us get back to the event – only a selected number of journalists, TV crews and guests were allowed to a closed room in the fashionable Arts Club in Dover Street, Mayfair, on Wednesday, the 1st of April. Many of those arriving were sharing their fears about making their way back after the event – the audience included many of those who had to travel from distant parts of the UK and abroad, and London was still being a battleplace of the police and the protestors against everything possible, wishing to get noticed on the “Financial Fools Day” when the G20 leaders decided to gather in London.
Nevertheless, most of the expected guests and participants arrived on time. The key speaker, Mr Lyndon Yorke, got lost and found himself on a board of an airplane flying to Madagascar (even the greatest of the eccentrics may have some urgent business!), but his absence was found to be quite eccentric and amusing by those present.
The event was being prepared for a while with the members of the Eccentric Club Committee nominating some of the most eccentric, in their opinion, individuals to be considered for an Award. The reason for choosing them behind their backs was that none of them would generally consider themselves eccentrics. And, what is more important, none of them would ever compete in an event of any kind. Nevertheless, they were nominated, but soon only a few of the nominees remained in the list of the finalists. Four, to be precise. Others appeared to attract a much lesser number of online votes, so they were finally left in peace.
First to arrive of the final four, was Rob Lowe – he stormed the room in an outfit distantly resembling those of Indiana Jones’s, with a picnic basket and a media crew. Like a hurricane, Rob was circulating between the columns in the room, occasionally being carried away into the inner courtyard garden and then materialising again, often - with a supermodel-looking long-legged PR associate.
He was soon followed by the other two finalists and their parties – a 6ft+ People’s Poet Colin Shaddick, a jewel of contemporary poetry from Devon, and Ray Frensham, Esq., a perfect London gentleman of 1880s-1910s, as his outfit and a monocle were suggesting.
The final contestant, Captain Beany, an orange-painted superhero from Wales, was being late...
A bewildered cameraman was trying to position himself by a 6ft-tall owl (Club’s symbol) made entirely out of the balloons (a challenging task, as we have heard!) and supplied by the exclusive decorator of the event, Mrs Natalia Goussarova from BestFlora.co.uk.
A band from Manchester, a most peculiar and yet refreshingly traditional, known under the name of “Dr Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band” (do not try saying this after too many glasses of wine!), has started, to everyone’s delight, their performance, a selection of amusing old-fashioned songs and tunes, including a hit “Dead Butler”.
But soon a huge brass bell rang by a glamourous Master of the Ceremonies of the new Club Emmanuel Ray symbolized the official opening of the event.
Emmanuel introduced the judges – renowned eccentricologists Ben Le Vay and Henry Hemming, a toast was raised “to the many great virtues of Eccentricity!”, and as Ben Le Vay has started his welcoming speech, an orange lighting struck the building – it was Captain Beany with a truly royal escort of PR and TV people.
The Ceremony soon turned into quite a spectacle, a full-scale theatrical performance with songs and speeches and poems, each of the contestants was successful in engaging the audience, and the audience was much willing to be engaged with such fascinating characters! It seemed that there will be no winner – indeed, how can anyone choose the best between so different and yet so equal in strength of personality contestants?!
The judges eventually had to retire to make their decision. Contestants and guests were treated to more music from Dr Butler and some witty poetry by Adrian Brown, a recently nominated Grand Master of Verse of the Eccentric Club (with an obligation to talk at the Club in verse for a year!).
When the judges came back, silence fell upon the congregation. Everyone was wondering what the final decision would be, as all the contestants were worthy of the First Prize: Rob Lowe has collected most public votes online, but Colin Shaddick had more votes in a closed “members-only” ballot of the Eccentric Club, Ray Frensham was in an undisputable lead until a few days before the event, his network of friends, supporters and appreciators of his eccentric character was certainly capable of making him the ultimate winner, and Captain Beany, though having collected the smallest number of public votes online, was an extremely popular Welsh superhero, the second Great British Eccentric in 2001 and The Greatest Welsh Eccentric of the same year...
The judges announced the winners in the backward order, awarding Ray Frensham with the Special Prize, Colin Shaddick with the Third Prize, Rob Lowe – with the Second, and Captain Beany – with the First...
No-one could explain their reasoning, but no-one doubted its fairness and impartiality... How eccentric!