Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Cambridge Reunion final dinner September 1 2014 toast to the club proposed by Monty Meth MBE Thank you Allen I’m sure that everyone present here will appreciate that tonight we are writing the last chapter in the 90-year quite unique history of the two Cambridge Boys Clubs in Bethnal Green. It is a huge honour and a privilege for me to be asked to propose this final toast – to bring down the curtain as it were – on a key part of all our lives –while at the same time recognising that this is really a sad occasion – the end of an era – the closing of a chapter in the lives of everyone who went through that door in Chance Street, or the Webbe Club in Cheshire Street - our temporary home when Chance Street was bombed that was loaned to us by The Oxford House Settlement that is still going strong in Bethnal Green - or the rooms given to us in Virginia Road School, run by the old LCC . Tonight we are at the same time recognising that time is catching up on all of us – that with no new members since 1989 when the new Cambridge Club was forced to close – all we are left with are the memories of our youth. In my case going back 76 years to 1938 when at the age of 12 I was finally allowed to join the Chance Street Club after months of bunking in and being thrown out by the likes of Cecil Bright, Monty Cooper, Sidney Tabor and David Ross. I suspect that like me, many of you when you opened Allen’s letter saying that this would be the last reunion dinner – you rolled back the years to recall memories of the club – the people you met – the camps – the sporting rivalry with other clubs –the infuence of GML, RML, “T,” Derek Merton, Rufus Chamberlain, Malcolm Slowe and many other managers such as Dennis Frank, the last surviving manager from the 1930s whom we are all delighted to see is with us tonight at the age of 97. It is only now dawning on me that without the reunion dinner there’ll be no more phone calls to and from that tenacious terrier – the one and only Max Lea – who has organised and controlled these dinners with an iron hand for well over 60 years. And I do hope that the lifelong friends we made through the club will continue to meet from time to time -–maybe over a lunch – because I think it is important as we get older to maintain these friendships- & not to become lonely and isolated There is not a month goes by when I don’t tell someone how lucky I’ve been that I found the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Boys Club and the club found me and taught me so many things: How to conduct myself at fresher meetings, take minutes, speak at meetings. Without the club, I fear I would have gone off the rails. Instead the club kindled my interest in photography and through Bernie Collier I got my first job in Fleet Street. The club kindled my interest in writing when together with David Roxan – who went on to become chief reporter of the news of the world -- I jointly edited the Cambridge news sheet during the early years of the war. So it is not surprising that I’ve tried to give something back to the club, firstly as appeals secretary and latterly as reunion committee chairman following the death of Cecil Bright which followed the painful decision to close the club. Here we were, on the one hand being told that because of the increasing Bangladeshi birth rate, Virginia Road School needed the rooms we occupied, and council officials saying they had the money to find us new premises or collect the household refuse in Bethnal Green – they couldn’t do both. Reluctantly and after much soul searching going back almost two years, during which time they tried to charge us £10,000 a year to hire Virginia Road School - £10,000 in 1988 remember was a lot of dosh - we felt we had no alternative but to close the club. And I remember us writing to Brian Fugler in Broad Walk asking for his legal advice in getting the charity commission’s approval to change the club’s constitution to enable us to dispose of what funds we had. On becoming chair of the reunion committee I insisted that if we had to close our club the least we could do was to see if we could help other clubs to survive and thrive by running our appeal fund alongside the reunion dinner. And I’m delighted that Allen can report that we’ve since donated some £32,000 among over 60 different organisations closely linked to young people – as the charity commission ruled. So when I ask you later to be upstanding to drink that last toast to the Cambridge Clubs, I would like us all to recall those few men of vision – who on June 15th 1924 opened the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Jewish Boys Club. They were in the main graduates of Cambridge University who gave us what spare time and cash they had to buy numbers 3 &4 Chance Street, once the Blue Anchor pub that had been converted into a cabinet making workshop so prevalent in Bethnal Green at the time. And they turned it into a Jewish boys’ club catering for people then living on the Boundary Estate. Those young men who came to us from Cambridge University were part of a movement that saw public schools like Repton, Eton and Stowe found youth clubs bearing their name in the East End; Oxford University had its links with the Oxford House Settlement and also O.ST G. The “old enemy” Oxford and St George’s who were represented at these dinners for many years. That was 1924 – boys were then admitted to the club at the age of 13. 54 boys were originally chosen by headmasters of local schools to join the club and by October 1925, 120 boys had joined. Those of you who follow the gee-gees will associate the name of Long Run and Waley Cohen. What you won’t know is that Sir Robert Waley Cohen was one of those that helped to establish the club and he presided over the first prizegiving in October 1925 when the club unbelievably already had French classes, a literary and debating society, a dramatics society. The boxing instructor had been the boxing captain at Cambridge and the first camp had been held at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. And 12 years later when George Mitchell Lotinga became club leader the big decision was taken to open its doors to anyone irrespective of their religion – a decision which became known as the Cambridge and Bethnal Green experiment. It was regarded as “an alarming suggestion” by some people. A group of the high and mighty came together to “examine the proposal”. Re-reading the documents of that time, I was interested to see that the parents of all the club members were consulted and not a single objection was received. By December 1938 the Jewish Chronicle admitted the “experiment was working very well”. Membership was then 320 Jewish boys and 80 of other religions. And Basil Henriques – a powerful figure in the Jewish community at that time, widely known as “the guvnor” who at first thought the experiment was “hazardous” saw his own O ST G admit non –Jewish members. Remember , these were the years before the Second World War when racial hatred was deliberately being fomented in Bethnal Green by Mosley’s fascists. George Lotinga’s answer was to appoint the first non-Jewish boy- Freddy Oels – as the Cambridge club captain, and we even saw him play for the association of Jewish youth – the AJY – soccer team – just like our own Lenny Sanders. The AJY like our club is alas no more. But Lenny we’re all pleased to see is still going strong Freddy Oels went on to become headmaster of Daniel Street School – one of the many, many club boys – too many to mention – who went on to become doctors, accountants, businessmen, journalists, broadcasters, song writers like Tony Hiller and Joe Lubin, film directors like Lewis Gilbert, comedians like Bernard Spear who had the last word for many a year at these dinners. In a financial appeal launched at the time, the club said it was open to everyone irrespective of religion or denomination, no one is turned away. Segregation had ended. We didn’t appreciate it at the time but the club gave us the chance - the opportunity -to emerge as individuals, they taught us to respect those in authority-taught us to accept responsibility. As I say, we didn’t know it at the time but men like George and Rowland Lotinga,”T” John Diamond were our mentors, preparing us for that great wide world that was waiting for us – mentors in my case that had much greater influence on me than my own parents. And speaking of John Diamond, Lord Diamond - who chaired these dinners for many years reminds me of the one single time he missed our reunion dinner – I think it was 1967- because he was then an MP and also Chief Secretary to the Treasury when he had to attend an emergency cabinet meeting to deal with some financial crisis. John wanted to know about the club until he died in 2004 at the age of 96. It is that kind of loyalty to the club that in my opinion singles out Cambridge from many other clubs – and we have indeed kept that loyalty and Cambridge spirit for 90 years. I retain to this day vivid pictures in my minds eye of George, Rowland, Derek Merton, and others, marching off from the Bishopstone Camp in 1939 to join the Kings Royal and Tower Hamlets Rifles along with club seniors some of whom never returned. Some 20 young clun members never returned. I remember Ruby Ginsberg and Henry Landau. Others here tonight will recall Harry Freshwater. My own tent captain Donny Carlton was one of those who left the Bishopstone Camp but he came home having won the military medal for gallantry. I must make special reference tonight to the manager they left behind – the one and only “T” because there is no doubt in my mind that this club would have died in 1939 had “T” not taken over – promising George to look after the club until he returned. Born in 1900, the son of a Chelsea policeman, “T” first came to the club in 1933 – a modest, unassuming owner of a photography shop in Warren Street and he stayed with the club for the next 50 years until he died in may 1983 at the age of 82. “T” led the club for almost 40 years from 1939 until 1978 and I’m quite sure during that time he sacrificed his own business to lead and save the club. We all, I’m sure recall that stoop, that thick moustache, “T” the man who came to us as a photography class instructor and left as probably the most devoted youth club leader this country has ever seen and there are I know many here tonight – like myself – who owe a great deal to “T” in making us better all-round people. We are lucky to have known people like “T” George, Rowland, John Diamond because they gave us a sense of direction – a sense of purpose that stopped us drifting into the unknown – and they gave us a motto: serva corpus, cola mentum animum cura – keep fit - cultivate your mind - think of your soul – a way of life which I trust we will carry with us for as long as we live. And we shouldn’t forget those who gave their time and energy to lead the club after “T” particularly “Weasel” ( how he got that title I’ll never known ) but David Greenhalgh led the club from 1980 until we closed and I think there’s only four of us left and here tonight – Joe Brandez, Max, Lenny and myself who met regularly in seeking a solution to the club’s crisis before deciding we couldn’t win. There are old boys here tonight who have played a heroic role as managers, instructors, organisers in keeping the Cambridge flag flying for all these years and so I’d like to pay a tribute to – Joe Brandeis, Major Carr, John Lowry,Tony Ring,Lenny Sanders, Max Lea, and to members of the reunion committee, Allen Smith and Morris Freeman for all the work they have done over many years. If there’s one thing I regret it is that there is nothing left in Bethnal Green to let future generations know about the Cambridge Clubs – except for that seat in the bandstand so kindly donated by Tony Ring. Perhaps it is too late to get a blue plaque erected in what is left of Chance Street – but the Bishopsgate Institute will, I hope, keep alive our work through an archive of our history. So I’m now going to ask you to stand for a minute or so while we raise our glasses and toast the Cambridge clubs and recall for a moment or two the men who founded and led the Cambridge clubs for 65 years from 1924 –to 1989; Let us remember too the boys we met, the friendships we made and let us pledge to retain those Cambridge principles of fellowship, irrespective of race or creed, of tolerance and community cohesion, for as long as we live.