Jonathan Fryer

Celebrating Lord Berners

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th January, 2012

Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, the 14th Baron Berners (1883-1950), was one of the genuine British eccentrics of the first half of the 20th Century. Composer, painter and writer, he was a polymath who wasn’t taken greatly seriously during his lifetime, partly because he had inherited a great deal of money — and therefore did not have to work for a living — and also because he sent himself up even more than his friends did. An ugly duckling which never quite knew what sort of adult bird he should become, he held court in both his Oxfordshire country house, Faringdon, and sumptuous apartments in Rome. At Faringdon, he invited Penelope Betjamen’s horse to join him for afternoon tea in the drawing room and he had a flock of white fantail pigeons dyed (harmlessly) in unnatural shades. So it was a nice touch at the Berners dniner at the Garrick Coub in London this evening that paper pastel coloured birds were suspended from the ceiling of the magnificent candlelit Coffee Room (main dining room). Earlier, those of us present had been entertained at an evening of Berners music and writing by the actor Timothy West, the soprano Rhona McKail and pianist Peter Dickinson. Peter Dickinson has published a book on Berners (as did the Spectator’s Literary Editor, Mark Amory). Though Berners is still not a household name, and his music is seen as a curiosity rather than as a series of masterpieces, he added greatly to the gaiety of the nation, with his mischevous wit, double entendre poems and practical jokes — often with a subtelty apparently lacking in the brasher entertainers and ‘celebrities’ of our current in-your-face age.

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