Close on 60 years ago, in 1959 and 1960, I was flattered to be invited by fellow ex-Walpudlian and Housemaster, Ronnie Adams (Walpole 37), to Chair the Pineapple Ball, an annual event held in Mayfair’s Grosvenor House to raise money for London Paddington’s Stowe Club for Boys. Stowe’s Club was founded 33 years earlier in 1927 and was also dubbed the ‘Pineapple Club’ because it was housed in a building occupying the site of The Pineapple, a disused public house.
JF always taught us the value of compassion and to think of others, and the lesson stuck. I was Chairman in the period immediately preceding a prolonged peripatetic life abroad in advertising and journalism which took me to: Lausanne, Paris, New York City (Madison Avenue ‘Mad Man’), Mexico City, writing a book published by Doubleday, Africa, New African correspondent, and other locations for BBC World Service, LA for Los Angeles Magazine, Sydney for Newsweek – and on return to the UK, Chair of the Writers Guild Books Committee.
In 1967, seven years after my time as Ball Chairman, the Club moved to bespoke premises at 258 Harrow Road. It soon was to excel in boxing and football. In 1983, Brazilian footballing superstar Pele visited the Club, the year John Barnes made his international debut for England. Only four years earlier, the future 79-times capped Barnes was captaining the Stowe Club’s for under 17s that won the British Championship. He was in the English team that beat Brazil at home, gliding past five opponents to score one of the finest goals scored by anyone – including maestro Pele. There were many boys from north London’s deprived backgrounds in tower blocks and sub-standard premises who similarly seized opportunities provided by the Club.
The Pineapple Ball was held in Grosvenor House’s magnificent Great Ballroom, one of Europe’s largest and most impressive, capable of handling a thousand guests. From the wrap-around balcony, Old Stoics, their wives and girlfriends descended a staircase as spectacular as the South Front steps, to reach banqueting tables encircling the dance floor. My job was to organise committee meetings and select the artists, everyone giving generously of their time.
The tickets costing £2 5 shillings included a sumptuous four-course dinner preceding the dancing to the melodies of the fashionable Paul Adam and Tim Clayton orchestras. The midnight cabaret featured a young virtually unknown Roy Castle who tap-danced, told jokes, played the trumpet and sang delightfully to bring the house down. Glamorous film actresses, Diana Decker and Sylvia Syms, hot from the set of Ice Cold in Alex, handed out fabulous prizes to the lucky Tombola winners. Tom Hustler’s photos appeared in such glossies as The Tatler and Queen Magazine. The list of Patrons was impressive, headed by Old Stoic, Group Capt the Lord Cheshire of Woodhall, VC, OM, DSO, DFC (Chatham 36).
When a man called Roy had completed a piece of exquisite piece of craftsmanship in my flat I ventured, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how did you get your expertise?” “It all began at the Stowe Club for Boys”, he replied. Somehow, I was not surprised.