Beryl Remembers Celebrities Galore

Former Press Club director Beryl Williams looks back over the years, remembering good times – and how she asked Alan Whicker for a “quickie”

I look back with such affection and fond memories of the last 36 years since I joined Birmingham Press Club in 1979 when I was working in the Press Office at ATV. It was not long afterward that I joined the Board of the Press Club, serving for the next 16 years.

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The atmosphere in the old club premises above the Ben Johnson pub in Corporation Street was always good and you could guarantee it was invariably crowded with national and regional journalists – all well looked after by the manageress, Ann James, assisted on occasions by her husband, Maurice and by Kathy, who ran the bar.

Celebrity lunches were a feature of Club life, all organised (at no cost to the Club) by photographer Willoughby “Gus” Gullachsen, who had personal contact with many of our star speakers. I particularly remember Terry Wogan, Cliff Richard, Jean Rook, Alan Whicker, Barbara Cartland, Jeremy Paxman, Jilly Cooper, Richard Branson and Joan Bakewell.

In fact, when I met journalist and broadcaster Alan Whicker it raised quite a few laughs – and resulted in a few red faces.  As he approached, I asked him if he had got time for a quickie – meaning that I wanted to take his photograph. But I don’t think he realised that was what I meant - until he saw the camera

When he later penned a letter to the Club thanking us for our hospitality, he wrote:  “Please thank the lady who offered me a quickie. Just sorry I didn’t have the time!”

Wonderful, memorable moments – and then came one of the saddest days in the Club’s history. In May 1994 we had to close the premises – and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

A move followed to the basement of the Grand Hotel and Prime Minister John Major performed the honours at the official opening. Unfortunately, in just under twelve months, we had to close again. However, we continued to have events at the Grand, including lunches with Margaret Thatcher, Bernard Ingham, Trevor Macdonald and John Simpson.

I also have happy memories of our regular meetings and Christmas lunches at The Old Royal, when the Chief Constable and Lord Mayor honoured us with their presence.

During my time on the Board, I arranged several Press Balls held at the Botanical Gardens and assisted former chairman Alan Deeley in organising the 125thanniversary Press Ball in 1990 at the Grand Hotel. So being able to attend the 150th anniversary Christmas lunch has particular significance for me.