The W&P Dinner has had its ups and downs. In the seventies it used to be a grand affair. Held in the elegant Royal Hotel, Southampton which could seat 150 guests, it followed a traditional format with a master of ceremonies, toasts and speeches. The hoi polloi would stand and applaud as the glitterati of speakers, special guests, Clergy and selected Guild officers, processed to their places at the top table. Tickets would be sold out months in advance as it was the most important social occasion in the ringing calendar.
In recent years, chasing an elusive customer, the dinner had become less formal at the same time as it became less well attended. 1997 was a nadir. So kill or cure, this year saw a return to some of the old traditions. The Royal Hotel was no longer affordable, so its classical elegance was replaced by the determinedly modem steel and glass styling of the Winchester Cathedral Refectory. There was no top table as the room would not allow it, but we did have formal speeches. There was a contemporary menu with vegetarian choices and cafetiere coffee. The formula was a success with 71 members and guests sitting down to an excellent dinner.
The Guild Master, Rev Barry Fry, acted as Master of Ceremonies, and following the meal, the Loyal Toast was proposed by Guild Secretary, Bob Cater.
Mark Esbester proposed a toast to visitors. He observed that visiting other towers is a significant part of ringing. Visitors are made welcome in most towers, and like ringers generally, meet on equal terms in the tower. For example, at Portsmouth Cathedral, which gets lots of visitors from ships, Mark recalled one memorable occasion overhearing two naval visitors, from different ships both wearing jeans and tee shirts introducing themselves to each other. "I'm a cook, from HMS xxxx". "Oh yes, I'm from HMS yyyy". "What do you do?". "Well actually, I'm the captain"! Concluding, Mark welcomed Tom and Margaret Chapman, Wendy Bishop, Guild members from the Channel Islands members visiting the mainland, and Stephen and Sue Coleman.
Replying on behalf of the visitors, and proposing a toast to the Guild, Steve Coleman entertained us in his own excellent style. He related how in preparation for his speech he had read many of our Guild reports and newsletters, finding much of interest as well as some unintentional humour. He quoted one district secretary's report of a district meeting at which "Due to an oversight by the secretary, 17 new members were elected", and another in which it was "the second year in succession that the oldest member of the district has died". Steve recalled starting for a handbell peal at someone's house in Southampton. A few leads into the peal, the phone rang elsewhere in the house and someone said "He can't come to the phone at the moment, he's just started for a peal. Can you hang on?" Steve closed by congratulating the Guild on the breadth of its activities, on its tradition over many years of being at the forefront of ringing, and on contributing leading figures on the ringing scene.
Mike Winterbourne, Guild Education Committee convenor responded to the toast to the Guild. He thanked Steve for his kind remarks about the Guild, and complimented him on his books which were obviously well read as people he was trying to teach kept saying "but Steve Coleman's book says …"
Following the speeches, Gail Cater, Margaret Chapman, Roy Le Marechal, Sue Coleman and Steve Coleman, performed Kent Treble Bob on handbells, starting with a lead of Royal, then one of Major, and so on down to two bells, then back up two at a time to Royal.
The Master then closed the formal part of the evening but the happy buzz of conversation and more handbell ringing continued until we were asked to leave by the Cathedral Rectory staff.
The Ringing World No. 4545, June 5, 1998, page 550