Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

As All Our Readers Know, the 'Statesman' Owes Much to the Vision of the Great Kingsley Martin. Not Least His Vision of a Magazine That Offered the Best in Luncheons

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

As All Our Readers Know, the 'Statesman' Owes Much to the Vision of the Great Kingsley Martin. Not Least His Vision of a Magazine That Offered the Best in Luncheons

Article excerpt

"Lunch," as the Times so wisely remarked last week, "is always the most dangerous meal for politicians." Kenneth Clarke has learnt this uncomfortable truth the hard way. While he was lunching with two BBC journalists at Chez Nico, briefing away like billy-o, he was observed from a neighbouring table by Frank Dobson MP - who promptly informed the world about the Chancellor's assignation.

We at the New Statesman have a simple way of saving our guests from such embarrassment: we serve luncheon in the boardroom. There they can speak as freely as they wish, confident that no snoopers will broadcast their indiscretions - or their appalling table-manners - to the world. I might add that the victuals are of a rather higher standard than those in most West End eateries.

It was not ever thus. When the NS's famous Thursday lunches began, during the first world war, Bernard Shaw insisted on a rigid set menu of poached nettles as an hors d'oeuvre, followed by a main course of dandelion sandwiches washed down with freshly squeezed celery juice. After his departure from the magazine, things went from bad to worse. Beatrice Webb, whose puritanism was so intense that she could scarcely bring herself to use a knife and fork, decided that the boardroom fare would henceforth consist of nothing but boiled eggs.

"Can't we have soldiers with them?" HG Wells pleaded.

"Certainly not," Beatrice admonished him, "The Statesman must take a stand against all forms of militarism."

With such spartan fare on offer, it was exceedingly difficult to persuade anyone to come and break bread with us - not least because there was no bread to be had. When Arnold Bennett and his fellow-directors of the NS were trying to lure Kingsley Martin to London to take over the editorship, Kingsley said he would only discuss it over a proper meal - "three gourmet courses, plenty of premier cru and no bloody boiled eggs. …

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