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It may not be entirely coincidental that the decision to found a Club called the Lord's Taverners was taken in the week following West Indies famous victory in the Lord's Test Match of 1950. Those cricketing actors (or was it acting cricketers), led by Martin Boddey, the founding Chairman, who launched our Club in the Circle Bar of the Comedy Theatre on 3 July 1950, had met the previous week at their usual watering hole, the balcony of the old Tavern at Lord's, where they would down a few pints watching the cricket before returning to their duties in the West End. It is fair to assume that the spell which those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine, had cast on English cricket during the previous week, to say nothing of the feats of Alan Rae and Clyde Walcott, prompted the thought “Something must be done”. Bradman's Australians were one thing. But to lose to the West Indies in those days was quite another.
The founding fathers matched their words with swift action. By their next meeting on 2 September 1950 71 members were already signed up, including John Snagge, the sports broadcaster, and Jack Hobbs. John Mills had been elected President and the first donation of £50 to the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) was authorised.
For the first fifteen years the NPFA was the sole beneficiary of the Lord's Taverners, with the money all going to cricket projects, mostly for the installation of “artificial pitches”. Prince Philip suggested the link with the NPFA. The story goes that he was invited to be President but said that sounded too much like hard work. It was then suggested that every cricket team needed a Twelfth Man - to clean the kit, carry the drinks and generally stay in the Pavilion and get sloshed. Perhaps this would suit him better? Excellent idea, came the reply. And thus it has been ever since. Prince Philip has been our Patron and Twelfth Man.
By the time of the first annual Dinner in September 1951, The Lord's Taverners had developed a membership and programme of activities that are mirrored in much of what we do today. Within the first year the membership included Lawrence Olivier, Jack Hawkins, Trevor Howard, Tommy Trinder and Richard Attenborough from the world of acting alongside John Arlott, Brian Johnston, FR Brown, AER Gilligan, RC Robertson-Glasgow, Rex Alston and Sir Pelham Warner from cricket. This eclectic mix of show business and cricket continues to form the core of the Club although other sports, notably golf, are now well represented, as is the world of big business.
The first Ball at the Grosvenor House in April 1951 was a huge success and generated a cheque for £1,000 to the NPFA. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip attended and a cricket match between the Lord's Taverners and The Rest of the World took place in the middle of the dance floor, with commentary by John Arlott. Law 1, coined for the occasion, read “The batsman is out when and if the umpire decides he ought to be out; such dismissal shall be entered as “umpired out”.
The next milestone in the Lord's Taverners history was our first proper cricket match on 12 July 1952 against Bishops Stortford CC. From this developed the celebrity cricket matches, which continue to be one of our core fundraising activities. The make-up of our teams remain a judicious mixture of former Test and County cricketers together with stars of stage, screen and sound along with those from other sports. Arguably the Lord's Taverners were the pioneers of one-day and indeed of Sunday cricket in this country. In our wake came the International Cavaliers, soon followed by one-day cricket in the professional game in the 1960s.
If the great cricketers of recent years are now largely precluded from turning out for us regularly by their contracts with BBC, Sky or Channel 4, our celebrity cricket continues to make a substantial contribution to our overall fundraising. Under the stewardship of former Kent wicketkeeper Derek Ufton from 1980-94 we first hit our £100,000 target from cricket in a season. His successor in 1995 John Price, the former Middlesex and England fast bowler, has ensured that we now comfortably exceed this figure each year - our best season of all being 2000 when we raised £203,000 from 17 matches.
Our 21st birthday in 1971 was reason enough to celebrate and this we did in style with a dinner at the Mansion House in the presence of The Lord Mayor of London. But if the Lord's Taverners were at this time still a Club with a small membership largely confined to the south-east of England, the appointment of Captain Tony Swainson RN as the Secretary, later Director, in 1972 was swiftly to change all that.
Swainson's lasting contribution was to turn the Taverners from being essentially a Club, to being a Club and a charity, without losing in any way the special atmosphere and camaraderie that had been built up over the first 21 years. The membership expanded, largely through the new category of “Friends of the Lord's Taverners” – a sort of half-way house to full membership. And we gradually expanded outwards from London, developing a series of Regional bases as we went, so that now we have 25 Regions, all of them vibrant fund-raising entities in their own right who collectively raised just under £600,000 for the charity in 2001.
Next on Swainson's agenda was an expansion of our charitable remit. While support for youth cricket now extended well beyond funding for non-turf pitches through the NPFA and has remained a core activity to this day, we added a major string to our bow in 1975 when we first channelled money towards providing recreation for young people with disabilities.
Extending our charitable giving in this way, while retaining our position of being essentially a sports-based charity, had an immediate and beneficial effect on our ability to raise funds.
The new programme initially focussed on the provision of our trademark green minibuses which provide recreational opportunities for organisations looking after young people with special needs. The delivery of our landmark 1,000th minibus at the climax of the 2012 cricket season was a vivid testimony to the success of the programme.
More slowly, but equally vitally, we built up alongside the minibuses a programme of providing sporting opportunities for young people with disabilities. From hydrotherapy pools, to swimming pool hoists, sports wheelchairs and specially adapted canoes, this programme now makes a major contribution to sport for the young disabled throughout the country.
The way we spend our money on cricket is constantly under review. We work closely with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), who are our principal advisers on how our funds to youth cricket should be spent, as well as with the MCC, the English Schools Cricket Association and the NPFA. We give away 1000 bags of Youth (Under-16), Colts (Under-14) and Junior (Under-13) cricket equipment each year as well as a girls bag and support a number of national youth competitions. Details of our support for cricket appear in the 'What we do' pages. Suffice to say here that our mission, along with others including government, is to play a part in the expansion of opportunities for young people in this country to play cricket.
In late 1999, as we approached our 50th year, we took the Brian Johnston Memorial Trust under our wing and became its sole corporate Trustee. The BJMT has twin objectives, complementary but different to our own, of providing scholarships to promising young cricketers in financial need and helping blind cricketers.
We are sure that Johnners (Taverner no.160, elected 18th December 1951) would have approved. He more than anyone epitomised the Taverner spirit of having fun while working for a serious purpose.
In 2002 The Sports Wheelchair Sponsorship Scheme was set up. The Patron of this scheme is Dame Tanni Grey Thompson DBE. To date the charity has funded over 300 wheelchairs.
Presidents of the Lord's Taverners
Sir John Mills (1950–1951)
John Snagge (1952)
Martin Boddey (1953)
Jack Hawkins (1954)
Major A Huskisson (1955)
Tommy Trinder (1956)
Stephen Mitchell (1957)
Sir John Barbirolli (1958)
Sir Ian Jacob (1959)
The Duke of Edinburgh (1960–1961)
Sir Robert Menzies (1962)
Richard Hearne (1963)
John Snagge (1964)
Sir Edward Lewis (1965)
Ronnie Waldman (1966)
Sir Harry Secombe (1967–1968)
Lord Luke of Pavenham (1969)
Brian Rix (1970)
Martin Boddey (1971)
Victor Silvester (1972)
Jimmy Edwards (1973)
Alf Gover (1974)
The Prince of Wales (1975–1976)
Eric Morecambe (1977–1979)
Sir Harry Secombe (1980–1981)
Ronnie Corbett (1982)
Sir Terry Wogan (1983–1984)
Sir David Frost (1985–1986)
Ronnie Corbett (1987)
Tim Rice (1988–1990)
Leslie Crowther (1991–1992)
HRH The Prince Edward (1993–1994)
Colin Cowdrey (1995–1997)
Nicholas Parsons (1998–1999)
Tim Rice (2000)
Robert Powell (2001–2002)
Richard Stilgoe (2003–2004)
Mike Gatting (2005–2007)
Bill Tidy (2007–2009)
Chris Tarrant (2009–2011)
Barry Norman (2011-2012)
Chris Cowdrey (2012-present)