2021 Dinner

The 133rd Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner ~ Saturday 27 February 2021
Online event

The programme of events for the 2021 Dinner can be viewed further down this page or accessed here: HJ Dinner 2021 programme (PDF – 199KB)

While COVID stopped play on ringing association dinners across the country, some Guilds, including St Martin’s, moved into virtual territory to preserve their anniversaries and calendars of events.

The 133rd Henry Johnson Commemoration was celebrated with an event on Saturday 27 February 2021, through the magic of Zoom. The online event was shorter than our usual celebration, with an 8pm start and lasting approximately 45 minutes, but it included a blend of light entertainment, history and handbells, not to mention another opportunity to see friends, albeit in their little video boxes. The event also served as a marker for when we can hopefully hold the dinner ‘proper’ in 2022.

Whilst we could not have our dinner served in a grand location, we did use this as an opportunity to share the same menu at home. An optional three course menu was included in the event programme. A recording of the event was made and a report penned by Richard Pullin.

Report of the 133rd Henry Johnson Dinner

The Henry Johnson Dinner was held on Saturday 27 February 2021. Due to the current emergency this took the form of an online ‘after dinner’ event, much like the College Youths dinner in November 2020. Attendees were welcome to recreate the set courses at home for themselves and even to dress for dinner. Online events have become something of a new normal in the Guild, as a weekly program of talks and tutorials are given on all aspects of our art. The visiting ringers who gave talks were kindly invited back to be a part of this online dinner. 

The event was conducted by Clare McArdle, Guild Master, who welcomed the 100 or so attendees. Clare said that though we obviously all would have preferred to gather in person, the online event was still a nice substitute. In fact, Clare went one further by pointing out that this online event – the 133rd Henry Johnson Dinner in a row – was to be viewed as a celebration of how ringers adapt to their situation. So there we have it: a potentially negative situation turned into a positive celebration; and how appropriate for such a viewpoint to come from the St Martin’s Guild, itself an example to all territorial associations of how to adapt and evolve in changing times. For a long time the St Martin’s Guild ringers have been at the forefront of ringing and ringing innovation: in composition and method design; in striking; in the Birmingham School of Bell Ringing; in unrivalled efficiency in management and organization; as a thinktank of fresh ideas to meet modern needs.

James Ramsbottom and Casey McLellan then performed a pre-recorded (I think!) musical duet. A very entertaining and uplifting performance, bringing hope to better times ahead. I think the words “as you swing to the left and swing to the right, remember the curfew must never ring tonight” was etched on our minds for some time afterwards! We then took the opportunity to congratulate the couple on their engagement.

Mark Eccleston, Guild Archivist, gave a very interesting talk on Henry Johnson himself, particularly with relation to the annual dinner. Johnson was a celebrated ringer, conductor and composer, and reportedly a much-loved and respected personality of his day. His compositions were praised by his peers for “an originality and special merit.” The first of the annual dinners was held in 1889 to celebrate Johnson’s 80th birthday, since which not a single dinner has been missed. Amazingly the 1955 dinner was the last to be attended by someone who knew Johnson. Mark’s talk was full of information that would be difficult to find elsewhere, thanks in part to work done by a local historian to find out more about Johnson’s life.

Clare then gave the toast to the memory of Henry Johnson. Often this is done in silence, but this year the same words were used as those spoken at the 1921 dinner.

This year’s handbell touch was a video and photo compilation of the Brumdingers’ online and handbell ringing activities since the pandemic. We enjoyed some call-changes on 16 (impressive!), an excellent course of Bob Minor on handbells (containing only one adult), and even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star! The photos of churchyard handbell ringing were a reminder of the freedom we had back in the summer of 2020 when life almost returned to a semi-normal. Well done Brumdingers, keep up the good work!  

Janet & Steve Horton were to have chaired this year’s dinner, had it been held in the normal format. Hopefully that can go ahead in 2022. For this year’s online event Janet was the main speaker and regaled us with a feast of anecdotes from previous Henry Johnson dinners, with a few University of London stories thrown in for good measure. One that stood out with distinction was the UL “Lindarella” pantomime, in which Janet played Prince Charming and Steve was an ugly sister. The titular main character is now a well-known ringer in the Bedfordshire area. Given that our current historians are researching Henry Johnson, we can but wonder what the future historians will make of our own time. As Janet put it, the things we remember most about these events tended to be what went wrong.

More seriously Janet spoke to the memory of Andrew Stubbs, who was a much-loved friend to so many of us and a huge supporter of ringing in Birmingham and elsewhere. A true gentleman who will be greatly missed.

In keeping with the positive spirit of this online event, Janet ended by paraphrasing Doctor Who: “Every HJ Dinner is the last dinner.” A great message, though I don’t recognize the Doctor Who reference. Is it from the Steven Moffat era, Janet?

Clare McArdle then concluded by giving well-deserved thanks to all those who made this positive and uplifting event possible. With the hope that ringing – and social events like these – will return in the not-too-distant future, it does feel that the tide is starting to turn. The event ended with a compilation of photos from previous HJ dinners, showing lots of familiar faces smiling and enjoying themselves.

And with that, the dinner ended by the click of a button. Suddenly I found myself back in my own home again with no memory of how I made the journey back. But then again, similar experiences have been reported after ringing dinners long before 2021. Long may it continue.