The President's Address

A report of Humphrey Lyttleton's inaugural address to the Society as President

By John Nash
Date Added: 29/09/2009


Bearing the provocative title 'From Pen to Processor', the new President's address was as witty and informative as anyone who has heard Mr. Lyttelton as a broadcaster might have expected. It began on familiar ground (see 'A Pilgrim's Progress' in Journal No. 93) with the tale of his father's conversion to the true italic faith at the age of forty, through taking Johnston's Writing and Illuminating and Lettering along on a golfing holiday, and his subsequent proselytizing efforts at Eton, where he was a master along with the like-minded Wilfrid Blunt. The elder Lyttelton's habit to nonchalantly carve open shotgun shells for the sake of extracting the pellets, which were then kept in a jar for pen-cleaning purposes, was described in fearsome detail. After a while he amassed a considerable collection of writing implements, most of which young Humphrey tried out at one time or another, doing them no good in the process; and so his interest in calligraphy grew - though, according to the President, it was not so much love of pens which spurred him on, as fear of typewriters, which tend to have minds of their own, producing such observations as, 'I've got you under my sink'.

After typewriters, of course, came word processors. 'If I was a Luddite about typewriters, I was a troglodyte about computers.' They had, however, to be grappled with, since, however much we dislike the fact, 'there's no point in doing with a pen what can be better done by machine'. The speech the President was reading, (though, as he wryly observed, with difficulty), had in fact been done on a word processor; and this had a certain poignancy, since, after an eloquent passage comparing the soulless efficiency of the machine with the life-giving inaccuracies of the pen, the written speech came to an abrupt halt in mid flow - caused, the President explained, by a power failure. Forestalling any possible cry of 'Why didn't you write it out by hand, then?', he produced photocopies of items from his father's collection I of handwriting examples, (found in a drawer some while after I the elder Lyttelton's death) supplemented by letters and cards written to himself, mostly chosen for curiosity value rather than as models of beautiful writing; and we pored over these with great interest for the rest of the allotted time, to the accompaniment of a ceaseless stream of side-splitting Presidential anecdotes. We were able to compare George Lyttelton's writing v before and after the famous golfing holiday (and the difference was quite amazing); we thrilled to an example of Donald Jackson's informal penmanship, (characterized as 'creative error run riot'), and we heard of the President's experiences under handwriting analysis, having been told by successive graphologists that he was Roy Kinnear, Elton John, Denis Norden, and had trouble with his neck, abdomen, or his feet. The evening ended on a note of uplift, with the President proclaiming that calligraphy is, by and large, fun - except that postcodes are almost impossible to write successfully. . .

Questions were invited throughout, and there was certainly one which I was burning to ask: as an addict of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue over more years than I care to count, I would have dearly liked to find out from the President: what is sensuous Samantha really like. . . as a person? But I restrained myself.