On 20 December, 20 The Barons celebrated its first birthday. So, how did The Baron and St Margaret mark the occasion? Well, they find nothing more festive than curling up with a glass of Champagne in front of the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life, which shares our birthday, having premiered in New York on 20 December 1946. It is also showing at the Richmond Curzon on Water Lane on the 22nd, 24th and 26th December, a mere 20-minute walk across the Richmond Bridge. It’s A Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), who contemplates jumping from a snowy bridge on Christmas Eve but is redeemed by his Guardian Angel, Second Class, Clarence Odbody, who shows him what life would have been like had he never existed. The screenplay was based on a 1943 short story ‘The Greatest Gift’ by Philip Van Doren Stern. Reminiscent of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, It's A Wonderful Life first appeared as a Christmas card sent to 200 friends by the author after he had failed to find a publisher. Directed by Frank Capra, the film’s satirical take on the greed of bankers (which attracted the interest of the FBI in 1947) makes it very topical viewing for today’s London. It also features Capra’s trademark raven (the bird appears in all his movies after You Can’t Take It With You (1938)), a reminder of one of the local stories of 2013: the killing by foxes of two ravens at the Tower of London, where a 350-year-old myth prophecies the fall of the monarchy should the famous birds disappear. If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you might note that It’s A Wonderful Life’s only Oscar was for Technical Achievement. This was won for the invention of a new form of artificial snow made from soap flakes, sugar and water. Previous films had used cornflakes painted white, which were so crunchy underfoot that the dialogue had to be dubbed! We’d like to thank all those guests and contributors who made our first year such a wonderful one, and recall the inscription written to George by his guardian angel: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”
On 20th December, 20 The Barons will celebrate its first birthday, and The Baron is inviting all guests to join us in a complimentary bottle of his favourite ‘bolly’. Here The Baron muses on how Champagne became famous. Fizz is always to the forefront at The Barons, but it’s only in the last 150 years that the exuberance of popping cork and flowing mousse have become the ubiquitous symbols of celebration. It was not until the early 1800s that the mastering of the methode champenoise saw the widespread production of sparkling wines in the Champagne region; and only in the 1850s did manufacturers begin producing the dry Champagnes that seduced the British palette. As the Champagne became drier, life became sweeter, and after 1880 a syndicate of producers drove one of the great advertising campaigns to promote Champagne as the symbol of the Belle Époque. Champagne was portrayed as an aristocratic drink, but one that the expanding middle classes could enjoy on special occasions: not merely aspirated but aspirational. In London in 1866, music hall star George Leybourne wrote the hit song Champagne Charlie and established one of the first celebrity endorsements, drinking nothing but Champagne in public. In 1882, British author Henry Vizetelly noted in A History of Champagne: “We cannot open a railway, launch a vessel, inaugurate a public edifice, start a newspaper, entertain a distinguished foreigner, invite a leading politician to favour us with his views on things in general, celebrate an anniversary, or specially appeal on behalf of a benevolent institution without a banquet, and hence without the aid of Champagne, which, at the present day, is the obligatory adjunct of all such repasts.” Artists such as Alphonse Mucha, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard created glamorous Art Nouveau posters. Champagne became de rigeur at weddings and christenings; and then at the christening of ships and airplanes. In 1902, Moët & Chandon became the toast of the newspapers when they replaced a bottle of German sparkling wine with one of their own for the launching in New York of the German emperor’s yacht, Meteor. Champagne was quaffed by Hollywood heartthrobs and leading ladies in numerous movies and cracked open to celebrate sporting success, a tradition that has continued to this day. The Baron will tell anyone who will listen that he shares his weakness for Bollinger with James Bond, who quaffs its prestige cuvées in the majority of his films. Bollinger is also the official champagne of England Rugby, so The Baron has regularly sampled their hospitality just up the road at Twickenham. Perhaps then, we should leave the last word on Champagne to Lily Bollinger: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it… unless I’m thirsty.”
The World didn’t end on Friday, so onward and upward and all set for Christmas!
St Margarets is looking so festive this year. Thanks to the amazing traders’ association
our high street looks like the very essence of Christmas. We’ve bought
‘the bird’ from our local butcher Armstrongs (along with secret recipe sausages), the veg
from Carlos and family at Streets – by far the best greengrocer/florist in the area – and
stocked up on panettone and other delicacies at Zoran’s deli. All in hand and only a swift
half in one of our exellent local pubs, followed by a delicious and chaotic lunch with family
and friends. This time of year we are always aware how lucky we are to have so much
and to live in such a wonderful part of London.
So to all those customers who enjoyed stays with us this year and to all those who will
next year (book early to avoid disappointment), a very happy Christmas and we wish you a
happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.
Ali, Jason and the Team