Unexpected circumstances may very occasionally cause a change of speaker at short notice.
St James Hall Meetings
If you are interested in attending any of our events, please contact our secretary – see under the heading “Contact Us” on the Home page of this website. Unless stated otherwise below, all meetings are live events in the Church Hall, with appropriate Covid precautions.
7 JANUARY 2022 THIS WILL BE A ZOOM SESSION
Len Mullenger – Formerly Principal Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Coventry University, March 1997 saw his retirement after 27 years’ service. As a passionate music lover, LenI now have even more time to spend listening to music (mainly classical) and indulging his interest in Early Twentieth Century British composers. He is Founder and owner of MusicWeb International and a number of other sites. MusicWeb has become the foremost Classical CD review site on the Internet. MusicWeb supports composer trusts and societies by offering them a free web service. Len is an active member of Probus and has recently joined the Coventry group.
Our talk subject is the very topical The COVID Pandemic
We will look at the nature and structure of the Covid virus and how a vaccine is developed. Britain was the first to produce a Covid vaccine in Oxford and did so very rapidly. We will see why they were able to do that and to get it into large scale production. The vaccine was immensely successful but it has not eliminated infections in the UK.
FEBRUARY 2022 Roy Smart – Roy was a Naval Officer, Fleet Air Arm pilot and air director of many great national memorial events including the televised D Day, VE and VJ Day commemorations attended by the Queen and fifty heads of state, together with flying displays and aviation pageants. With an interest in history and art, he recently contributed to the BBC centenary commemorations of the Battle of Jutland. He lives in East Haddon, Northamptonshire.
Roy is an entertaining speaker with an interest in history. He has much to tell about the royal topic that has intrigued generations, Wallis Simpson and the abdication crisis; the subject and characters of this extraordinary 1936, pre-war event.
Our talk subject will be The Year of Three Kings, subtitled That Woman! Wallis Simpson.
“Too rich, too thin and too American; a bewitching, vulgar, Yankee huntress, out for what she could get – a gold-digger!” But rather, was Wallis Simpson in fact, a benevolent woman, caught up in a situation from which she could not extricate herself and who, indeed, on the eve of war, saved us from a feckless king? However, as one of the most reviled women in history, Wallis, a twice divorced American with two living husbands, became a hate figure for ensnaring our King and destabilising the monarchy. With his dashing good looks Edward V111 embodied the hopes and aspirations of most in 1936 – The Year of Three Kings! ; by renouncing the throne he convulsed the nation bringing dishonour and disgrace upon the Royal House of Windsor.
Roy Smart recounts how Queen Mary despaired that her son had been beguiled by an American Sorceress, while Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin thought Mrs. Simpson tolerable as “a respectable whore but not as Queen Wally ! ” But the King, whose obsession with Wallis had become total dependency, signed the Instrument of Abdication, making way for the third monarch of 1936. Now, ‘Prince’ Edward fled the country to be with his ‘love’ and a lifetime of exiled futility, and Wallis would, thereafter, carry the burden of blame for this catastrophe; and remain to this day, the enigmatic, compelling subject of gossip and fascination worldwide.
MARCH 2022 Paddy Hannigan will talk about the The Dark Satanic Mills: Children In The Industrial Revolution
With specific emphasis on children in the mills and the mines this evocative presentation outlines and highlights how the drive to make Britain the ‘ workshop of the world ‘ effected the lives of the working classes. The advantages and disadvantages of innovation, the effects of new Industrial practices, the rise of capitalist enterprise and consequent change to society, exploitative employment practices, everyday life experiences of the time, the iniquities of the Factory System, the Apprentice children, social and political challenges by committed reformers to the accepted norms of the time leading to working practices recognisable in modern society. With first-hand accounts from those who experienced these tumultuous times.
POSSIBILITY FOR APRIL 2022 Peter Preece – After a long career as a Graphic Design Manager , Peter went on to become a consultant for major companies like Mothercare, Boots, United Distillers and many local companies in the Fishing manufacturing industry. During this latter phase he began to get interested in nature photography. What started as a hobby has grown into a passion for natural history and he has won many awards in this field.
Peter has had many images published in magazines, calendars and, since 1999, has carried out over 1000 talks all over the UK for Probus, W.I.’s, Natural History Societies, Photographic Societies, RSPB’s etc. In 2016 he won a British Photographic Award and his image of a Water Shrew was published in their yearly book and exhibited in their travelling exhibition. Most of his photography is taken from hides on The Heart of England Forest Estate and on local lakes and in the Warwickshire countryside.
In Lockdown Peter wrote an illustrated coloured Children’s Book on Garden Birds which is currently selling well. He will bring a few along should anyone be interested.
Our talk subject will be Hide and Seek.
In the talk, Peter will take us through some of his many experiences in locating, watching and photographing wildlife, mainly in the UK and Northern Spain, many of which have not been photographed before. Although Peter has continued to photograph wildlife during the Covid pandemic, the images he will share are mainly from the pre-Covid lockdown. If you have an interest in wildlife and/or great photography, this is a talk not to be missed.
DECEMBER 2021 Andrew Lound gave a striking and thoroughly researched presentation about the Hindenburg airship disaster and the preceding historical developments starting from the Montgolfier balloon in 1783. He wore the uniform of a First Officer on the airship, complete with hat and correct hat badge. Despite fatal accidents in other countries, German discipline in building and operations, led by the inspirational engineer Hugo Eckener, resulted in no deaths in Germany, right through many Zeppelins and serious accidents from 1900. The disaster to the Titanic-sized Hindenberg probably followed inadequate repair of slight structural damage in an earlier incident, leading to puncture of a gas bag, escape of hydrogen, which in the accompanying stormy atmosphere induced a spark. The flames seen on film were from the burning fuselage skin. Amazingly, most on board survived. Airships have at last returned, filled with helium and 250 are on order with a British company.
NOVEMBER 2021 Tim Barney’s talk was Lock, Stock & Barrel – A Brief History of Military Small Arms.
This was a polished performance from Tim, an experienced speaker. His PowerPoint slides were semi-automated so members could see how a bolt action worked in stages with arrows drawing attention to the salient parts. There were excellent illustrations of how the famous military squares adapted from lance and pike to firearm with bayonet and the various changes in tactics from foot to horse. Members were taken from the invention of gunpowder, where physical strength became less relevant in military operations, to the invention of matchlock, flintlock, wheelock, rifled barrel, and then bullet technology. Then came rimfire and centrefire where the result was a cartridge that produced very little smoke and tar and injected the bullet into the barrel’s rifling to produce a very accurate missile. French inventors were prolific in this field. Battle tactics had to take account of how the technology was changing; accuracy and range were improving all the time and the folly of frontal assault (known as a forlorn hope attack) became a hard-learned lesson. The talk closed with a description of the development of automated weapons and the cutting edge development of caseless cartridges. The Q and A session proved Tim’s extensive knowledge.
OCTOBER 2021 John Hope – Extra Time – an account of narrowly surviving the Tsunami of 2004 whilst in Sri Lanka. After retiring from the RAF, John travelled widely on business. John and his wife bought a part time residence on the upper floor of a house in Sri Lanka. Before the tsunami was recognised, rising river water flooded the ground floor and triggered John to move his car to higher ground. As the second wave arrived 40 minutes later, John, his wife and their downstairs neighbours and others escaped in his car, which would have been lost if he had not moved it, so saved their lives. 35,000 were killed in Sri Lanka alone and many times that around the Indian Ocean. John also gave an interesting description of his work and how to set up a letting franchise in a foreign country.
SEPTEMBER 2021 Our first event live in the hall since Covid lockdown. Heidi Meyer is Master of the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick and presented with Georgia, a research graduate at the LLH who is, together with a team of researchers, writing a history of the Hospital. It was built between 1410 and 1445, much faster than the 100 years or so for other similar buildings of the time, indicating the wealth of the donor, whose name is unknown, but the town’s Guilds are a possibility. Members were shown a 17-minute video of the Research Team’s work and findings, which focused on the history of the Master and the Brothers who lived in LLH as well as the women who worked there. This aspect of the building is largely unknown and several examples of daily life, some drunken, some raunchy and some droll were given by Georgia. A book is in preparation, plus an application to the Lottery fund for a £1.5 million grant. At the end Heidi gave some striking observations about current events, informed by her time as a military officer in Afghanistan.
AUGUST 2021 via Zoom. Jim Stebbing presented The Topsy-Turvey World of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The Probus deputy speaker secretary introduced Jim by singing a version of the famous stanza beginning:
“I am the very model of a modern …..”
Jim is a well-practiced presenter and lived up to his reputation. Sullivan had a talent for writing music and Gilbert was accomplished at writing prose. It was a good team that produced HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and a host of other burlesque comedies with a sharp wit aimed at the political class. There was a third party to this tale: Mr D’Oyly Carte who was the impresario who packaged the lyrics and music of the intrepid duo and made a fortune selling it to the masses. Jim’s presentation included a good collection of photographs as well snatches of the songs and music that were the trademark of Gilbert and Sullivan. The shows were a hit because they found the middle ground between highbrow concerts and bawdy music hall entertainment. The middle classes flocked to buy the music and to see the shows. The shows were packaged up and sent to America and Europe and the money flowed in. D’Oyly Carte went on to build the Savoy Theatre and the Savoy hotel next door. The creative pair followed a classic music partnering model. It started with them forming a relationship that was so successful that the riches flowed in, then jealousy, then friction. Sullivan got tired of producing the same music each time. Gilbert got tired of Sullivan producing the scores at the last minute and both got tired of D’Oyly Carte making so much more money than either of them.
JULY 2021 Via Zoom, Sheila Robinson gave a well researched and enjoyable talk on Paranormal Warwickshire. It was based on her book of the same name. She has written four books as S C Skillman and does a weekly blog. She showed images of many historical sites where she had taken photos and interviewed local people about their experiences and heard their ghostly stories of the locations. Shakespeare, theatres, actors, churches and castles featured strongly. She told also of tales from more common sites, such as a supermarket, a rail station and also a house which had a presence and failed to sell until a minister held a service there.
JUNE 2021 Via Zoom, Ian Buchan gave an entertaining presentation and talk about magic demonstrations. He was accepted as a member by the Magic Circle after learning three tricks and has performed for 35 years to children and adults, including at the home of J K Rowling and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He described how he developed his skills, he gave a few neat demonstrations of tricks with cards and handkerchiefs and told of comedic/magic entertainers such as Tommy Cooper and Paul Daniels. We were again joined by members from nearby clubs.
MAY 2021 Via Zoom, Gerald Seaman gave a well researched talk about Dmitry Dmitrevich Shostakovich (1906-1975), whom he met several times. Gerald learned Russian in the Royal Navy and after Oxford University he spent a year in Russia at the Leningrad Conservatory and in due course became a world authority on Russian music. Gerald told how the music of Shostakovitch was a reflection of the manner in which Soviet music and the arts developed during his life – the desire for modernism in the 1920s, the influence of Socialist Realism, the years of the War. Most remarkable was the way in which Shostakovich battled bureaucracy, including conflicts with Stalin himself, and survived, a tribute to his courage and tenacity.
APRIL 2021 Via Zoom, Keith Stevens gave an excellently prepared and wide ranging talk on “Money Makes the World Go Round”. He described transactions, from barter requiring a “double coincidence of wants” – including Babylonians bartering with skulls – through coins, notes, IOUs and to the modern growth of credit. He described the history of influences on money, notably the effect of transport and increasingly long trade routes such as salt trails and the Silk Road, and how Henry VIII set a maximum loan interest rate of 10%. His talk included how finance works for companies, governments and countries and how “broad money” is now 92% digital.
MARCH 2021 – John Hope gave a very well received talk via Zoom: “Time through the Ages” about the history of measuring time. We were joined online by members from Kenilworth, Rugby and Leamington Probus clubs. John took us through the early clocks based on sand, candles and water, in Egypt, China and Rome. Supported by lots of stories about individuals, he told of sundials, pendulums, long case and tower clocks and the Maritime Chronometer of John Harrison and his less known and still working wooden clock. He explained railway clocks, the UK clock industry, atomic clocks, why shop clocks always show ten past ten and why eggs now take longer to boil than the traditional three minutes.
FEBRUARY 2021 – Via Zoom, Paul Isherwood gave a heart felt account – “The mind of a gambler” – of his experience as a gambling addict and of learning to live without gambling. He described the typical process of addiction. He had started very young, on slot machines, and had gradually become addicted to the buzz and excitement of gambling, as he felt at the time, obtaining money by any means necessary. Pressure from his mother took him to Gambling Anonymous, where peer support was crucial in his progress and in time he stopped. But as he stressed, he remains only one gamble away from being a gambler again.
JANUARY 2021 – Via Zoom, John Macartney gave an interesting talk via Zoom, entitled “Turn Left at the Pacific”, based on his book of the same name. The talk described a road trip around the USA in 2009 to raise funds for PTSD charities, using a restored 1975 3 litre Triumph Stag to visit 46 classic car enthusiast clubs. His experiences included deep fried whole turkey, which tasted dreadful, and visiting a tourist graffiti park based on Cadillacs buried standing vertically in the ground. The 18,000 mile trip took two years to plan and was triggered by the speaker’s own experience of PTSD after being a hostage under fire in Iraq in the first Gulf War.
DECEMBER 2020 – Via Zoom, Murray Jacobs, a Cambridge Green Badge Guide, presented a virtual tour of Cambridge using Google Streetview and PowerPoint together with his voice over. It was an enjoyable experience, blending geography, history and modern-day Cambridge. His focus was on King’s Parade, its buildings and their history, and famous individuals linked with them. Notable were King’s College Chapel, Great St Mary’s church and the Senate House. The latter included the story of engineering students putting an Austin 7 on the roof, unseen overnight, which took steeplejacks two days to bring down in pieces.
APRIL – NOVEMBER 2020 – No talks took place, because of Covid 19.
MARCH 2020 – Sue Ablett gave an excellent talk and slide show based on her extensive global travels, with photos and with added stories about the places she visited. She told of those inspired by “Around the world in 80 days”, of Baedecker and Lonely Planet Guides, of her own experiences, such as sleeping at an airport for 7 days as she waited for a ticket. Other memorable sites were the toilet at Everest base camp and the North Korea Foreign Language Book Store which had no books in English.
FEBRUARY 2020 – Malcolm Stent gave an entertaining talk about his experiences as a proud Brummie in entertainment over many years. He performed on television, also for 27 years was a Dame in Christmas pantomimes, broadcast a daily road show on BBC WM, was an occasional playwright and won a British Empire Medal for his work in theatre and for charities. He told of his family history of craftsmen in Saltley, who built carriages for the elegant Orient Express.
JANUARY 2020 – Steve Cox gave a fascinating presentation about 3D printing. He is a consultant on this topic, brought a small 3D printer to demonstrate and told of the rapid growth of the topic since patents expired a decade ago. It now has an amazingly wide range of applications and materials, from prosthetic limbs that now cost the same as a McDonald’s meal, through spare parts made on the International Space Station, to assembly jigs for manufacturing. Items can be made of metal, resin or even concrete for small buildings. It has radically reduced cost and weight for custom items.
DECEMBER 2019 – Lorraine Hoskins, with the help of husband Paul, gave an excellently scripted and presented talk about the RNLI, with the help of some slides and some impressive videos of lifeboats and crews in action. She stressed that almost all RNLI workers are volunteers. She told of the RNLI beginnings, its many areas of work, its training facilities and the statistics of its operations. An estimated 140,000 lives have been saved since the foundation in the 19th century, there are 238 life boat stations in the UK and Eire and costs are almost £0.5 million a day.
NOVEMBER 2019 – Trevor and Katherine Pocock from the Salvation Army gave a polished but nontheless personal presentation about the history and work of the Army. The emphasis on military images has reduced over the years and the uniform now looks more official than military. We learned about the organisation’s wide range of activities, its international scope and even its finances.
OCTOBER 2019 – Andrew Lound gave an energetic video and Power Point presentation about APOLLO: A MOON ODYSSEY. It followed the history of space exploration from Yuri Gagarin’s first flight in 1961 to the race between America and Russia to land on the moon. We followed the various Apollo test flights to the successful Apollo 11 landing on the moon on 20th July 1969, piloted by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the lunar module Eagle with Michael Collins in the mother craft. It was a very interesting talk.
SEPTEMBER 2019 – Alison Harris gave an excellent talk about her experiences as a journalist, which included at times almost every role in the production of free newspapers, plus experience in paid-for newspapers. She told of the transition through technologies and the poor pay, boosted significantly at times by freelance writing for national papers. She changed career to PR and still helps charities in that role and currently heads the Probus Magazine.
AUGUST 2019 – Peter Simpkin gave a most entertaining talk about his experiences in broadcasting. He worked in ITV and the BBC, as a sound engineer, cameraman, newsreader, producer and commentator. His activities included Pebble Mill studios and WM Radio and in his broadcaster role he tried his hand as a trainee bus driver and also met many celebrities. He regretted the passing of some of what he saw as the high standards of the old guard.
JULY 2019 – Sheila Woolf gave an excellent talk about the life of Sir Henry Parkes, who was born in what is now Canley, Coventry, and was evicted with his parents from their farm. He went on to achieve wealth and high government office in Australia. He was a man of great energy, becoming a parent several times in late life.
JUNE 2019 – John McCarthy, Crocus and Cornflowers 1936-47 – The Holocaust. This was a true story of events between 1936 and 1947 and dealt with two people who managed to escape the Holocaust. “The Crocus and a Cornflower” was a book originally written by John Macartney for the only daughter of one of the principal characters, Hans Koch.
MAY 2019 – Gerald Seaman gave a captivating talk about the lead up to his time studying and lecturing on music in Russia and many other countries. He learned Russian while doing National Service and after Oxford University he declined an invitation to become a spy, a decision which probably saved his life as Kim Philby was betraying British spies. Gerald told of his experiences living in Russia and of meetings with Khachaturian, Krennikov and Shostakovitch, about whom he is writing a book.
APRIL 2019 – Heidi Meyer: This was a return visit by Heidi, an excellent and interesting presenter. She spent five years in Kabul, working for the US government. She talked movingly about the present state of Afghanistan, told of its turbulent history since 1970 and discussed some of the US/allied forces decisions and their consequences.
MARCH 2019 – Toney Hadland gave us his very entertaining “Whistle Stop Tour” of 8 heritage railways in picturesque places in 5 countries, based on his own photos, videos and experiences of those trains. Even for those who have no particular technical interest in old trains, his talk gave us some fascinating history and facts about their role and survival.
FEBRUARY 2019 – Roy Smart, a regular and excellent presenter, talked of Amy Johnston, from Kingston Upon Hull to London where she qualified as a pilot and as the world’s first female aeronautical engineer. She flew single handed to Darwin, Australia where fame, fortune, marriage, divorce and misfortune followed. Finally came the war and her tragic death in the sea off the Thames estuary whilst serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary Squadron.
JANUARY 2019 – Max Hunt talked about the history of the Worcestershire village of Shelsley Walsh, about its still working historic water powered corn mill and its famous Hill Climbing Course, and especially about the great cars and drivers. He used illustrations from historic images and from photos taken by himself in his activities on the Course.
DECEMBER 2018 – Chris Arnott, well known local author and always an interesting speaker, talked about his latest book, “Larkin About”, on Philip Larkin and the Coventry locations that influenced him, including several very close to the Probus meeting place.
NOVEMBER 2018 – Pierre Valdenbray gave an excellent presentation about fracking, based on his long experience as a consultant to the industry in many countries. We gained a good understanding of the perceived risks and benefits of this sometimes controversial technology.
OCTOBER 2018 – Paddy Hannigan gave a delightful talk called “Boom and Bust, Wall Street”, about the political, social and economic events of the US after WW1. Events were brought alive with quotes in a good American accent, illustrating a country more appropriately thought of as the “Disunited States of America”.
SEPTEMBER 2018 – Roy Smart, formerly of the Fleet Air Arm, gave a beautifully crafted and entertaining presentation about “the English Icarus”, Percy Pilcher, the first Englishman to die in pursuit of flight, in 1899. Percy made many successful glider flights before crashing to his death in a public demonstration of horse powered flight – via a pulling rope and speed multiplier pulleys. This was at nearby Stanton Hall where a monument commemorates him.
AUGUST 2018 – Yvonne Penn described the day to day challenges met by the Society in bringing help to seamen who operate far from the bosom of home and family whilst being at sea for months or even years. Accounts of bullying, loneliness, drunkenness, corruption and poor
employer relationships are the order of the day for their Chaplains.
JULY 2018 – Robin Kenward of REMAP returned to give gave another uplifting account of how volunteers make bespoke solutions to disability problems and he showed many examples of ingenious ideas to help the disabled and their families.
JUNE 2018 – Tony Hadland gave an excellent and well researched talk about the first 125 years of the Raleigh cycle manufacturing company. He disposed of many myths while explaining the history of the company, its products and the famous heron badge.
MAY 2018 – Simon Topman, Managing Director of the Joseph Hudson company, gave a hugely entertaining talk about the thriving Birmingham manufacturer, the ACME Whistle company, that makes a variety of whistles. It has about 50 employees and holds its own against counterfeiting rivals in Asia, It originated the London police whistle and made the whistles on the Titanic.
APRIL 2018 – The planned speaker Kate McGory was replaced by a colleague who gave a deeply personal account of his reasons for being a keen supporter of the Marie Curie organisation. He very clearly described its origins and its work.
MARCH 2018 – Janice Wade spoke on My Policing Recollections from a Woman’s Perspective and gave a most entertaining talk about her experiences. They included her time as a Chief Inspector in West Midlands police stations, also in Special Branch, and her role in Lesotho in Africa. She also told of meeting Nelson Mandela on his visit to Birmingham and greeting him in his native language.
FEBRUARY 2018 – Martin Clarke, under the banner of “Wiggle and Giggle, the Worm Man”, gave a hilarious account of his experiences in setting up the largest worm farm in the UK, with tales of skulduggery, official incompetence, the unexpected behaviour of worms, and the help he had from an unexpected direction.
JANUARY 2018 – David Skillen gave a lively talk about the famous American battle of the Alamo, explaining also the events that surrounded it.
DECEMBER 2017 – Heidi Meyer, the new Master (and the first woman in that role) of The Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick, gave an account of the history and present status of the “Hospital” and especially its role as a residential establishment for deserving ex-servicemen.
NOVEMBER 2017 – Tony Hadland gave an illustrated talk about his family’s long connection with famous engineers, through over two centuries, from Trevithick to Barnes Wallis.
OCTOBER 2017 – David Nurse gave a talk on motor sport and racing.
SEPTEMBER 2017 – Robin Kenward of REMAP gave an uplifting account of how volunteers make bespoke solutions to disability problems and showed many examples of ingenious ideas to help the disabled and their families.
AUGUST 2017 – Tim Cooper-Cocks gave an informative and entertaining talk about the importance, the benefits and the process of setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney for both assets and health.
JULY 2017 – Georgina Hale skilfully told the story of her brush with death when her cruise ship sank off Antarctica after nudging an iceberg, how she and her husband and all the others narrowly survived, her dealings with the media, and her charity work in memory of her husband.
JUNE 2017 – Alan Winterburn presented a traditional slide show with fascinating commentary about Little Known Cotswolds.
MAY 2017 – Chris Arnott gave an entertaining talk based on his travels on UK narrow gauge railways and related in his book Small Island by Little Train.
APRIL 2017 – David Skillen gave a no holds barred account of the Battle of Townton in Yorkshire, probably the bloodiest battle on British soil and surprisingly little known.