Hitum society revels

Dressed for the part, the revellers looked so smart they could almost be from Tilling

Some residents and visitors to Rye might be forgiven for thinking that Mapp and Lucia mania [the subjects of the comic historic novels written by former Rye Mayor EF Benson, for newcomers] is a recent phenomenon, caused by the summer’s BBC filming for a new series to be screened over Christmas.

But they would be very wrong. There are two long standing and highly popular societies that revere these two ladies. First, the EF Benson Society, run by Allan Downend, well known to Rye News readers, having recently given us insights into the locations and characters of the books during the filming.

And secondly, the Friends of Tilling who celebrated their 10th anniversary last week, with a slap up dinner in the Mermaid, preceded by a walk to EF Benson’s grave at Rye cemetery and a Tom Holt story reading.

A glorious confection celebrating the first decade
A glorious confection celebrating the first decade

Revellers dressed in 1920’s “hitum” (the smartest possible dress according to the novels) and enjoyed a hilarious evening, hosted by the Society’s president Gyles Brandreth. Many of the characters were present in human form – I was lucky enough to be seated at the Padre’s table. People from around the country were present; a lot of them having come for many of the 10 years this gathering has been operating. Rather inappropriately, if you know the books, the evening was very good fun, with no feuds, misunderstandings, sharp remarks or deep rivalries marring the happy occasion.

Gyles told his devoted audience that recently he has seen both Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan, who played the original Mapp and Lucia in the 1980s ITV series, and they sent their good wishes to the society. A birthday cake was unveiled and we sang a song in honour of Fred (EF Benson). The loyal toast was proposed by Allan Downend and the evening finished with a “po di mu”, lovely “Mozartino” and a smidgeon of Chopin in duet form.

Ryers will get another chance to see Gyles Brandreth at the Rye Arts Festival where he will be performing (this really is the only word) at the Milligan Theatre on September 21 at 3pm, see website.

If there is anyone left in Rye who hasn’t yet read the Mapp and Lucia books, there is still time to do so and then join the Friends of Tilling at their next annual gathering on September 5, 2015. It really is something very special to look forward to. See website.