103 Woodside gets ready. The plaque is up behind the red curtains and the press are waiting.
There were four speakers: Professor Martin Daunton from English Heritage; Dr Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer’s biographer; Major General Jeremy Rougier, her nephew; and Susanna, Lady Rougier, her daughter-in-law. Stephen Fry, writer, actor, broadcaster, and appreciative reader of Georgette Heyer, would do the honours, formally pull the cord and reveal the plaque.
The four speakers: l-r: Dr Jennifer Kloester; Stephen Fry; Susanna, Lady Rougier; Major General Jeremy Rougier
Professor Daunton opened the proceedings and began by settling the pronunciation of ‘Heyer’- with so many family members present, he had to get it right. ‘Heyer’ rhymes with ‘mayor’, and ‘Georgette’ is pronounced in the French way with the ‘g’ soft, as in the second ‘g’ in ‘garage’. He then gave us the background of the blue plaque scheme and said that the committee had been delighted to honour Georgette Heyer with a plaque.
Professor Mark Daunton: deputy chairman of the English Heritage Blue Plaque panel
Dr Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer’s biographer, spoke passionately about Georgette Heyer’s career and why her novels are so loved for their wit, intelligence, and historical accuracy, adding that they also show the importance of the social mores of Georgette’s own Edwardian upbringing.
Jennifer Kloester speaks
Susanna, Lady Rougier, talked about Georgette Heyer as a person: a formidable woman, always elegant and stylishly dressed, she could be intimidating. In fact, the first time she met her, she was so terrified that her knees were shaking. Fortunately, Georgette Heyer took to her and Lady Rougier recalled numerous gossipy phone calls, and her kindness and generosity. She said that Georgette Heyer wrote her novels extremely fast, usually in a couple of months – a feat many of us would like to be able to emulate.
Major General Jeremy Rougier, Georgette Heyer’s nephew, spoke amusingly about his aunt. He once asked her why she continued to live in Albany on Piccadilly, an address which, in those pre-double-glazing days, suffered badly from traffic noise. She replied that it was equidistant between her two favourite shops: Fortnum and Mason’s and Harrod’s!
Stephen Fry speaks
Stephen Fry spoke enthusiastically of Georgette Heyer’s stylish and witty novels. He’d discovered them at school and has loved them ever since. He finds them great comfort reading if ever he’s under the weather. (I was amused to hear that Nigella Lawson is another Heyer fan.) He then pulled the cord and the curtains slid open to reveal the plaque. We all cheered. This was followed by a bit of checking to see if the curtains really had opened.
I’ve always enjoyed behind the scenes stuff, so I hung around to see what happened to the white wooden pelmet with the English Heritage logo and the curtains. When the guests of honour had left, Trevor Ramsay, the English Heritage blue plaque installer, moved in with a ladder and an electric drill. His assistant posed herself at the bottom of the ladder. Trevor climbed up, removed the curtains and the cord and threw them down to his assistant who neatly folded them for use next time. He unscrewed the nails which held the pelmet in place and carefully took it down. He then photographed the plaque for his records and that was that. It took a matter of moments, though he told me afterwards that he’d had trouble getting the plaque up. It was larger than usual – due to ‘Georgette’ being a long name, and positioned high up on the circle - and correspondingly heavy.
Trevor Ramsay does his stuff. Note the folded red curtains – they will be used again
Jenny Haddon, Jan Jones and Roger Sanderson from the Romantic Novelists’ Association had prepared a wonderful spread for us in St Mary’s church hall (the church where Georgette Heyer and Ronald Rougier were married in August 1925). It was good to sit down, eat the delicious sandwiches and cakes, drink our tea, coffee, or champagne and talk to fellow Heyer enthusiasts. I was delighted to meet our very own Amanda Grange and we chatted happily about our favourite scenes and characters.
Amanda Grange and Elizabeth Hawksley. I love Amanda’s elegant green shoes! The church where Georgette Heyer was married can just be glimpsed in the background.
The actor Ric Jerrom gave some splendid readings (the scene where Venetia meets Damerel from Venetia, and the terrific denouement from The Unknown Ajax), and we heard a few more lively reminiscences from Georgette Heyer's friends and relatives.
The afternoon ended as we raised our glasses to the ever-green memory of Georgette Heyer. It was an exhilarating occasion and I’m thrilled that Georgette Heyer, who has given so much pleasure to so many people, has been remembered in this way.
The plaque revealed.
For more information on the blue plaque scheme go to: www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques They have an excellent account of the blue plaque installation for Georgette Heyer.