In 1942, as the Eighth Army struggled with Rommel’s Afrika Korps, the RS Surtees Society was conceived by Sir Kenneth Pickthorn Bt. Its conception was minuted in the Michaelmas term papers of the Cambridge Conservative Association. The decision was not immediately put into effect.
Forty years later, Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph nudged the Society into wakefulness. While Sir Charles Pickthorn was out of the country on business, the Peter Simple column solemnly announced (as fact) the establishment of the RS Surtees Society by the absent knight. At the time not a single Surtees title was in print.
Sir Charles Pickthorn Bt threw himself vigorously into the task. As support flooded in he rapidly assembled a membership list of a thousand. These – ‘The Old Members’ – contributed to the Society’s Exchequer and the complete re-publishing of the Surtees canon.
A feeling that the job was done saw the founding fathers of the Society propose withdrawing their funds and winding the Society up. A new Executive Commitee was appointed at an extraordinary general meeting in the Linnaean Society. On Sir Charles’ death in 1995 Lady Helen Pickthorn took on the Society, running it with great elegance and verve until 2011, when she handed the reins to Rob Williams.
The Executive Committee
The Executive Committee is there to make sure our Society does not become another grand old charger in the cab ranks. Through this body the Society delivers upon its stated aims – of promoting the reputation and re-publishing the works of RS Surtees. That means seeing to it that the Society is solvent and fun. It meets no less than twice a year, and the quorum for a meeting of the Committee is five.
Aims of the Society
- To promote the works of RS Surtees, to maintain his reputation as an author and to stimulate interest in his literary merits.
- To republish the works of RS Surtees as and when the Committee considers necessary and is satisfied that the demand exists, and to publish or republish any biographical or appreciative material about RS Surtees.
- To arrange such meetings and events as, in the opinion of the Committee, will achieve these objects.
If in the opinion of the Committee it is considered advisable to raise funds to achieve the above stated objects the Society may publish or republish works by other authors, or prints by artists, or other items of literary or artistic association; and to do anything else which is lawful and shall be approved beforehand by the members voting in person or by proxy at a General Meeting of the Society.
About R S Surtees
“I never push myself an inch forward, but I damned well see that I am never pushed an inch back.”
He said, at a time when the sentiment was finding heroic expression in the stand of the 93rd Highlanders at Balaclava.
Robert Smith Surtees was born at Hamsterley Hall, County Durham. It was the locus from which all his novels proceeded, and from which he ranged in his pursuit of foxhunting.
In 1822 he was dispatched to London to be articled to a solicitor. Bored with the life there he switched to writing sporting journalism on the subject dearest to his heart – hunting. He soon founded his own periodical – The New Sporting Magazine – and for the rest of his life he wrote and hunted.
How did Surtees consider his position? A contemporary captured it very neatly, refusing Lord Palmerston’s peerage with the words:
‘..with no disrespect to the House of Lords, I consider there is no position higher than that of an English country gentleman’.