I wandered along to a lecture this evening which was due to discuss the relationship between two of the great Diarists of the English Restoration period, being Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. It was billed as Supper and a Lecture, and indeed there was a quite hearty supper, and unexpected glasses of wine (yes, plural) – but there was also much else which was not expected.

It was actually quite a bizarre evening all told.

I had been told about the series of talks by The Greenwich Phantom, and my initial reaction was to think that £12 was too much for an evening talk. It wasn’t until I reread the leaflet that I realised it included supper, which made it seem much better value for money. Personally, I am leery of paying above £10 for a lecture unless it is really good. Some commercial venues try to charge almost obscene fees for their talks, while the LSE seems able to pull in Presidents and Prime Ministers for free, which is frankly, damned impressive.

When I am adding events to the listings guide, part of my personal editing process is whether I feel it ticks the “value for money” box. Fortunately, most events and venues offer outstanding value, which then makes me shake my head in bewilderment when I get emails from people trying to charge upwards of £30+ for an evening talk or a guided walk.

I am not adverse to pay loads for a talk – but it has to be a talker who is amazing, such as William Hague MP who is a fantasitic “after dinner” speaker, and rightly commands the fees he earns.

Getting back to this evening, the supper was not bad at all, although it was served in those strange boxes that Americans seem to always be eating chinese food out of on TV shows. The portions were ample, and the food filling, so no complaints there at all.

I always like a glass of wine, and as the lecture was in a truly ancient church, glass of wine + lecture + old building is one of my favourite ways to spend an evening.

The talk was unexpectedly preceded by singing from the Stella Vocal Ensemble from Budapest, who sung the apt “Pepys Club” Grace (quite enjoyable), and then an introduction by The Rector of the church. Then the talk commenced, which I will mention later – a break for more wine, and then quite oddly from my experience, we all sung a Hymn.


OK, we were in a church, but I have never been to a lecture given in a church which then proceeded to include religious events as well. As my singing makes a cat on heat wailing in the spring evening sound pleasant, I quietly mumbled along. The talk then carried on and we finished off with a couple more enjoyable choral style songs from the Stella Vocal Ensemble – and then the Rector asked us to stand and pray and then blessed the “congregation”.

Although I am not a Christian, I don’t object to the Hymns and prayer – it was just very unexpected and just felt slightly strange, although not unpleasant.

The talk though, was a bit of a let down – I am not sure if it was the subject being talked about, which has little supporting 3rd party information, or the speaker – although I think it was a mixture of the two.

What I personally love is to go to a talk and get more human background information and insights into a topic. Tonight’s, was supposed to be the relationship between the two great writers, and I would say that about 3/4s of the talk was reading overly long excerpts from the diaries themselves and very little insight into them outside what is written in those diaries.

I left with a couple of pages of notes of interesting things to research, but I felt that while the evening was genuinely enjoyable, even though my knowledge of the writers is limited, I hadn’t really learnt anything new, or gossip that I could sit back, remember and smile at.

The talker commented that John Evelyn is generally remembered as being the man who wasn’t Samuel Pepys, while I came away thinking that was lecture that wasn’t about the relationship between the two men.

I would hope that the nature of the topic, which has little supporting material outside the diaries is why the lecture seemed a bit of a let down, and will probably go back later this year for the Royal Society talk – as there is tons of outside documentation about the august organisation, so the talk should be a lot better.

The other issue I had was that the talker spent the evening reading almost verbatim from a script, which also made it slightly difficult to know when a “quotation” ended and the speaker started as it was all delivered in the same voice and from the same speech notes. Not the worst lecture style I have seen, but not particularly uplifting either.

Maybe in my trawling of the lecture circuit in London I have become a “lecture snob”, which would be a pity as being a former public speaker myself I know just how difficult it can be to give an interesting talk, particularly if you need to read quite a few verbatim quotes from a script.

That said, I did take write some notes for topics that caught my attention and which will result in further reading one day, and it is a very nice church, one of the few to survive the Great Fire of London – will go back to take photos one day.

Oh, the singing by the Ensemble was very good – and they are giving a lunchtime concert on Wednesday.  The church is St Olave’s Church, Hart Street – just round the corner from Tower Hill tube station.


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One comment
  1. Its actually not that difficult to give an interesting talk – but you have to have put in lots of spadework first, doing your research properly and always remembering that what may be interesting to you may not necessarily be so to others. And you do have to remember that people pay their money not only to be informed, but also to be entertained. I’ve been to many lectures by the “Great and Good” of my particular field and yes, they may have been very informative, but they were dull as ditchwater. I dont want to listen to their voice; I want to listen to what they are saying. Public speaking is simply performance art – you have to know how to deliver.

    I always try and make my talks lighthearted and humourous – if you can make your audience it a) proves they are still awake, b) shows they are still listening and c) are considerably more likely to remember what you’ve said. and psychologically, its a fact that when someone laughs in a situation like that, their level of concentration increases by some 30% for the next 4 1/2 minutes – so that’s the time to start hitting them with the facts.

    If I’m doing a talk with a lot of quotes, I try to get a friend to come along and read them for me.

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