Continued (page 3 of 7)

"Our first encounter was not very promising," Sir Charles Villiers wrote in his memoirs, Beyond the Sunset. "I was lounging around the entrance of New College, when a sturdy, rugged figure in a sweater and sneakers came at me straight across the hallowed turf, where no man walked except an old gardener with a long white beard... The figure came nearer and nearer and thrust out a hand, saying very positively 'Van Dusen'."

"I was unused to this head-on introduction and, feeling rather a shrinking violet, I only smiled back. 'Well," he said, "what's your name?" I thought this was a bit much and just kept on smiling. "Don't you remember it?" he said. Well, of course at that point my defences collapsed and I confided my surname and we went off to the steward's pantry in the Junior Common Room for some mulled claret..."

That meeting in Oxford in October 1934 — capturing the eternal contrast between British reserve and American self-confidence — was the beginning of a friendship between Lewis Van Dusen, Jr of Philadelphia and Charles Villiers of London which was to last until Villiers's death, aged 79, on 22 January 1992. Like all good historical anecdotes, it is told in different versions: in Van Dusen's recollection, Villiers — who was certainly no shrinking violet, having been a member of 'Pop', the prefectorial élite at Eton, as well as Senior Cadet Officer and Captain of Games — gave him a pretty severe dressing down for walking on the forbidden grass.

But however their conversation began, there was scarcely a month in the succeeding 57 years in which they were not "in touch by letter, phone or visit", as Villiers put it. The dream of creating, in a younger generation, a multiplicity of transatlantic friendships like their own, was what drew them to the concept of the British-American Project when it was first pu t to Villiers in London and when Villiers first took it to Philadelphia to discuss with Van Dusen.

It was the two of them, with Lew's friend Isadore ("Scotty") Scott, who enabled the Project to happen; but the concept itself was born elsewhere. And it was born more out of concern for the deterioration of Anglo-American relations than in celebration of their durability.

 

 

 
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