Members of the West Kent Branch of the Women’s Institute were delighted when broadcaster Jeremy Paxman agreed to be the guest speaker at their annual council meeting in Tunbridge Wells.
He had already built up quite a local following after visiting the Nevill group previously while researching the WI for an upcoming TV project.
The 1,000 ladies attending the event were less than pleased, though, when they heard a few days before the event that Mr Paxman would not be joining them at the Assembly Hall ‘due to work commitments’.
“Jeremy was summoned to Spain to film a documentary for the BBC,” explained Linda Styles, West Kent’s WI Federation Secretary.
“He gave us less than a week’s notice but there wasn’t a lot we could do. We found an excellent replacement speaker. We have moved on.”
The replacement was the esteemed cricket commentator Henry Blofeld.
“He was absolutely fabulous,” said Linda Styles. “He was funny and charming and our members really enjoyed listening to him.”
Paula Bates, President of the Hawkenbury branch said: “Jeremy Paxman cancelled on us at short notice and we had Henry Blofeld, the cricket commentator, instead.
“He was an excellent speaker, a charming raconteur, telling stories and anecdotes of his life, including some about Ian Fleming, Noel Coward and The Queen.
“No one felt they missed Paxman, who has gone down in all our estimations.”
Another WI member who asked not to be named, said: “Henry Blofeld was really worried appearing in front of 1,000 women but we all welcomed him saying:‘We are very glad you are NOT him! We would much rather have you, we can assure you.’
“His stories were marvellous, though some were a little near the knuckle, probably more suited to a male audience, but the women still erupted with laughter just the same, so it was fine.
“And we were even more intrigued when we heard how the Bond villain Blofeld was named after his father.”