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At the Boys' Club 86th Anniversary Dinner

September 8, 2010
by the gentle author

Last night, I had the delight of attending the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club eighty-sixth anniversary dinner at the invitation of my new friend, club member Ron Goldstein. Entering the bar, I was immediately in the thick of a loud exuberant party of a hundred old boys in dark suits and club ties – the majority were octogenarians – all laughing and greeting each other flamboyantly in unselfconscious joy.

The rare spectacle of so many happy people together in one room stopped me in my tracks, it was sight to lift the heaviest heart. These were boys of modest origins who grew up on the Boundary Estate and in the surrounding streets of Bethnal Green and for whom the boys’ club (founded in 1924) offered a place of refuge where they could participate in cultural, educational and physical activities that served to raise their expectations of life. And many of the bonds of friendship formed there a lifetime ago exist to this day, as these lively reunions testify.

Aubrey Silkoff, the boy who wrote his name on the wall in Navarre St, Arnold Circus on the 19th April 1950, came to greet me. Like me, he was a newcomer attending his first reunion but already he was swept along by the emotion of the occasion. “I’ve just met people I haven’t seen for fifty years!” he declared with breathless excitement, introducing three childhood friends Alan Kane, David Goldsmith and Melvyn Burton who also wrote their names on the wall in 1950 when they used to play together. “We were happy in those days,” announced Alan, turning sentimental and speaking on behalf of his pals. “Do you know why? Because we hadn’t got a pot to piss in!” he continued, answering his own question, guffawing and breaking into the broadest smile, while the others exchanged fond satirical glances. Reunited, the excited dynamic of their childhood friendship took over and, as I cast my eyes around the room, I realised that while all these men lived as husbands, fathers and grandfathers in daily life, tonight they were free to be boys.

Once everyone was gathered, Maxie Lea MBE, the diminutive and playful club secretary, invited us to walk through into the dining room, where Ron and I took our seats at large round tables. Then Monty Meth MBE, the bright-eyed club chairman welcomed everyone, reading out apologies for absentees, saluting an old boy who had flown in from Dallas for the night and remembering those who had died since last year. Each name was received with cheers, applause and cheerful hammering on the tables, with the greatest affectionate response reserved for those who were here last year and all previous years, but who would never be seen again.

After a chicken dinner followed by chocolate gateau, Tony and Irving Hiller stood up to sing, providing the opportunity for everyone to express the sentiment that had been building up all evening. The gentleman next to me confided he had been friends with Tony – a talented songwriter who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 – since they both met in kindergarten at the age of four, eighty years ago. All shyness and unfamiliarity were overcome now, bonds of friendship had been reaffirmed and it was time to play. Beginning with the club song (with new words to the tune of “Anchors Away”), providing the catalyst to release any lingering inhibitions, “So, as members of the best club of all/We’re shouting Cambridge/With a C-A-M-B-R-I-D-G-E/ Whizz bang, Whizz bang, Whizz bang rah/Who in the hell do you think we are?/C-A-M-B-R-I-D-G-E !” It was the cue for everyone to wave their hands, link arms, or stand and gyrate, re-enacting teenage idiosyncrasies and celebrating them in others, as distant memories of years ago came back to life. Although very little alcohol was drunk that night, everyone was high on emotion. A sense of mortality intensified the delight for some, and in the midst of the skylarking and high jinks a few tears of happiness were discreetly wiped away.

Few of these men live in the East End anymore, although many grew up here before the blitz – in a world we perceive today through black and white photographs of terraces with children playing in the street. Quite literally, some of these men were those children in the photos. Yet in their hearts they all still live in the East End, as incarnated by the spirit of emotional generosity, decency and respect that was encouraged by the boys’ club and which forms the basis of their common understanding. It is not the same East End you and I know today, but it is an East End that has a vibrant existence between members of this generation whenever they come together. My experience of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club reunion dinner was a living vision of the very best of this lost world.

Through my many conversations, I learnt that while they have achieved professional careers and some have been honoured for distinguished service in the forces, none was ashamed of their origin. All were eager to come and show their gratitude to the boys’ club that provided such a life-changing experience – because, as the years go by, they recognise the familiar sense of belonging together more than they can belong to the increasingly unfamiliar geographical space of the East End.

I shook hands with Aubrey Silkoff at the end of our first reunion dinner, and we both turned to the spectacle of  multiple farewells that filled the room. “Everyone turned out well, didn’t they?” he said, nodding his head in approval as the quiet realisation came to him. I think he will be back next year.

Pictured in the top photograph, boyhood chums Des Gammon and  Sidney Berns.

Joe and Simon Brandez, father and son, both old boys.

Ron Goldstein with boyhood pal Ben Lampert.

Alan Kane

Len Sanders with his grandson Scott, both old boys.

Michael Denton, the oldest boy of all at ninety seven years of age.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. September 8, 2010

    Dear Gentle Author

    You have done the club proud and it was a pleasure to have had you with us as an honoured guest

    A brilliant report !

    On behalf of all who attended, many thanks

    Ron

  2. Susan permalink
    September 8, 2010

    I wish I had some group that would call to me over the years like that. What wonderful, joyous photos.

  3. jeannette permalink
    September 9, 2010

    how beautiful. i hope you gave mr. michael denton a big kiss for me.

  4. Anita Loftus (nee Colever) permalink*
    September 19, 2010

    Dear Ron,
    I lived in Leslie House, Brick Lane, from the early 30′s until 1942, when Jack Loftus and myself were married in the Chance Street Building after the Bethnal Green Syn. was bombed. Unfortunately, Jack passed away 6 months after our 60th wedding anniversary in March 2003, aged 82. Jack was a member of your club and went to a couple of the re-unions in the 60′s (I still have the brochures. I have seen all the photos of this year’s re-union but unfortunately, so few names are mentioned under each photo. I did recognise Simon Kester and Ben Katz and the Hiller brothers and I was sorry to learn that my school friend Annie Hiller had passed away. I am now living with my only daughter in Melbourne Australia and I received the news from Joe Kaye (Kosky) now living in Los Angeles, by way of Ben Katz. I have been re-united with Joe, Simon and Ben by email. So anyone who may
    remember me or Jack I will be very pleased to hear from you.
    My email address is anitalofAToptusnet.com.a

  5. Ron Goldstein permalink*
    September 19, 2010

    Dear Anita

    As you know, we are now happily corresponding by e-mail.

    What I would advise to others posting on this forum is never to give your full e-mail address but to use the word AT instead of using the @ sign.

    Finally, if you ever need to contact me with queries about the C&BG Boy’s Club you can do so through http://candbgoldboys.blogspot.com/.

    Best regards

    Ron

  6. Ann Kaye (Hannah Konetsky) permalink
    September 12, 2011

    It is with great regret that I have to inform you all that my darling brother Martin Lewis (Konetsky) passed away on September 9th. His funeral will be on Tuesday September 13th at Rainham in Essex. He was loyal club member and this year was the first year that he missed attending the reunion. He was very much loved and will be missed by everyone. If anyone knows how to get in touch with Max Lea –please ask him to phone me 0208-958-3852

  7. Ann Kaye (Hannah Konetsky) permalink
    September 12, 2011

    Or anyone who remembers me too..I’d love to hear from you by phone for now. I am just learning how to use the computer.

  8. Rob Jones permalink
    September 12, 2012

    I went to New Cambridge Boys Club up to the point that it was closed down in Virginia School in the late eighties/early nineties. Lennie Saunders was a great Badminton coach, and Joe Brandez taught me everything I knew about Table Tennis. Dave and Pauline Greenhalgh took good care of us and those weekends at Woodrow, and Hindleap will forever live in my memory. We also had Gripper (Terry Mose), so called because he had a Gripper Stepson (Grange Hill) hairstyle. I’ve still got all my trophies in the loft from the open evenings, and glad to have met Les Sealey RIP and Clive Allen. Also a big mention to Jim Wren RIP. His passing will live forever in my memory.

  9. mick twohig permalink
    November 25, 2012

    I was a member from about 1962 till starting work,Wow what a place for kids to grow.Camping at weekends, playing in the woods.Fish and chips from bishop stortford chippie shop. Trying to erect a tent in the pouring rain. Mr tichmarsh giving you a fag if you had to fill the hole what was used for abolutions, who remembers bootsie, what a good bloke. if anyone reads this and knows where the lambs live tony and raymond please get in touch, oh yes and playing in the school grounds against spurs organised by maxie lea. any pics. thanks to all who helped me grow up.
    love to all
    mick

  10. fred gallone permalink
    August 22, 2013

    I attended the club as a teenager in the mid -late 70′s and remember playing badminton with Len and Maxie.

    Len made a fundermental point during a game once when he took me to one side and said “fred, you a good player, but the object of the game is to win the point not just to return the shuttlecock”
    It changed everything for me that moment onwards. I started to question and to try and discover the reasons why thing were in everything I did.
    I always remember that lesson fron Len, it had a profound effect on me.

  11. Joan Rose (nee Raymond) permalink
    August 21, 2014

    How wonderful to find this page on spitalfieldslife. So many names that I recognise. Lambert, Hiller, Katz etc.. Do any of you remember us Lily, Vera, Doris and Joan Raymond. My grandparents and parents (Lil and Alf) had the greengrocers in Calvert Ave.

  12. jim goodson permalink
    December 21, 2016

    Ilived in calvert avenue went to ncbc and played against spurs and scored also new the lamb family very well would love to know .if any pictures of the spurs game exist many thanks

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