They began in the autumn of 1968 with Dame Flora Robson as Elizabeth I and went on for several years. Those who composed the scripts included Elizabeth Longford, CV Wedgwood and Cecil Woodham-Smith besides John himself. Those who performed them included Carleton Hobbs, Dorothy Reynolds, Richard Pasco and Sybil Thorndike. John was adept at twisting people's arms and was well known for having all the 'Dames' in tow.
This series brought new life and glamour to a gallery which up until then had had little. John's energy never flagged. He had great determination and a wide-ranging knowledge of both English poetry and letters.
It is not without significance that AS Byatt's brilliant novel The Virgin in the Garden actually opens during one of these readings. Several were recorded, including the most memorable, that in which Sybil Thorndike recalled Ellen Terry.