Foyles seeks Posh image for lunches

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The Independent Online

Move over H G Wells. One of our more famous literary institutions is looking to Posh Spice and Jamie Oliver to help revive its flagging fortunes. Some 71 years after it first gave Britain's men of letters a platform to plug their works, the Foyles Literary Luncheon has embarked on a hunt for pop stars and TV celebrities.

Christopher Foyle, chairman of the Charing Cross Road bookshop which sponsors the lunches and nephew of the late matriarch Christina Foyle, says veterans of the regular gatherings can expect a new style of popular speaker within the year.

"One name that's come up is Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef. We have also been talking about asking Nigella Lawson," he said. "As long as it's going to attract an audience – which she certainly would – we would be very happy to give someone like Victoria Beckham their own lunch. We want to open the doors to more young speakers."

The Foyles lunch was founded by Christina Foyle in 1930, when she was 19. Its guest-speaker slot was the preserve of elder statesmen from politics and the arts, attracting HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell and Sir Winston Churchill. More recently, audiences have been treated to the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Donald Sinden, while the coming months promise such stalwarts as Douglas Hurd, John Mortimer and Roy Jenkins. Small wonder perhaps that the average attendance has dwindled from a 1930s high of 1,500-2,000 to between 200 and 500 today.

"When I was a young boy, the lunches were packed with women wearing big hats who lived in Knightsbridge and Kensington," said Mr Foyle. "It's often been said that now we ought to have both a younger audience and a younger profile of guests."

Foyles will continue to laud the literary elite and veteran theatrical stars at lunches in the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel. But it now plans to host parallel events at fashionable West End restaurants to mark the publication of books by footballers, TV chefs and others of that ilk. It also hopes to hold events at night in order to make them more accessible to a new audience.

"The people who come are the sort who can afford to take time off during the day. But unless people are on social security or retired, very few have that sort of time available," he said. For years the shop was famously old-fashioned, inflicting an arcane payment system on long-suffering customers who had to queue three times to make a single purchase. This, like the lunch, has now been modernised.