Mr H. Warner-Allen

no-picture-square3Herbert Warner Allen, 52, (1881-1968) was a journalist and editor, with a talent for languages, and a writer on multiple subjects including his wartime exploits, wine, detective novels (the creator of the wine expert sleuth, Mr William Clerihew) and on spirituality (not the brandy). Being a well-respected writer doubtless explains his connection though we cannot get much closer than that (perhaps he contributed to Time and Tide). However there is a record of him attending a similar dinner in May 1931 at the Connaught Rooms in honour of a Mr George Saintsbury, a man of wine and literature, which was also attended by fellow guests from the Rembrandt, Richard Ellis-Roberts (appointed as Time and Tide’s Literary Editor the month before our dinner), and Marcel X. Boulestin and A.H (Robin) Adair, our restaurateurs on Table 12.[1] [2]

Seated Beside…

I would assume between his theatre-going wife Ethel and perhaps the table’s “hostess”, Marion Lyon.

What’s On His Mind?

Warner was by now retired from journalism and his next book, on sherry, came out later in the year. We might assume he is not expecting miracles from the wine at the dinner but now that he is independent perhaps is interested to hear what Punch’s advertising expert has to say on the state of publishing.

Warner’s Story So Far

Herbert Warner Allen, rarely hyphenated, though it is on the guest list, perhaps erroneously, was invariably – outside the family I assume – called Warner (hence I have broken my practice above of using his Christian name).  He was born in Godalming, Surrey on 8th March 1881, the elder son of Captain George Woronzow Allen RN, and his wife, Ethel Harriet, daughter of the Revd Canon John Manuel Echalaz (1801–1877), rector of Appleby in Derbyshire and fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. Warner was educated at Charterhouse School, won a scholarship to University College, Oxford, where he won a first class degree and developed a leaning towards a literary career, with a talent for modern languages.

In 1908 he was appointed Paris correspondent of the Morning Post, with the opportunity of being immersed in French life at the end of the belle époque. He married Ethel Pemberton in Paris that year, albeit not appearing in the Paris records (at least in any of the 20 arrondissments). They had one son, George Woronzow Allen (born at the American Hospital , Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 30.1.1916 – 1988), an artist of the Neo-Romantic School. [3] At the time of their son’s birth they were living on the Paris Left Bank at 21 rue Casimir Perier, 7th arrondissement, Paris, his widowed mother-in-law Alice Ethel Pemberton living at 82 rue de Grenelle, also in the 7th arrondissement.  In 1914 Warner was an official representative of the British press at the French front. In 1917 he was with the British in Italy and in 1918 he transferred to the American expeditionary force in France, and accompanied it as it occupied Germany. As a result many of the early reports on the war such as “Death Corner in Arras: Hidden Treasures of the Citizens” or “With the French on the Somme” were sent by Warner.[4] [5]

From these experiences he published The Unbroken Line (1916) and, with the paintings of Captain Martin Hardie, Our Italian Front (1920). He was made C.B.E. in 1920 and Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur for his war services. He was to serve also, at 58, in the Second World War.

He participated in a disastrous cross-channel flight of the Morning Post dirigible, which could have ended his story there, but he escaped almost unscathed. After being Foreign Editor of the Morning Post (1925–8), London editor of the Yorkshire Post (1928–30) and contributing to the Saturday Review, by the time of the dinner he had retired to Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Berkshire, and had recently published the second of his books on wine, The Romance of Wine (1931). His first, The Wines of France, was published in 1924. The third, Sherry, was doubtless in the works, being readied for the Christmas present lists in December. Perhaps the best illustration of his expertise is to quote not his own work but what others wrote in judgement:

The Times 11th July 1930

There is a superiority about the wine connoisseur that puts a nervous humility into the heart of the ignorant, who likes his glass but leaves the choice to the clever talker. A still small voice sometimes hesitates a doubt; but nothing can quell the arrogance of the knowing one. Mr. Warner Allen, author of Gentlemen, I Give You Wine (Faber and Faber; Criterion Miscellany, No. 17; 1s. net), is among the knowing, but his reader need go in no fear of arrogance. Nor, it may be suggested (with the diffidence which becomes the innocent), will he be enlightened to any useful extent on the actual difference between the flavours of one claret and another, one Burgundy and another, although all the famous names and dates are here assembled. He will but learn that wine is a glorious thing for man and prohibition an evil thing. Mr. Allen writes like a poet. He dresses his bottles with flowery garlands. Like the thing he celebrates, his song of praise has sparkling bubbles beading at the brim. When a man says that Margaux, 1871, is “like the breezes from the Islands of the Blest, a dream of grace and delicacy, the twinkling feet of dancing Nymphs suddenly set free in our tedious world,” we know he is enjoying his drink, but the definition is hardly precise enough to guide the waiter and the wine merchant. So might some ecstatic drinker whose strange taste lies that way sing the song of sarsaparilla. Still, it is obvious that Mr. Allen’s wines are most excellent drinks, and his essay is certainly a joyful one.[6]

What Warner Did Next

“What Warner Did Next” is quite appropriate, as from 1936 he added detective novels to his oeuvre (as well as continuing with wine and other subjects). He began with The Uncounted Hour: a Crime Story, in 1936, and in collaboration with E. C. Bentley, Trent’s Own Case (1936) [7] – a follow-up to Bentley’s earlier highly successful mystery novel, Trent’s Last Case (1913). As a result in 1936 The Times was listing reviews of his new work alongside that of other Rembrandt guests: “Irish Literature and Drama” by Stephen Gwynn; “This Have and Have-Not Business”, by Sir Norman Angell; and novels by E. C. Bentley and H. Warner Allen.[8]

And as we are in the process of trying to bring to life and solve our own “Dinner Puzzle”, a story from the world of the detection is wholly appropriate.  In May 1936, three years after the dinner at the Rembrandt, another smaller, but no less star-studded, repast was enjoyed to mark the publication of “Trent’s Own Case”, the detective novel that Warner-Allen wrote with E.C. Bentley.  Martin Edwards, the current Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and the eighth President of the Detection Club, has kindly allowed us to share his website’s review of the dinner and the pictures of the book signed by the attendees:

“On 21st May 1936, the ‘Trent Dinner’ took place, no doubt to mark the return of the great detective. At least two copies of the book were signed by the luminaries present and, it is believed, one was kept by Bentley, the other by Warner Allen. The photographs here are of the Warner Allen copy, which he appears to have inscribed and presented to ‘PWB’ in 1942. The half title is signed by [Dorothy] Sayers, Bentley, Warner Allen, Sadleir, Henry Wade (an excellent, under-rated crime novelist and one of my personal favourites), Frank Swinnerton (a popular novelist of the time, and notable critic and biographer, but not a crime writer), Milward Kennedy (a reviewer who also wrote a handful of detective stories), Nicholas Blake (who became a highly respected crime writer as well as, under his own name, Cecil Day Lewis, Poet Laureate), Freeman Wills Crofts and Martha Smith and dated 21.5.36.

…..[Trent’s Own Case]…“is a competent detective story, but nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not in the same league as its famous predecessor. But the Trent Dinner copy conjures up in my mind a fascinating picture of a group of literary friends gathering together over a meal (no doubt with excellent wine chosen by Warner Allen) to celebrate the rebirth of a legendary detective. What one would give to have eavesdropped on the conversation at the dinner table…”  ©Martin Edwards http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/index.htm

Indeed!  Another dinner puzzle!

trent front 2 pages

wines-of-portugal
The Wines of Portugal by H. Warner Allen

After WW2 he published further wine books, and was highly respected by the wine trade. He himself set greatest store by his mystical writings such as The Timeless Moment (1946) and The Uncurtained Throne (1951), having over the years a perception of transcendental values and a faith in the immortality of the soul. His ODNB biographer writes of him as a man “of great personal serenity and an outward gentleness of ….. of rather above average height, with kindly features and, as the French politely put it, a léger embonpoint of the true gourmet”.

Warner died at his Berkshire home on 12th January 1968, and “was mourned by a large circle of friends, and a school of young disciples who were perhaps more attracted by his philosophy of the table than by his spiritual intimations.” We hope the dinner at the Rembrandt was acceptable. [9] However clearly one disciple remembered the spiritual side:

The Times 19th January 1968

A. T. writes: – In your obituary notice of the late Mr. Warner Allen you do not mention the books he wrote describing his “journey on the Mystic Way”. The best known of these books was The Timeless Moment in which he gave some account of a visionary experience that for him “flashed up lightning-wise during a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Queen’s Hall “. In this split second of time he received (as no one reading his books can doubt) a flash of absolute reality that broke through the normal barriers of the conscious mind and left a trail of illumination in its wake. Mr. Allen never claimed to be an advanced mystic or profound philosopher. He described himself as an ordinary man of the world. He spent years unravelling the implications of his strange experience. The resulting volumes were and are of extraordinary interest. [10]

BACK TO TABLE 5


[1] The Times, 29.5.1931 p12

[2] Warner Allen, Herbert, https://allaboutheaven.org/sources/1123/190/warner-allen

[3] George Warner Allen, Wikipedia, accessed 4.2.2018

[4] Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5.11.1915

[5] Liverpool Daily Post, 20.7.1916

[6] The Times, 11.7.1930 p21

[7] Lindy Hopper, A Penguin a Week: Blog on Trent’s Own Case accessed 4.2.2018

[8] The Times, 13.5.1936

[9] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Allen, (Herbert) Warner (1881–1968), published 23rd September 2004, accessed online 17.3.2018

[10] The Times 19.1.1968 p10

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