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Posted Friday, November 14, 2003

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Stefan de Batselier reports from Germany on Wednesday, January 28, 2004 some unusual facts about Churchill, a black cat, and The Savoy Hotel




Churchill's cat, and The Savoy

YOUR mentioning Churchill's cat just reminded me of a few e-mails and letter we got concerning that .

Here's one: Your Douglas Bader story was very interesting and I think either of your ideas could be right i.e. he was on some secret mission or here for a new leg. When I was younger I was a butcher and worked at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand, London. I and some work mates were talking to an old guy who had worked at the hotel for many years, and he said that Bader and Churchill and some other high ranking service people from the war had a reunion dinner every year in one of the suites; and as the years went by they would carry on when any of them died. He said they would have a stuffed black cat sat in the deceased person's place and the cat would be served the same meal and drinks. This went on for many years. I am not sure if I believe it or not it, but makes a nice story.

Susan Scott, archivist at The Savoy Hotel, has this explanation:

Churchill was certainly a great fan of The Savoy, dining here frequently both during the war and afterwards. His most regular post-war attendance was as a member of "The Other Club", a private dining club that still meets here at regular intervals in the same private (dining) room, "Pinafore". He came to these dinners as often as he was able (health allowing), right up until shortly before his death.

I am puzzled by your description of the black cat. The Savoy has a black carved wooden cat sculpture known as Kaspar. He was made in the mid-1920s by the designer Basil Ionides, and his function is to sit at the table when the number of guests at a private dinner is thirteen, to make the numbers up to fourteen. He is served all the same dishes at the same time as the other guests. He is quite famous, and was actually stolen once or twice during the war by high-spirited officers dining at The Savoy. He was always returned, however. Churchill would certainly have known of him, particularly as for many years he lived on a shelf in "Pinafore", where, as I have said, The Other Club met regularly for dinner.

You do not name your informant, but it might be helpful if you could tell me how they "know" that the story they have told you is accurate. Were they a waiter at The Savoy? Or an attendee at one of the dinners? I wonder if your informant has got confused somewhere along the line, as perhaps Kaspar was pressed into service at a dinner where someone had unexpectedly dropped out (or indeed died) and the result would have been a table for thirteen. I don't know anything about a stuffed cat, I'm afraid.

Stefan de Batselier


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