What is the Vending 21 Club?

Following a growing amount of interest from readers in recent weeks about the Vending 21 Club, Vending International asked its Chairman Eddie Smith to explain where the organisation comes from and what it is all about. It seems that Vending International was there from the start!
The Club’s Rule 3 states: “The objective of the club is to maintain social contact between members” Who would have thought of that? An association of members of a trade, that is in no way a Trade Association but really a luncheon club. Unusual and very successful, this is how it came about.
In the balmy days of the late 1950’s, vending was moving away from cigarette and chocolate machines hanging on walls in stations and outside shops. The vending world that I entered early in 1958 was a world of water valves and relays, Nescafé, and sixpenny piece coin mechs from National Rejectors. Plenty of companies were becoming established, manufacturers and operators. Salesmen and service engineers changed jobs just to get a better set of wheels!
A series of Vendex exhibitions was being planned to be held at Alexandra Palace in north London. The trade press of the day was a monthly magazine called Vending Times soon to become Vending International. It was owned by a gentleman called Roy Pearl.
All of this vibrant growth and people exchange was setting the scene for the camaraderie that surfaced in the 1980’s when The Vending 21 Club emerged.
Fast forward from 1958 to 1981. My vending career had by then taken me through several companies (and sets of wheels), to an exalted position which involved being responsible for a multi-national company’s vending advertising budget. This took me regularly to the offices of Vending International in Tonbridge. Roy Pearl had by this time been joined by other members of staff, including an Editor named Patrick (Paddy) Crawford. The periodic meetings – Roy, Paddy and I, usually included lunch.
On a Thursday in March 1981, we three heroes returned to the Tonbridge office after lunch to help Roy check the quality of a bottle of Malt he’d been given the previous week. During lunch we had been talking about the various characters we’d grown up with in the vending world. After a glass or two of Roy’s Malt, he tipped his chair back and mused: “. . . you know, we should do this more often. Chaps should have lunch with other chaps. Nothing to do with work, just a good lunch and a chin-wag”.
The conversation progressed. Roy said “We could form a Tie-Club that meets twice a year for luncheon”. The idea developed. “Let’s make a list of like-minded souls and invite them to join”. Within the next hour we had jointly scribbled a list of 40 names and Paddy had been delegated to send them all an invitation. The names we had written were people we knew had been around in vending for the previous 20 or more years.
The invitation Paddy sent in March, suggested a formation meeting during the up-coming NACMO Exhibition in Solihull in June. Amazingly, out of the original 40 contacted, 39 replied, saying ‘count me in’. Better still, 21 of them found the time to be at the formation meeting three months later. The steering committee, Roy Pearl (Chairman), Paddy Crawford (Secretary), and me (Treasurer), was voted into more permanent positions; Committee Members were elected to support the three officers; rules were drawn up; a tie design was approved, and we all retired for Lunch. The Vending 21 Club was born.
Sadly, Roy passed away in January ’95, Paddy retired to become a hermit in his native Scotland, and me, well I am retired but fortunate to still be involved with the Club as its current Chairman.
The intervening 27 years have seen the Club grow and thrive. Within three years of its formation, membership had reached the 100 limit we set ourselves. Membership is by invitation and nomination only. The present roll-call is 97 members and it is likely that, for the second time in our history, we will shortly have a ‘waiting list’ for membership.
The Club still meets for two luncheons a year, now nearly always at The RAF Club in Piccadilly. We arrived there after trying several venues, because Roy Pearl was a member. During WWII Roy had a distinguished flying career as a Spitfire pilot – one of ‘The Few’. Our current Club President – Tom Beckett – also had a distinguished WWII flying career and is a member of the RAF Club. Tom was a navigation officer with the Pathfinder Squadron of Bomber Command; so The RAF Club is almost a natural home, with the added advantage of being a superb club in a prestige location with good staff and first class catering and hospitality facilities.
The Club luncheon is traditionally Steak and Kidney pie. This is because a) it is good and b) the set lunch menus used to have aircraft names – ‘The Wellington’, ‘The Hurricane’, etc. . . .’The Spitfire’ was a medium-priced, set luncheon and it just happened to be Steak and Kidney pie – we still order it today!
The Club Tie remains central to all events. Members arriving for luncheon and not wearing the Club Tie are fined – the cost of a bottle of port!
The Club’s membership has of course changed during the past 27 years and the average age is getting younger… What has not changed is the wonderful camaraderie of the members, who jointly always ensure it is a pleasure to travel to the RAF Club for a good luncheon, a drink or two and a lot of talk between friends.
Five members who still regularly attend luncheons were with us at that formation meeting; Peter Jones, John Walker, Terry Bingham, Ernie Johnson and Bob Navara. John and Ernie have both served long periods on the Club’s Committee.
It has been a real privilege for me working with the Committees as Treasurer, Secretary and now Chairman, watching this unique Club going from strength to strength. Long may it survive!