The Actors' Benevolent Fund AGM could be likened to a show reunion. Many ABF Members arrive early, and over the clatter of coffee cups, there is excited chatter and greetings across the room as pals not seen in years meet once again. Then, over the noise of the room full of chatter, the General Secretary, Jonathan Ellicott, called the meeting to order.
Dame Penelope Keith, ABF President, opened the meeting by welcoming everyone. She then invited everyone to stand for a minute’s silence as she read the list of friends and colleagues, Members of the ABF, who had died in the twelve months since the last AGM - particularly sad as a dear friend and Council Member, Josie Kidd, had died very suddenly just two weeks before. Josie had been alone at the time. This has prompted the Council to offer personal alarm systems to all ABF beneficiaries who live alone or who are in any way vulnerable. Jamie Barber, a former and greatly valued Council Member, and ABF Vice-Presidents, Katie Boyle and Bay White had also died this year. Bay had recently celebrated her hundredth birthday. The ABF will record them in The Book of Remembrance at The Actors’ Church - St Paul’s, Covent Garden.
Peter Bourke had been so entertaining at the 2017 AGM - his first year as the ABF’s Honorary Treasurer - and once again he regaled the meeting with his sharp wit and hilarious anecdotes. In between his amusing stories he read out facts and figures for the year. The year before on average one beneficiary applied or was referred to the ABF every ten days, this year it was every four days. He thanked the stockbrokers Charles Stanley for looking after the ABF’s investments so well. Peter was delighted to tell us that administration costs were down by ten percent. This was partly due to the ABF’s fabulous new website and he thanked the designer Susan Dann of Moth and Rust.
Dame Penelope told the meeting that our Patron, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales had kindly held a Reception in May at Clarence House for ABF Trustees and some beneficiaries. It had been a lovely evening, both from the point of view of the weather and the happiness on the beneficiaries’ faces. Dame Penelope then read a beneficiary’s letter. It summed up the life changing effect of the hands of friendship and kindness from the ABF. This letter touched everybody’s heart.
Dame Penelope reminded everyone that the ABF had inherited some original Sandy Wilson drawings which have now been used to make a range of blank greetings cards - perfect for First nights, Last nights, Thank You cards, Birthdays, in fact for any occasion. These cards were on display at the AGM, and sold like hot cakes – all profits go to ABF, not to mention advertising the work of the Fund.
After the re-election of the Trustees, enormous thanks were given to the Fund’s office staff: Jonathan Ellicott, who keeps everything running smoothly and confidentially, along with Sue Carlsen-Jones, Sue Povey, Kirsty Harrod, and also Carolyn Barker, the ABF’s Welfare Officer.
Next Dame Penelope introduced the unique and wonderful Christopher Biggins. Biggins’ tales of being a young actor, his take on universities versus ASMs (Assistant Stage Managers), and his time in the Celebrity Jungle, which he ended up winning, kept us laughing and ended in thunderous applause. Our sincere thanks to him. After that refreshments were served along with more mingling and socialising, and much laughter. All ABF Members are invited to the AGM and they are very welcome.