Karel Norsky, a member of the WWII Czech contingent of the British army, as part of his Queen’s College, Oxford, postgraduate research in international relations, found himself in Geneva at the beginning of 1949. There the thought occurred to him that to form a dining Club in Geneva, made up of past members of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, would provide an opportunity “of combining interesting conversation with good food”. Seeking and gaining the support of other members resident in Geneva to this idea, he set about forming a Club and named it “The Oxford and Cambridge Dining Club – Geneva”. There were six founder members, largely linked to the international organisations then being established here.
The first dinner was held early in 1949 at the Café des Savoyards, in the Grand’ Rue, Geneva, with twelve members attending. Being considered a great success, a second dinner followed shortly thereafter at the Perle du Lac Restaurant. This attracted twenty members. Thus from the outset the Club was a success. The continuing excellence of Norsky’s idea has since been confirmed by the more than four hundred and fifty dinners recorded in the various “Livres d’Or”.
Being an informal gathering of friends, the Club originally had neither constitution nor written rules. Practices for organizing the Club developed over the years and these were continued or discontinued according to the needs of the time. One unwritten rule was that there should be no speeches; it is a rule, however, that was frequently broken, including, on one occasion, a talk by Clement Attlee. In recent years the Club has welcomed many after-dinner speakers.
In 2008, the Club chose to create a formal Constitution, largely in response to stricter local laws regarding the holding of bank accounts. This has been of help to other European Groups who have felt similar pressures. We are particularly grateful to Carolyn Olsburgh and Julia Xoudis, who as professionals, saw us through this process.
An early member of the Club was Robert-Edmond Hentsch, who was then a partner, and later became the senior partner, of the private Geneva bank of Messrs Hentsch and Cie. An anglophile and considerable benefactor of his old college, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he developed a tremendous affection for the Club and remained a member for over thirty-four years. He was President of the Club at least twice, almost certainly being its second President, following on immediately after Wilfred Jenks, and eventually he became the Patron of the Club.
The Club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1999, and to mark this occasion a dinner was held in the grand surroundings of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Guests included the British Ambassador to Switzerland; the Senior Tutor of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge; the Alumni Officer of Oxford University; Karel Norsky and Mrs Pat Norsky, founder members; and Madame Antoinette Hentsch, with her daughter Béatrice Mermod and her nephew Bénédict Hentsch, Managing Director of Darier Hentsch. Six past Presidents also attended, heading up the various tables. With 135 participants, this was the Club’s largest-ever gathering.
Our dinners remain a key element of our annual activity, particularly the Christmas, Boat Race and Golf Club dinners have reached “traditional” status. Less formal events with strong followings have been walks in the Jura, usually ending with a meal in a rustic restaurant, notable regular ones being a moonlit hike in the snow and a spring flower expedition.
Visitors from Oxbridge provide opportunities for focus on our relationships with the universities. In the recent past several choirs have been to Geneva, notably in 2011 we were able to join in a visit of Kings College Cambridge choir. Similarly we had the chance of “capturing” Sir Paul Judge as he passed through Geneva and we arranged a Dinner around the event. Committee members have also been active in linking with other Overseas groups from both universities both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Finally we have been strengthening links with similar University Groups in the region, including Harvard, INSEAD and Yale.
With this background, the Club, currently with about 150 members, hopes to continue welcoming new members and looks forward with optimism to its next sixty years.