Peter Conradi was joined by a small audience as he intimately discussed his new book Hotdogs and Cocktails on November 3 as part of the Richmond upon Thames Literature Festival 2013.
Even though only 35 of 172 seats were filled at the Orange Tree Theatre on this drizzly Autumn Sunday evening, it was the perfect setting. It felt more like being in your living room than ‘in-the-round’, with just a hot dog brimming with mustard missing.
Entering through the foyer and making your way past the box office, it is more in keeping with a homely vestibule than the entrance to one of London’s theatrical gems. It is a place where intimacy is treated as a virtue, not a grievance, and for that reason Michael Billington, the Guardian‘s theatre critic, rightly referred to the Orange Tree as ‘a pocket-sized National Theatre’.
Sunday Times Foreign Editor, Peter Conradi, is best known for co-writing the bestseller The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy, inspiring the hit film of the same name.
Just like his previous book, this one has also been turned into a cinematic production, the biopic Hyde Park on Hudson. Conradi spoke of how he enjoyed writing Hotdogs and Cocktails, not having to rush its release like he had to with The King’s Speech.
Hotdogs and Cocktails has a number of crossovers with Conradi’s most popular work, as it focuses on Britain’s King George VI as the main character. This time, he is taking part in what is generally accepted as the first modern royal trip and one of the greatest diplomatic PR exercises in recent history.
Conradi did a great job in selling the book and how it tells an almost forgotten tale of one of high society’s most intriguing events as the world stood on the edge of a cliff.
Peter spoke with a passion that makes you want to not just read the book, but find out more about meetings between head of states.
The trip was incredibly crucial for all involved, not just in improving historically rocky Anglo-American relations. It greatly improved US public opinion to favour Britain and support the cause against Germany in the coming war. Previously the Americans had leaned towards Germany and the Irish, who were known for heavily lobbying the US government.
Conradi went on to talk about the build-up to the trip, featuring a series of letters between Franklin Roosevelt and the King, as many points of interest were formalised. A notable difference between the two sides was their tone, as Roosevelt’s letters had a rather matey tone, whereas King George remained very formal.
The state visit to Hyde Park on Hudson lasted only a few days, tailing a three week tour of Canada but, as the visit approached, the press were completely focused on the King eating his first hot dog.
The book is also littered with humour, giving it an edge you would not expect without listening to Peter Conradi’s relaxed talk. The activities of the royal couple are almost amusing, as at one interval the Queen teaches a startled journalist how to curtsey outside a hotel the royal couple shared with the media. The book shows how informal state visits once were.
The final part of the talk was a question and answer session with the audience. Conradi alluded to the point that if it were not for Pearl Harbour, the US may not have entered the war, no matter how successful the state visit was.
With the right production, you could easily feel at home at the Gothic designed former Victorian school house. The bar by the foyer almost leans onto the main lower turnstiles, inviting you for a tipple to set the mood. After a great evening, you can head across the narrow lane into the Orange Tree pub to finish off for the night. Although this talk did not fully evoke that sentiment, on a more entertaining night it surely would.
Hotdogs and Cocktails: When FDR met King George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson is a light hearted and amusing read for anyone who likes a book to send them swiftly to sleep. But you should go and experience The Orange Tree, for as Franklin Roosevelt said: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”
Image courtesy of REX