2024 AGM: ‘So Very Secret’: Barbara Pym and Her Society at 30

For the Society’s 30th anniversary, we will celebrate our generous and forward-thinking founders, and explore Barbara Pym’s life at thirty, when she became an officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (“the Wrens”) and served through the preparations for D-Day and in Italy. Having signed the Official Secrets Act, Barbara did not discuss her war work, but it is reflected in her writing, notably in “So Very Secret”, published posthumously in Civil to Strangers. New research into her intelligence work has revealed an MI5 address and given new insight into Barbara’s young life, all featured in our 30th anniversary conference.

FRIDAY 30th August

3:00 pm onwards:  Welcome to St Hilda’s and Registration in South Building foyer

4:00 pm:  Bodleian/Blackwells event, details TBD

6:00 pm: 30th anniversary booklet launch and welcome meeting for new delegates in the Rooftop Garden

7:00 pm:  Evening meal in the Pavilion (£35 per person) with special guest speaker Ruth Nissim

8:45 pm: Annual quiz, hosted by Deb Fisher and Lucia Costanzo

SATURDAY 31st August

10:00 am:  Coffee and registration in the foyer of the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building

10:30 am:  Annual General Meeting of the Barbara Pym Society (for Society members only)

11:30 am:  Conference begins: Opening remarks by the Chair

11:40 am:  Jean Harker: Origins of the Barbara Pym Society

12:30 pm:  Special guest speaker

1:00 pm:  Buffet lunch in the Dining Hall (£30 per person)

2:00 pm:  Devon Allison: She Can Keep a Secret: Third Officer B M C Pym

2:50 pm:  Dr Jo Horton: “I joined for the hat.” Liberation, bravery and glamour in a WRNS uniform

3:40 pm:  Claire Smith: Possibilities & Problems: Barbara Pym’s wartime service 

4:30 pm:  Afternoon tea with WRNS theme

      5:00 – 6:45 pm: Free time

6:45 pm:  Drinks reception, South Building
7:15 pm:  The Annual Banquet in the Dining Hall (£55 per person)
followed by the annual BPS Charity Pymbola, hosted by The Fabulous Paul Howard

SUNDAY 1st September

10:15 am:  Coffee in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building

10:45 am:  Julie Summers: The Women of D-Day – War themes in Barbara Pym novels

11:30 am:  30th Anniversary Celebration with Special Guests: Foundation Tales, or Making Tea for Henry Harvey

12:30 pm:  Closing remarks

1:00 pm:  Sunday lunch in the Dining Hall (£35 per person) and invitation to future events

2:30 pm:  “So Very Secret” Dramatised reading devised by Yvonne Cocking, based on BBC script by Elizabeth Proud

3:30 pm:  Tea, biscuits, and chat; conference adjourns

Optional events for those staying over Sunday evening:
6:05 pm:  Choral evensong at Christ Church Cathedral
7:30 pm:  Meet for dinner at a local restaurant (à la carte, location will be announced)

Activities in Oxford

A Barbara Pym Walk Through Oxford. This self-guided walking tour of Oxford highlights places associated with Pym and her friends, but also points out many other sites of historical and literary interest. It starts and ends at St Hilda’s and takes approximately one hour.

City Sightseeing Oxford offers hop on, hop off bus tours with 20 stops throughout the city. The bus stops at The Plain (the roundabout at the end of Cowley Place) by Sainsburys.

The Bodleian Library. The Weston Library galleries on Broad Street are open from 10:00 to 17:00 Monday-Saturday and 11:00 to 16:00 on Sunday; current free exhibitions include ‘Write Cut Rewrite’ and ‘Kafka: Making of an Icon’. Guided tours of the 15th-century Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s medieval library are also available.

Oxford Botanic Gardens. Britain’s oldest botanic garden (founded 1621), where Francis Cleveland and Barbara Bird in Crampton Hodnet hid in the bushes to avoid Michael and Gabriel, and where Julian Amery stole a spray of orchids for Barbara in 1938, is just across Magdalen Bridge from St Hilda’s. Open every day, 10:00 to 17:00; adults £6.30, concessions £5, under 16 free.

Ashmolean Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of Natural History

Blenheim Palace and Gardens (30 min. from the city centre by bus)

Christ Church Picture Gallery

Museum of Oxford

History of Science Museum

Modern Art Oxford

Oxford Castle and Prison

More information on places to go, things to do, and where to stay is available at
Oxford City Visitor Information and Experience Oxfordshire.