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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
16 Jan 2014

29 Jan - Pamela's funeral will be held at Golders Green Crematorium at 1.30 pm today. 

See Neil Fairlamb's addition below.

People often suggest that I somehow blazed a trail as a female wine writer but nothing could be further from the truth. Already established long before I came hesitantly on the scene at the end of 1975 were Jane MacQuitty (still writing for The Times) and Jilly Goolden (once star of the BBC TV programme Food & Drink). But even they were newbies compared with Joyce Rackham, Penny Drinkwater, Katie Bourke, Peta Fordham and, the grandest dame of them all, Pamela Vandyke Price.

Pamela, who died in a London nursing home last Sunday at the age of 90 after a long illness, was undoubtedly the queen of the monthly press lunches organised by importers Rutherford, Osborne & Perkin on what was then known as the Martini Terrace at the top of New Zealand House in London. (The vermouth company was in its prime and had bought this old-school family firm, Serena Sutcliffe MW's first employers in the wine trade.) In fact by the mid 1970s Pamela was already regularly described as the 'doyenne' of wine writers. I flinch every time the horrid term is applied to me, though presumably I no longer need to feel as though I am usurping PVP's position.

She was one of the most knowledgeable of her generation, even if Hugh Johnson's knowledge was then putting hers in the shade (there was an unseemly tussle over a wine atlas that succeeded his). She wrote more books than you could shake a stick at and was most famous when she was the wine correspondent of The Times, until - on a particularly bitter day in the early 1980s - she was replaced by Jane MacQuitty. Having been trained as an actress, she was a lecturer not lacking in drama, but was finally dismissed from the roster of Christie's wine tutors - the cause of another much-polished grudge, against Michael Broadbent MW in this instance.  

But in her time she did so much. In the 1950s she had been instrumental in setting up the wine trade lectures in Vintners' Hall that became the Masters of Wine exams and she also played a leading role in the establishment of the Circle of Wine Writers, of which she was (the only) Trustee in Perpetuity. I travelled with her once, to Hungary, and she was the mother hen of the group,equipped with pills and plasters. Never once did she use her catchphrase, 'Up with that I will not put.'

Hers was a life tinged with sadness however. Her doctor husband Alan died after only five years of marriage. (His family owned London hotels such as the Hotel Vandyke.) It was to the late Allan Sichel of Bordeaux, father of Peter of Ch d'Angludet, that she owed much of her practical wine education and she seemed to spend her life regretting the absence of one or other of these important men in her life. Towards the end, when she was finally eased out of her bottle-strewn flat in Queen's Gate (wine merchants were directed to leave samples at her hairdresser), times must have been extremely tough for her financially. Wine writers Christopher Fielden and the Reverend Neil Fairlamb (who will be conducting her funeral service) were particularly good to her. Some of us tried to be but she did not ease our path.

Every now and then I catch myself making a suggestion or being particularly bossy about the arrangement of a tasting. I usually mutter Pamela's name. My abiding memory of her is my first visit to that famous SW7 lair early one evening when I had been writing about wine on the wine trade magazine Wine & Spirit for only a few months. She tucked in her square chin and looked at me sternly under her blond curls. 'One of these days you will write a book', she said. 'And you will learn there is a special hole in hell for publishers.'

As she would have said, 'What times!'

See also Jim Budd's appreciation of Pamela.

The Rev Neil Fairlamb adds: I am hoping the solicitor can fix the day very soon - today or tomorrow. A crematorium service allows very little time to do justice to her; on the other hand, an additional memorial service could be difficult and costly to arrange. We`ll see.

Never will I reveal the list of non-invitees to the funeral (see below) though several people are longing to know! Needless to say you are not on it. There are two very prominent people who are but I expect they know who they are. When Pamela gave me this list I did admonish her that death was no time to perpetuate animosities; the full-blast reply silenced me. I thought I would be excommunicated.

When she lost her snap, as she did in these last years, she lost herself.

Danny Daniels, Pamela`s faithful solicitor in Barnet, hopes to confirm the date of the cremation by Friday this week. There is some delay at the hospital where Pamela passed away peacefully last Sunday. As he has, as executor, to do all the registration and paperwork, we are all very grateful to him. He has been an outstanding friend to Pamela, and often at his own expense.

As regards the cremation, it is likely that only Circle of Wine Writers and other wine friends will attend. Pamela had no family at all. In her will she specified cremation and that I should take the service, and also that she wished me to scatter her ashes at an agreed location in Wales. In her will she does mention a possible memorial service where she would also like me involved.

Twenty years ago she gave me various precise stipulations about the service. These were, as you would expect, uncompromising. She wants the Battle Hymn of the Republic (Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord). So we had better be in good voice. Nothing from St Paul ('nasty little man, always with a chip on his shoulder because he hadn`t met Jesus'); only the beloved St John to be read. There was also a short list of non-invitees but most of those have already gone before her!

Things to think about now include who would give the eulogy at the funeral. Several people have already given generous and fond memories to me. Philippe Boucheron has already suggested that there should be a memorial service and that it be in St Bride`s, Fleet Street, the journalist`s church. He has also offered some champagne as vin d`honneur. He suggests South Africa House might offer a reception facility. Danny Daniels has offered to help finance any memorial and reception depending on cost.

So, there is much to think about. Funeral date to be notified asap.