Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 17 April

Is one right to feel aggrieved when time is called on a drinks party after only half an hour? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
My husband’s boss invited us over informally by phone for drinks. Because it’s your boss you actually don’t have a choice and you have to go. But how surprised was I when after 30 or 40 minutes we were asked to leave – because they were having their dinner. I was very shocked. Of course, we did as we were told. The thing is, we’re not the only people this is happening to. My father-in-law had 25 years of similar treatment from his boss. I always thought that if you invite someone to your house, you can’t ask them to leave.
Urszula Buckley, Hendon

Dear Urszula,
I’ve had experience of this kind of behaviour in very grand circles. In the 1980s I was dispatched by the writer Penelope Mortimer, at the time preparing a biography of the Queen Mother, to Clarence House to quiz her Private Secretary, Sir Martin Gilliat. At the end I was o† ered a gin and tonic but it was snatched out of my hand before I’d ‡ nished it. I don’t think I’d done anything wrong. It was just time for him to have lunch with the Queen Mother. Then more recently a millionaire lady invited her fellow charitable trustees to her Belgravia mansion for drinks at 6pm. It became clear that they should leave when this lady began discussions with the Filipino maid about where she and her husband would have dinner: ‘The terrace, I think.’

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with a social occasion that has built-in brevity. It’s just that the custom of inviting people to private houses for pre-dinner drinks but not dinner has rather died out. These days, if you suggest that someone drops by for a few drinks at 7pm, it is more or less assumed that at some stage you’ll phone for a pizza or whatever and o† er your guests a scratch dinner.

If you really do mean to invite for drinks only, then try to make this as clear as possible beforehand. The invitation should be for 6.30pm at the latest and you should employ a phrase such as ‘drinks before dinner’. You could even say, ‘We’ve got another engagement at 8.’ But guests must never be hounded out of the house and overwrought people who do this really should desist because invariably the guests would have left within 20 minutes of their heavy-handed hints anyway.

In this particular case, it’s outrageous that you were turned out after only 30 minutes. You mention that you felt unable to refuse the boss’s invitation. A survey recently found that employees resent enforced social jollity to do with the workplace o† ered as a treat. They’d rather have M&S vouchers. So bosses would be better o† not bothering.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Some years ago, I was lampooned by The Culture Show when I published my book, Blaikie’s Guide To Modern Manners. The programme, backed up with footage of crowds in London, airily claimed that the nation was beautifully behaved and what was all the fuss about? This was missing the point, to say the least. As you know, I don’t care for huffi ng about rock-bottom standards of behaviour in modern society, usually accompanied by harking back to a non-existent era of perfect decorum and graciousness.

Nevertheless, thinking of crowds in big cities, I do wonder if people aren’t speeding up – or perhaps I’m slowing down. In any case, we know perfectly well that nobody, most of the time, will actually knock us down. All the same, there are quite a few whose attitude is: ‘I’ll walk very fast and everyone else will get out of the way.’ Is this not right? How many of you experience one apparent near miss after another? When you reach your destination, do you feel dizzy from all the people whizzing at every angle across your path?

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