Bucks FizzThe Buck’s Fizz cocktail, consisting of two parts Champagne to one part orange juice, was invented in 1921 by the bartender of Buck’s Club in London, apparently as an excuse for patrons to begin drinking earlier in the day!  Buck’s Club had been opened as a gentlemen’s club in June 1919 and was named after its founder, Captain Herbert ‘Buck’ Buckmaster of the Royal Horse Guards.  Buck apparently came up with the idea of forming a club for survivors of the First World War shortly before Armistice Day.  His vision was to create a more relaxed club than those currently available, with an American Cocktail Bar and an excellent restaurant (for which he ‘acquired’ the head chef from the Ritz).

But how did the son of a clergyman from Ramsgate end up founding one of the most prestigious clubs in London and having a cocktail named after him?

Herbert John ‘Buck’ Buckmaster was born in Ramsgate on 21 November 1881.  From May 1896 to July 1900 he attended Sherborne School and boarded at Abbeylands in Cheap Street.  A talented rugby player, Buck was a member of the School 1st XV and was described in 1899 as ‘a light and hardworking forward: has shown great dash and energy in following up kicks, and in backing up passes: collars fairly, should practice dribbling.’  While at Sherborne he also developed a taste for performing, appearing in two Penny Readings in the Big Schoolroom singing popular music hall songs ‘The Old Soldier’, ‘Tommy Atkins’ and ‘The 4-‘oss Sharrybang’.  It is therefore hardly surprising that, given his early theatrical leanings, two of Buck’s three marriages were to actresses – Gladys Cooper and Nellie Taylor.

Big Schoolroom, Sherborne School, c.1900

Big Schoolroom, Sherborne School, c.1900.

Buck was also a keen member of the School Cadet Corps which had been formed in 1888.  In this photograph taken in 1900 he is seen standing in the Carrington Road outside the Big Schoolroom, wearing the School Cadet Corps uniform of a Glengarry Cap, red tunic with white facings and white belt, sphinx collar dogs, black trousers with a red stripe and the Austrian knot embroidered on both sleeves and the shoulder straps (epaulettes).  Buck clearly enjoyed the Cadet Corps and in Michaelmas term 1899 was promoted from Corporal to Lance-Sergeant.  However, it was events in South Africa that term that really seized Buck’s imagination when from October 1899 the newspapers were full of accounts of the fighting between the British forces and the Boers.

Herbert ‘Buck’ Buckmaster at Sherborne School in 1900.

Buck later recalled how ‘It was a Sunday at school in the beginning of the year 1900 that changed the whole course of my life.  We were in chapel, and just before the service started, in walked my friend Teddy King [Edward Westcott King (1880-1918)] in the khaki uniform of the Dorset Yeomanry; he was about to sail for South Africa.  That was sufficient for me.  From that moment I had only one thought – I must enlist.’

In May 1900, the lifting of the siege of Mafeking was celebrated in Sherborne with a parade through the town.  A photograph of the parade taken by a Sherborne School boy [Lionel Charles Turner Room (1884-1935)] shows boys from the School in their distinctive boaters joining in the parade along Half Moon Street and with Buck’s growing excitement about the war he would undoubtedly have been amongst the throng.

Mafeking Day parade, Half Moon Street, Sherborne, May 1900

Mafeking Day parade, Half Moon Street, Sherborne, May 1900.

In July 1900, the School register records that Buck ‘left suddenly’ to enlist as a Trooper in the Imperial Light Horse, the regiment that in May had been the first to enter Mafeking to break the siege.  In all, about eighty Old Shirburnians served with the British forces during the Anglo-Boer War.  The twelve who lost their lives are commemorated by the reredos in glass mosaics (opus sectile) at the east end of the School Chapel with their names recorded on a separate alabaster tablet, both designed by James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars.  The memorial was unveiled by Lord Methuen on 30 January 1904.

Anglo-Boer War Memorial, Sherborne School Chapel

The Anglo-Boer War Memorial, Sherborne School Chapel

Buck survived the Anglo-Boer War and returned home.  On 12 December 1908, he married the actress Gladys Cooper at St George’s Church in Hanover Square, London.  Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) had made her stage debut in 1905 and in 1907 joined Frank Curzon’s famous Gaiety Girls chorus at the Gaiety Theatre.  It was while appearing at the Gaiety in a production of ‘The Girls of Gottenberg’ that Gladys was first introduced to Buck.  Unfortunately, Gladys’s parents did not approve of Buck and so they married in secret the following year.  By 1911, Buck and Gladys were living at Clarence Gate Gardens, London, with their 8 month old daughter Joan (who would later marry the actor Robert Morley).  Buck gives his occupation on the census that year as ‘Commission Agent’, adding ‘Professional backer and layer of horses’.

Buck, Gladys & Joan, c.1912

Buck, Gladys & Joan, c.1912

Buck evidently had a love of horses (and gambling) and when the First World War broke out he joined the Royal Horse Guards.  Buck served with his regiment in France and it was there in November 1918 that he conceived the idea of what would become Buck’s Club.  It was also while in France that Buck enjoyed a cocktail made of Champagne and peach juice and which he would later ask the bartender at Buck’s Club to recreate.  The bartender, however, could not find any peach juice so substituted orange juice and the Buck’s Fizz was born.

Unfortunately, Buck’s marriage to Gladys did not survive the war in 1921, on the 13th anniversary of their wedding day, they were divorced.  Buck’s Club, however, was a great success and soon joined the ranks of the best gentlemen’s clubs in London, counting more Royalty amongst its regular members than any other club, including the Duke of Windsor, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.  The Club is said to have been the model for P.G. Wodehouse’s Drones Club, although the author Evelyn Waugh (brother of Old Shirburnian Alec Waugh) later claimed that the Drones Club did not resemble any real club in 1920s London.

Buck's Club, 18 Clifford Street.

Buck’s Club, 18 Clifford Street, London.

The Club catered for Buck’s interests in horses and gambling, running steeple chases, game shoots, point-to-points, betting on greyhounds, boxing, and an annual polo tournament with other London gentlemen’s clubs.  It is said that as a young man, Buck lost so much money to a bookmaker that he offered to work it off by joining the firm temporarily as a clerk.  He also found it hard to resist a wager, one of which involved walking from Westminster Bridge to the Royal York Hotel in Brighton in under 17 hours.  Leaving Westminster Bridge at midnight Buck reached the Royal York Hotel in Brighton the next afternoon in 13 hours 17 minutes – the ‘great dash and energy’ he had shown on The Upper at Sherborne being still in evidence.  Buck was so popular at the Club that the members commissioned his portrait at a fee of £1,000.  On hearing this Buck said he would have preferred to put the money on Ocean Swell for the Derby – Ocean Swell went on to win the Derby at 28 to one!

In later life, Buck returned to South Africa to enjoy the winter sunshine.  When he died on 14 October 1966 at Fairmans, the Wargrave home of his daughter Joan and her husband Robert Morley, he was the last Shirburnian survivor of the Anglo-Boer War.

So, let’s raise a glass of Buck’s Fizz to this most flamboyant and extraordinary of Shirburnians!

Rachel Hassall, Sherborne School Archivist

27 June 2016