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Responses to JM Barrie's speech at Great Ormond Street Hospital

The following is an orginal piece by

After Barrie's speech on Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) (later published in McConnachie & JMB*) at the fundraising Guildhall banquet in his honour, there were toasts and responses by various attendees, including Lord Macmillan (then Chairman of the Board Management at GOSH), and Dr Poynton, Senior Physician at GOSH. The latter left a full transcription of Barrie's speech and the responses & toasts that followed. The banquet was held just over a year after Barrie had gifted the copyright to Peter Pan to the hospital and was given in his honour, in gratitude for his "munificent" gift. Below is an edited transcription of some of the responses, including Barrie's own.

In the days before the creation of the National Health Service, GOSH was entirely dependent on donations and support from the public so the gift of Peter Pan was particularly welcome, as it provided a steady income, significant at the time, from the royalties arising from stage productions worldwide, books, merchandise etc. not forgetting the kudos of being forever associated with the work.

* (DB Note. A scanned copy of the speech is reproduced on the database)


Toasts and responses to J M Barrie’s speech at the Guildhall banquet, 3 December 1930

Lord Macmillan (Chairman of the Board of Management), in responding, said: Mr. Chairman, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, - At Great Ormond Street we believe in fairies, but we believe even more in fairy godmothers and fairy godfathers. Fairy gold is sometimes apt next morning to turn to withered leaves but the gifts of fairy godfathers and fairy godmothers do not fade. Our Chairman to-night is one of our fairy godfathers. He has, of course, been cynical and whimsical, as he always is. Do you know what that means? It is merely his protective armour. It is because he feels so much for us that he has to take shelter behind those fortifications. Need I assure this audience that in. our Chairman, Sir James Barrie, we have of the most generous-hearted friends of our Hospital? [Applause]

It is something to have received Peter Pan into Great Ormond Street Hospital. Somehow or other one day he flew in through the window and just brought with him that new sense of hopefulness, that new inspiration which I am sure he intended to bring. I am very certain that in these difficult times we should not have embarked upon this great scheme had it not been that Peter Pan whispered in our ears, “It shall succeed”.


Sir James Barrie was, of course, perfectly right. The one thing to do is to go up into the wards of the hospital. I wish I could transport you all there to-night. I should have a magnificent record before this dinner was over, because when you are feeling a little depressed about things, a little bit tired of the difficulties of administration, committees and board meetings and so on and then go upstairs into the wards and see what the hospital is really built for, for the relief of suffering for the brightening of the lives of the little people there, then you begin to realise what a magnificent and inspiring thing it is.


I am not going to say a word about the doctors and nurses who, after all, do the real work, because my brother, who has been referred to by Sir James as in the unwonted situation of a witness, will do much better in his more familiar role of summing up. But one or two very special friends of our Hospital have written. First, may I read a message which I have received from Princess Mary*, one of our Vice-Patrons whom as you know, received her training in the Hospital and under whose portrait I sit in the Board Room at our monthly meetings. She writes:

“Dear Lord Macmillan

I am deeply interested to learn of the appeal which has been launched by my brother, the Prince of Wales, and the Board of Management of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and also for the Banquet which is to be held at the Guildhall on December 2nd, on behalf of the Hospital.

I shall always retain the happiest memories of my association with that great institution, and I most sincerely hope that the required sum of money will be raised. I cannot think of any cause more likely to commend itself to the generosity of the British public than that of the suffering children whose home surroundings give little scope for health and happiness.”

* (DB Note. Princess Mary was the Princess Royal, later Countess of Harewood, only daughter of King George V, During WW1, she trained as a nurse at GOSH and remained a supporter all her life. Her brother the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and after his abdication Duke of Windsor) was Patron of the hospital.


“The Medical and Nursing Staff of the Hospital”

The Hon. Mr. Justice Eve, in proposing the above toast, said: Mr Chairman, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen – may I preface the few observations I have to make by tendering my sincere thanks to the distinguished members of the Medical Staff who, without taking my temperature or asking me to put out my tongue or feeling my pulse, have been good enough to diagnose the complaint from which I am suffering as “Plausaphobia”. It is a relief to me that the attack cannot be fatal. I hope it will be an equal relief to you.


In giving you the toast of the Medical and Nursing Staff I couple with it the name of Dr. Poynton, Senior Physician, and I say, with all reverence and all sincerity “Oh God reward them, for we can never do enough for them.” The Toast is “The Medical and Nursing Staff of the Hospital”.

The toast was most cordially honoured, and Dr F.J. Poynton, F.R.C.P (Senior Physician to the Hospital), in responding, said:

Sir James Barrie, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, - unfortunately, I am no orator and find myself in doubt how best to thank you, sir, for your kind tribute to our work, and this distinguished gathering for its warm reception of the toast. My wisest course, I think, will be to answer for my colleagues and the Nursing staff as one who knows the technical aspect of our Hospital life. Should I re-echo words already said, forgive me and count them spoken from the doctor’s standpoint.

The children – our glory and my inspiration – must come first, as they did with our Chairman, for the motto of our Hospital is: “The Children first and always.” I only wish all here to-night could know, as we know, the beauty, the courage and the patience of our hospital children. They are an example to this land, which sorely needs child guidance; for they are cheerful in adversity, and smile up at us from the cold bosom of affliction; they are simply in their needs and they trust us with a children’s trust.


“The Chairman”

Lord Moynihan, K.C.M.G., C.B., (President of the Royal College of Surgeons), in submitting the last toast, said:

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, to-night I am honoured by a request, but also perplexed by a somewhat grave problem. I am to propose the toast of “The Chairman” and would like to ask you s simple question: who is in the Chair tonight? To the exalted rank of Lord of the Isles – Scotsmen I think will understand – there are three claimants. When occasion arises for those three claimants to meet on the same evening, lest there be bloodshed to the music, - and that is how it’s described – the music of the bagpipes, precedence is decided by the toss of a coin. I am wondering who has won the toss to-night. Is it Sir Hames Barrie, who once described himself as a family solicitor standing upon a hearth-rug amid the harsh realities of office furniture? Or is it that very beloved must most unruly sprite McConnachie? McConnachie, who sometimes takes the words out of Barrie’s mouth and sometimes puts words into his mouth. I want to meet McConnachie, because I want to tell him how very dangerous it is to put words into the mouth of a Scotsman! It is time that Mr. McConnachie learnt the danger, and then I meet him I must tell him this story. In a famous Club not long ago a group of men, gradually increasing, stood drinking cocktails. That happens in clubs. As the numbers grew the wonder also grew as to who was to be responsible for the payment, until a Scotch voice was heard to announce, “I will pay for the drinks.”

Those dual personalities have existed, as we know, since the days of Ancient Egypt. Amenophis II, a Pharaoh of Egypt, was conscious of it. Socrates records it; the Cadarene swine knew of it, and it has come down through Jekyll and Hyde, to Barrie and McConnachie. It is sometimes a great embarrassment for anybody to possess a dual personality. A little while ago, I went to Stratford-on-Avon in order to enjoy the Shakespeare Festival, and I stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel, with which may of you, no doubt, are familiar. The bedrooms there bear, not inappropriately, the names of the plays of Shakespeare – “The Tempest”, “King John”, “Cymbelene”, and so forth. In the early morning a housemaid was heard running down the corridor demanding, “Two baths for Hamlet” [laughter] - and one “One for Anthony and Cleopatra”. [renewed laughter.]. I am wondering, therefore, who is in the Chair to-night.

If it is Barrie, I suppose I am the only person in the room who is really sorry because if it was McConnachie I, or at least the O’Flannigan part of me, might perhaps be able to deal with him. But before Barrie I am powerless. Barrie is matchless. It is impossible for me to pay my debt to Barrie with words or with the lip-service of an after-dinner speech, for Barrie, though he does not know it, has been my dear friend for more than thirty years. Barrie has been my strength in the time of my weakness; he has been my hope in times of despair; he has been my inspiration in days of toil; my joy on all occasions in every case, and he will be that for all right-minded men till the very end of time. [Applause]

Think of Peter Pan and the joy that he has brought to the Hospital. The gift of Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street is, I think, the most exquisitely appropriate gift ever made to any hospital in the world. It was the commencement of that Peter Pan organisation of which, I understand, we have news from Brazil only this morning. And think what it is to have captured and enshrined in Wendy that so elusive quality which makes the youngest of women, in respect of knowledge of the eternal varieties, as infinitely wiser than the oldest and most erudite of men. And think of being the owner of Peter Pan whose qualities are such that the best of men for all time will possess them, that irresistible and unquenchable spirit of youth in our hearts which is really the one claim that men have to immortality. But I won’t go on, ladies and gentlemen; every one of you in this room knows the whole story of Peter Pan. Mccaulay once declaimed after his famous visit to Ireland that if every copy of Paradise Lost which existed in the world were destroyed it would make no difference; he could replace every line of it. I think all of us could together replace Peter Pan if every copy were destroyed. But incidentally, I should like to say that if ever I do meet McConnachie I want to wring his neck; for he has never allowed Wendy to given even one little thimble to Peter pan, for that I owe him a grudge.

My dear Friend, Fridtjof Hansen, once told me, as I know he told Barrie, the Norsk Legend of Father Anselm who wandered from his monastery into the fields, heard the singing of a lark and paused to listen. He returned to his monastery and no-one knew him. He told them he was Father Anselm, and they looked up the monastery records and found reference to an Anselm who had vanished one hundred years before. Time had lost all meaning as he listed to the singing of the lark. We have the advantage of Anselm; we turn the pages, or watch the pageant of Barrie, and time seems to stand still. An hour or two slip away, but we return to our monastery with a lesson it might take a century to learn; and our friends read in our faces only the signs of a courage heightened, a faith grown stronger, a purpose made more resolute for service to our fellow-men.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I think you have laid upon me to-night a task that no man can fulfil, the task of proposing the health of Barrie, a mighty spirit in a very frail tenement. Such courtesies are, I think, only for us mortals. Barrie is already securely enthroned among the immortals, and all that we can do for him is just to lay at his feet, with infinite respect, our little sprig of rosemary for remembrance and, with all our hearts, offer him our tribute of pride, of gratitude and of love. [Applause]

The Toast was most heartily pledged.

“The Response”


The Chairman [J M Barrie], in responding to the toast to himself, said: My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, - Anything I can say after what has just been said will sound very small beer. All I have go to do really is to thank you for the way in which you have put up with me here and for the honour that has been conferred upon me in allowing me to be in the Chair. As for Lord Moynihan, it is impossible to answer him. He is of all men in this country, the wittiest; he has so much fire, so much eloquence, that really I do not think I can tackle him. If I could be the three men which he seems to think I could be, I should like two of them to be Lord Moynihan.

As for Peter Pan, I might say about him something that I did not myself until I came here to-night, that at one time Peter Pan was an invalid in the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, and it was he who put me up to the little thing I did for the Hospital. I suppose as many of you have, I once took a child to the theatre. It was the first time he had been to a theatre and we sat in a box. One the way back I said to him “Now tell me what you liked best?? And he replied, “Well, I liked best of all tearing up the programme and dropping bits upon the people’s heads.” [Laughter] There was another little boy who had evidently heard something about the children being asked to clap, and as soon as he got into the stalls he kept shouting out, “I’m not going to clap.” That’s the sort of thing we have to put with! But I do thank you all for the splendid response that has enabled us to make such a good start in connection with this munificent object.


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