50 Years of Fleet Language Circle
Author: Nick Keeley (13th August 2015)

Establishment by Colonel Roots 1966 - 1970

In October 1965 Colonel Charles Frederick Roots was interviewed by Fleet Times about his desire to create a language club in Fleet. He had been born in Southwark of quite humble origins. He had had a career as an army officer, including a posting to British Guyana and by 1955 in the Intelligence Corps.

By the time he came to Fleet and gave this interview he was already a member of the Linguists' Club of London, which operated between 1932 and 1971. That club was much grander than ours, being a meeting place for linguists, interpreters and translators. It also published a monthly magazine, The Linguist, which had a world-wide circulation. His idea was to create a similar club in Fleet where people of different nationalities could meet and improve their knowledge of one another's language. At the time he regretted that he had not yet been able to find anyone to help set up the Fleet club.

The article obviously has some success as a small advertisement in the Fleet Times of 7 January 1966 and subsequent weeks invited anyone interested to meet the committee any Monday evening during January at the Lismoyne Hotel. (I am indebted to Phyl Ralton and the Fleet and Crookham Local History Group for the above information, which they provided with more details of the Colonel and the Linguistic Club of London.)

A 1980 press article refers to a January 1966 crowded meeting at the hotel, which gave rise to the Circle, initially with just French and German being spoken.

The colonel ran the club in the first four years. He obviously didn't bother about elections, as he nominated Johanna Holden, one of the founding members, to become Chairman for life after his death.

In June 2015 I had an informative meeting with Ann Melvill, who was a member in the 1960s, when the FLC met in a back room at the Prince of Wales pub in Reading Road South. She thought that the colonel had originally wanted to use the members to provide a commercial translation agency but nothing came of that idea and it had not been mentioned in the above October1965 interview

During Ann's time the number of languages spoken had expanded and all the tables were led by native speakers, except for the Russian table, which was led by a Mrs Fairley, who was married to a Russian businessman. Ann was on the Italian table, which was led by a male Italian hairdresser, who she claimed only wanted to talk about football.

According to the 1995 AGM minutes the first meeting of the Circle in 1966 was at Churnock House. It also moved to the Lismoyne Hotel and "after a while" to the Officers' Club, Aldershot. As no club records exist for the first 10 years, I don't know how long the spell at the Prince of Wales lasted or when the move to the Officers' Club took place.

When the club was well established, Johanna Holden became Chairman in 1970 and Colonel Roots became President. A handwritten note, headed "To Press" and dated '73, mentions a sherry party and presentation to Colonel Roots, who was leaving the area. He died later the same year in Yeovil.