One thing that can be stated categorically about Progress Lodge No 4120 is that there is no shortage of chirpiness at its meetings. Cheeriness and good-humoured banter are in abundance. It is fun and definitely fulfils the goals of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison when he encourages brethren to enjoy their Freemasonry. However, even that sleuth of all sleuths Sherlock Holmes and his elementary sidekick Dr Watson would have struggled to identify the ringleader of the jocularity because all the members have conspired to form a well-gelled team, thereby ensuring that the finger of blame cannot be pointed at any single individual. Nevertheless there are a few main suspects. One of the leading protagonists in such revelry is undoubtedly the master of the lodge Dan Whalley, a jocular personality who furnishes a mischievous grin. Another is the rotund and gregarious immediate past master Jim Barnes. Both are supported to no little extent by the director of ceremonies Andy Walch and his assistant Dolph Taylor. But, having identified these likely culprits, one cannot help but say that the lodge harbours a multitude of other possible suspects.
One might assume that a sense of fun can equate to flippancy when introduced into ceremonial events. Not so. It can, when balanced with sensitivity and decorum, enhance the moment and produce some wonderful memories.
That is exactly what Progress Lodge achieved when Dan Whalley installed Mike Thorne-Hebson into the chair of King Solomon. There was a delightful combination of due reverence and spontaneous humour; lightening the mood whilst highlighting the seriousness of the occasion. It made for a memorable day for Mike and the other Masons who were fortunate enough to be present at the meeting.
The solemnity of the installation proper was handled with sincerity and reverence by Dan in a word-perfect performance with crystal clear clarity, naturalness and efficiency. Dan could not be prouder of his performance. Witnessing the spectacle was Assistant Provincial Grand Master Derek Parkinson, himself no stranger to the skills of throwing in bits of witty banter when the occasion arises. Accompanying Derek were Chairman of the Blackpool Group John Turpin and vice chairman David Cook, both of whom readily appreciate similar little comedy interludes.
Dan’s impressive performance was matched by Mike’s recital of his obligation as master elect and throughout the ceremony the standard was maintained. There were, however, some outstanding performances, the most notable being that of Jules Burton. The first piece he delivered was the infrequently attempted explanation of the immediate past master’s jewel, a formidable recital that reflects on the 47th Problem of Euclid. Jules threw himself into it in magnificent style; exuberant, dramatic, and even venturing towards flamboyance.
Continuing with his theatrical performance, in the style which has become his trademark, Jules launched into an explanation of the working tools of an installed master with wholehearted enthusiasm, gaining equally enthusiastic approbation from the gathered horde. It was brilliance to the nth degree.
There was a plethora of other examples of fine ritualism, although be they less colourful in style than that of Thespian Jules. The working tools of the third, second and first degrees were presented to a very high standard by Dan Higgins, Adam Riley and Derek Donaldson (nephew of Mike Thorne-Hebson) respectively. Similarly, Gordon McLean provided a highly impressive show in presenting the warrant of the lodge, the pillar of the Ionic order and Book of Constitutions to the newly-installed master.
Senior members of the lodge were not prepared to be outclassed by the less experienced brethren and a flurry of superb addresses followed, commencing with the director of ceremonies Andy Walch demonstrating his credentials with a perfect and sincere address to the new master. Alistair Still left his mark on the proceedings with his address to the two wardens and Dolph Taylor rounded off the trio of skilled performers with his address to the deacons.
It only left Derek Parkinson to complete the addresses with his customary discourse to the brethren of the lodge. It was a perfect conclusion to the formalities of the ceremony; spirited and earnest.
But what of the humour that was referred to at the beginning of this account the reader may be asking? Well, interspersed in the programme and generally off the cuff, witty quips crept in at appropriate moments; nothing that upset the dignity of the occasion one must understand but subtle, brief and incidental comments that added greatly to the general ambience of the day. Most impressive was the contribution made by the lodge’s organist Roy James, an absolute magician of the keyboard. His selection of jaunty melodies which were appropriate to each individual as they were invested with their collar of office was very much appreciated. And to evince his talent, at no point did he have a sheet of music in front of him. All were played from memory and all to perfection. That is the measure of Roy as an organist.
There were numerous incidents that stirred hearty laughter. For instance, when treasurer David Shaw was invested with his collar of office, the brethren of Progress Lodge rose on command from the director of ceremonies and saluted David in a unique and exaggerated procedure that mimicked David’s actions whenever he stood up to speak in a lodge meeting. In other instances, when the newly installed master invested an officer and made a teasing comment, the recipient retorted with similar wit and jocularity. All in all, it made for a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining meeting.
But! Do not suppose that the ceremony lost any of its decorum or reverence. Superbly orchestrated and solemn when solemnity was the order of the day, the proceedings were executed with precision, sedateness and sincerity. Director of ceremonies Andy Walch is one of those chaps in which there are many aspects of his character that frequently raise respect. He is one of those fellows who you instinctively know will do a good job. These are admirable qualities and the results were clear to all in the organisation and implementation of the ceremony.
The charitable disbursements presented to Derek Parkinson by Mike at the conclusion of the installation were as impressive as the ceremonial elements. In total, £2,500 was distributed amongst a number of worthy causes, including £500 to the Blackpool Masonic Club, £500 to St James’ Hospital, £500 to Alzheimer’s Society, £350 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival, £275 to Clifton Hospital, £275 to Brian House and £100 to the Blackpool Sponsored Walk for further distribution through that fund-raising activity. As one would imagine, Derek received the cheques with immense pleasure and pride.
Retiring to the festive banquet, it was immediately apparent that the brethren of Progress Lodge intended relaxing after the strains of the formal ceremony and, consequently, the banter and joviality became even more pronounced, no doubt encouraged by a few strong refreshers. They were determined to let their hair down; although it must be said that, amongst them, there was not much hair to let down. Indeed, collectively they would struggle to keep an amoeba above room temperature!
Speeches at the dinner followed similar lines to those established in the lodge room; serious messages punctuated with jocular interludes, all delivered to a high standard. Peter Baldwin, accompanied on the piano by Roy James, performed the master’s song with the professionalism expected of an experienced entertainer. It was a perfect conclusion to a splendid day, one that more than proved that Freemasonry is great fun.