Mince pie at Magdalen College

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From his spell as a junior lecturer in the Fifties, Alan Bennett recalls the weird palaver associated with this humble pud

‘The food was delicious but meals could be a nightmare. I remember we once had mince pie but not, of course, the common individual variety but a great dish of a pie from which. Having been handed a silver trowel by the scout, one had to cut oneself a tranche and manoeuvre it onto one’s plate. Next came another scout bearing a silver Bunsen burner and a ladle which a third scout filled with brandy which one then had to heat over the burner until it produced a wavering blue flame whereupon one poured it over the pie. A fourth scout then appeared carrying a pitcher of cream with which one dowsed the conflagration. It was a lengthy process and one which deprived me of all appetite for the end product, particularly since as the lowliest member of Common Room I was served last while A JP Taylor, Gilbert Ryle, C.S. Lewis et al, having long since finished, looked on in unconcealed impatience.’

Extract from Keeping On Keeping On (Faber, £25)

Picture credit: Fellows enjoying dessert, by Alan Sorrell, 1954