SVU in the United Kingdom – a brief history

At the beginning there was a honeymoon. To be specific, the belated honeymoon of our founder and first chair Dr Bohunka Bradbrook who had got married in 1956 but with her beloved husband, also an academic, could afford a proper honeymoon only ten years later. Thankfully, they decided to spend it at the 1966 SVU Congress in New York where Bohunka (Ph.Dr., Charles University and D.Phil, Oxford) presented a lecture on Karel Čapek and H.G.Wells. Thus the ‘foundation stone’ of the British Chapter was laid. The beginnings were something of a one way street, financially speaking. The yearly fees of some twenty members were being sent to the U.S .Centre while Bohunka was financing all the activities of the British Chapter from her own pocket, with her selfless husband’s quiet approval.

Bohunka, probably the most distinguished expert on Karel Čapek and author of several books on the subject, organized British Chapter’s meetings and lectures, many of them her own. Most of them were on the English literature (Jane Austen, Brontë sisters, George Eliot) and on various aspects if Karel Čapek’s work. It was a fairly demanding and time-consuming effort, considering that her academic livelihood was at the University College of North Wales, Bangor some 240 miles from London where the life of the Chapter concentrated. However, before long the help was forthcoming and the Chapter’s committee included Dr Roubínek, Ing Miesler, Dr Václav Pinkava and Prof. Jaroslav Krejčí. The heydays came in 1970s when our ranks were strengthened by refugees from Czechoslovakia following the Soviet-led invasion of August, 1968. Dr Pinkava was delivering lectures on psychology, Prof. Krejci on sociology and economics. In later years, lecturers included brother of Princess Diana, Earl Charles Spencer who came to the Czech Embassy to talk about his book on Prince Rupert and Dr Paul Vyšný from St Andrews University delivered a lecture on the Runciman mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Thanks to the grants of the Czech Foreign Ministry we have published several books, among them Československá Británie (by Zuzana Slobodová and Milan Kocourek -biograpghies of prominent Czechs and Slovaks in the United Kingdom) and most recently Volá Londýn, a history of Czech and Slovak BBC broadcasts from London, 1939-2005.

We usually meet for a lecture every last Saturday of the month. Originally it was at the Czechoslovak Colony Club in West Hampstead, then at the Velehrad House in London until its recent sale. In May, weather permitting, we present examples of our own work in the park at Cleveland Square, by courtesy of Zuzana Slobodová. This year our lecturers included Jana Nahodilová who talked about Feminism in the Czech literature and Michaela Belejkaničová with a presentation of Jan Patočka’s philosophy and its impact on Václav Havel and Czech dissidents. In April we were guests of Dr Tim Beasley-Murray at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at the University College, London where we organized an evening in memory of the Bohemist and broadcaster Karel Brušák (1913-2004).

We take some pride in the fact that three of our members have been bestowed with the Gratias Agit award – Bohunka Bradbrook and two distinguished composers, Karel Janovický and Antonín Tučapský. Although our membership has somewhat shrank over the past few years due to sad losses among the older generation, we welcome new members all the time and look into the future with no small enthusiasm.

Milan Kocourek
Chairman, Walton on Thames.