The Rake

THE KING OF CLUBS

Source: Birley entertaining guests in 1984

I am afraid that Mr. Birley cannot come to the phone because he is busy relaxing.”

It is without doubt the best excuse I have ever heard for not being able to take a call, and if one knew anything about Mark Birley it was that he was not someone to look kindly on being interrupted while he was busy relaxing. Relaxing was a sort of religious activity — or do I mean inactivity — and he would go to ends nobody else knew existed to ensure that it remained sacred.

During the 1990s he and I arranged some backgammon evenings at Thurloe Lodge, his large, exquisite house tucked away in almost rural calm just across the road from the Victoria and Albert museum in south-west London. I remember being impressed with the way things were arranged for each player, so that everything — backgammon board, drink,

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