The Association of American Correspondents in London has a long and rich history.
The organization was founded by journalist and politician Sir Harry Ernest Brittain in 1919. Unfortunately any early documentation about the reasons for the founding of the AACL no longer exist and it remains a bit of a mystery why Sir Harry felt compelled to start up a separate organization from the Foreign Press Association (FPA), which had been a firmly established organization for journalists in London since 1888.
The first president of the AACL was Edward Price Bell, a pioneering foreign correspondent from the Chicago Daily News, who believed that journalism and statesmanship were “natural allies.”
Distinguished past presidents of the AACL have included Edward R. Murrow (the legendary CBS broadcaster portrayed in the George Clooney-directed “Good Night and Good Luck” by David Strathairn), Drew Middleton from the New York Times (noted for his compelling coverage of World War II), Henry Luce III (the son of the Time Inc. founder and a journalist in his own right) and Bonnie Angelo (a correspondent for TIME and author of “First Mothers” who became the first woman president of the AACL).
Over the years, we have not only covered the news from Britain and across Europe; we have also made headlines. Under the presidency of DeWitt MacKenzie, a distinguished journalist from the Associated Press who covered World War I, a dinner was hosted at the Savoy Hotel on May 30, 1927 in honor of Charles Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic that same year. A newspaper report of the dinner states that:
A special course was provided for Capt. Lindbergh consisting of five sandwiches and a half-gallon jar filled with water
The menu (signed by Lindbergh) for that meal, which also consisted of “Consommé Atlantique”, and “Fraises du Chevalier Lindbergh” turned up at an auction in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 2003.
During Harold Scarborough’s tenure as AACL president in 1929, Sir Josiah Stamp addressed the group on “Black Monday”, the day after the country was forced off the Gold Standard. Stamp, one of the principal authors of the Dawes Plan and a director of the Bank of England, told the group that the pound would stabilize against the dollar. AACL member Webb Miller, who covered everything from the Spanish Civil War to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and who was credited with helping change world opinion against the British rule of India with his reporting on the Dharasana Salt Works raid, wrote of the lunch
Sir Josiah told us that in his considered judgment the pound sterling would automatically stabilize somewhere around $4.60, the normal quotation being $4.86 to the pound sterling. [Fortunately], none of us speculated financially on his estimate [because] the pound sterling’s value sank until it was below $3.20.
In 1981 Margaret Thatcher hosted a press conference exclusively for the AACL where she discussed everything from Britain’s special relationship with the US to Middle East peace.
Princess Diana, a luncheon guest in 1996, told a captive audience about her divorce proceedings while her brother Charles, Earl Spencer, two years after her death, spoke of why he decided to have her grave open to the public for a few months a year. “I haven’t read a newspaper since she died. [I] thought to keep my own sanity I just wouldn’t read it,” he told the AACL journalists.
Philanthropist and political analysts George Soros made also news during an AACL lunch in 2000 when he predicted the world was entering a bear market.
Other keys guests over the last 15 years have included Richard Branson, Gerry Adams, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Salman Rushdie, F.W. De Kerk, Bill Bryson, the Prince of Wales, Helen Fielding, Susan Greenfield, David Frost, Germaine Greer, Jamie Oliver, Prince Andrew and David Miliband.
The AACL, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, hopes to continue to be a force for discourse and journalist discussion throughout the 21st century.