Category Archives: Paddy’s Friends

Paddy’s drinks cabinet

Kalamitsi drinks' cabinet 2010 by Rodolp de Salis

Kalamitsi drinks’ cabinet 2010 by Rodolp de Salis

I thought that you might enjoy this picture taken by Rodolph de Salis at Paddy’s house in 2010.

Maybe you are reading this just before lunch or ‘after the sun has passed the yardarm’ and it will accompany you as you settle down for a relaxing Drink Time!

Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)


Listen to Dolores Payas on the Midweek programme

Drink timeA fascinating, amusing and loving contribution from Dolores Payas, author of Drink Time! on BBC Radio Four’s Midweek programme.

Catchup and listen to the programme by clicking this link. Dolores’ main contribution starts at the 14 minute spot.

Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)

Drink Time! Dolores Payas on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek at 0900 26 November

Just a short notice to say that Dolores will be on Libby Purves’ BBC Radio 4 Midweek show at 0900 today. I presume talking about her time with Paddy in his last few years and her delightful book Drink Time.

More details here.

Thank you to my spy in Jedburgh for spotting this one.

Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)

Angéla’s fate

In this extract from a longer work on Patrick Leigh Fermor and Budapest, Michael O’Sullivan looks at the fate of one of Paddy’s girlfriends in Budapest under communism and also solves the riddle of a postcard Paddy received about his stolen rucksack. The extract is part of a book Michael is working on called Between the Counts and the Comrades which looks at the fate of some of the old Hungarian noble families under communism.

Michael tells me that he has “… traced many of the descendants of the families he stayed with in Hungary especially his first port of call here which was with Baron and Baroness von Berg at Uri Utca. He tried to get access to the house on his last visit to Budapest and there is a rather sad photograph of him at the closed door.”

The best dreams of an ancient lineage are often had on beds of straw. This is the thought that engages me as I stand outside the house in Budapest where Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ex-girlfriend strangled her flatmate in 1969. This end of Budapest’s Pannonia Street is more chipped and faded in appearance than the more prosperous commercial stretch further south which is guarded by the elegant facade of the Vigzinhaus – the city’s Comedy Theatre. This neighbourhood of the XIII district called the Újlipótváros or New Leopoldstown was still a very new part of the city when Leigh Fermor first came to Budapest in 1934. It soon established itself as home to the literary and artistic set and also formed part of the residential area favoured by some of Budapest’s Jewish community. Today, according to recent census information, some of the capital’s Jewish community is again reestablishing itself here. Standing outside 48 Pannonia Street, I imagine it has changed very little since Xenia Cszernovits moved here in 1957, soon after the revolution which tried to end Soviet rule in Hungary. I am trying also to imagine how this woman of distinguished lineage, born into a family of landed gentry in 1909, coped with the ‘class enemy’ status imposed on her by Communism and how she coped too with being sent to work as a labourer in a textile factory.

Xenia Csernovits de Mácsa et Kisoroszi was a ravishing dark-haired beauty. She was the daughter of a Transylvanian land owner from Zam, Mihály Czernovits. The family was of grand Serbian origin. Xenia married Gábor Betegh de Csíktusnád, scion of an old Transylvanian noble family, while still in her early twenties but at the time she met Leigh Fermor in 1934 the marriage was going through a turbulent phase. It later appears to have settled down again because they had a daughter two years after Xenia’s tryst with Leigh Fermor.

Xenia’s niece by marriage, Stefania Betegh, doubts that the [Paddy’s] affair with Xenia ever happened. She has no particular reason to defend Xenia’s honour. She is not, after all, a blood relative. There is also the issue of the confused manner in which Leigh Fermor attempts to disguise, and yet not disguise, Xenia’s identity in Between the Woods and the Water. At one point in the narrative he gives her full name, the location of her family house at Zam and enough detail for us to know exactly who she is. Then he disguises her as ‘Angela’ and even adds a footnote about the need to ‘alter names’ having already made her one of the most identifiable characters in the book. She seems not to have been bothered by this and when, in her seventy sixth year, she read a translation of the book in Hungarian by her relative, Miklos Vajda, she wrote to Leigh Fermor to say how much she had enjoyed it.

Leigh Fermor’s attraction for women and his success as a seducer are well known. The balance of probability, in the seduction stakes, most likely rests with his success with Xenia. It was one of the last happy periods of her life. Miklos Vajda, recalls her as a free spirit and ‘a woman with something of the exotic gypsy in her looks and nature’. Men found her irresistible and the regular absence of her husband on business trips enabled her to have frequent liaisons with various male admirers, amongst whom Leigh Fermor is the best known.

Once Hungary had become a postwar Soviet satellite state, her life was altered in a way that was unimaginable in 1934. As a ‘class enemy’, she was sent to do menial work as a house painter and later in a textile factory in Budapest. She ended her days in a squalid little basement flat which she moved to after she strangled her former flatmate in a fit of rage in Pannonia Street on 20 December 1969. Such was her popularity with her neighbours that many of them testified in court to the justification of her actions, claiming that the victim was an unbearable woman, thus leading to a reduced charge of manslaughter.

There has been much talk in Budapest recently about the publication of the final installment of Leigh Fermor’s account of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. In the third volume The Broken Road he moves onward through Rumania and it is his favourable view of the old enemy that has irritated some amongst his admirers in Hungary. Presenting the Rumanian nobility as better read and more cosmopolitan than their Hungarian neighbours has not endeared him to some of the descendants of his former hosts. ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ is how one of them put it, at a recent event to mark the anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. But despite this he is remembered with great affection in Budapest where his friend, writer and translator, Rudi Fischer, now in his 90s, still lives.

Meeting him one can see how Leigh Fermor admired him and came to rely on his extraordinary knowledge of Hungarian history and culture. Fischer recently solved a Leigh Fermor conundrum when he admitted authorship of a hoax postcard addressed to Paddy from Kirchstetten, W.H. Auden’s Austrian retreat. In it he claimed that it was his grandfather, ‘Alois Schoissbauer’, who stole Paddy’s rucksack containing his money, passport and travel journal, from a Munich hostel in 1934. To add veracity to the hoax Fischer claimed that the author of the postcard later inherited the rucksack and that it was stolen again by ‘an Australian hippie’ as he travelled across Asia to Peshawar. He signed it ‘Dr Franz Xavier Hinterwalder, Professor of Farsi and Pashtoo, Firdausi School of Oriental Languges, Kirchstetten Lower Austria. The card was written after a bibulous lunch at the Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall. Paddy enjoyed it enough to copy it to Debo Devonshire.

There are plans in Budapest to raise a plaque in the city to mark Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1934 visit and plans too for a commemorative lecture about his time in the city.

James Bond’s secret: he’s Jamaican

Ian Fleming on the beach near Goldeneye Photo: Getty

A review of Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born, by Matthew Parker. This biography of Bond’s creator reveals an Ian Fleming who was cruel, vain and racist.

By Lewis Jones

First published in The Spectator, 9 August 2014

Ian Fleming’s first visit to Jamaica was pure James Bond. In 1943, as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, he flew from Miami to Kingston to attend an Anglo-American naval conference and to investigate the rumour that Axel Wenner-Gren, a rich Swede and supposed Nazi, had built a secret submarine base at Hog Island, near Nassau. He was accompanied by his old friend Ivar Bryce, who was also in intelligence, and who put him up at a house his wife had recently bought. As they left the island, Fleming told Bryce, ‘When we have won this blasted war, I am going to live in Jamaica… swim in the sea and write books.’

Three years later he duly bought 14 acres in the parish of St Mary on the north coast, with a beach and a coral reef, for £2,000 and spent the same again on building a primitive house, which he called Goldeneye. With no glass in the windows and no hot water to begin with, it was essentially a large room with some small back bedrooms and a kitchen with a stove and a sink. Bryce, who had found him the site, called the house ‘a masterpiece of striking ugliness’, but Patrick Leigh Fermor approved of its ‘enormous quadrilaterals’, which ‘framed a prospect of sea and cloud and sky’.

Fleming had negotiated two months’ annual holiday from his job as foreign news manager at the Sunday Times, and invariably spent it at Goldeneye, where his library included the 1947 edition of Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies by James Bond. In 1952 — when he also married and became a father — he wrote Casino Royale, in which James Bond’s cover at the Royale-les-Eaux casino is a ‘Jamaican plantocrat’. He wrote a Bond story there every winter until his death in 1964, aged 56.

Parker sketches the history of the island, beginning with its idyllic millennia under the Taínos, who called it Hamaika, ‘land of wood and streams’, and were wiped out within two generations of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494, leaving behind them only a few ‘heartbreakingly relaxed’ words — barbecue, hammock, canoe. Fleming’s favourite period was naturally that of the English privateers of the 17th century, as he simply adored pirates. He gave Bond various ‘piratical’ attributes — the scar on his cheek, for example — and several women admired his own ‘slightly piratical’ broken nose. The plot of Live and Let Die turns on the discovery of Sir Henry Morgan’s treasure trove.‘What I endeavour to aim at,’ explained Fleming in his essay How to Write a Thriller, ‘is a certain disciplined exoticism.’ In Goldeneye Matthew Parker makes a convincing case that Fleming’s exoticism is essentially Jamaican, and that the island is crucial to a proper understanding of the man and his work. Three of the novels — Live and Let Die, Dr No and The Man with the Golden Gun — are mainly set there, and over the years Fleming became ‘soaked’ in its atmosphere, a ‘cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism, fantasy, sensuality, danger and violence’.

Fleming shared his historical preferences with Noël Coward, who built two houses nearby, and with whom he had an unlikely but close friendship. They both loved the Royal Navy, and were nostalgic for the Empire; when Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Coward wrote in his diary that it was ‘a bloody good thing, but far too late’, and after Suez the Edens recuperated at Goldeneye. Fleming and Coward both loathed the arrival of the tourism they had helped pioneer. And — unlike Fleming’s wife Ann (née Charteris), who on her visits to Goldeneye before her divorce from Esmond Rothermere used to pretend to stay with Coward — they both disliked intellectuals.

One of Ann’s intellectuals was Peter Quennell, who was apparently known as ‘Lady Rothermere’s Fan’, and was an occasional guest at Goldeneye. Quennell noted that Coward treated Fleming ‘as if he were a distinguished member of the opposite sex’ and that Fleming, most untypically, ‘seemed positively to enjoy being teased or even ridiculed’. Nor did he appear to mind when Coward lightly fictionalised his affair with Ann in the novel Pomp and Circumstance. Coward later turned down the role of Dr No in the film with a telegram reading ‘No… No… No… No!’

Fleming obviously had much more in common with Commander Bond, not least his forceful heterosexuality: ‘I loved being whipped by you,’ Ann wrote to him in 1947, after a rendezvous in Dublin. Author and hero both swam like fish, and drank like them too, mainly spirits. Quennell recorded that at Goldeneye the Commander — Fleming retained his wartime rank — ‘tended to drink in the American way’, with plenty of vodka martinis or ‘very brown whisky sodas’ before dinner, but nothing with it, so Quennell would be forced to ask for something, to his host’s annoyance.

And then there was the smoking: ‘Bond lit his 70th cigarette of the day.’ Both commanders had a weekly order of 300 from Morlands of Grosvenor Street. As early as 1949 Fleming began to experience a tightening of the chest he called the Iron Crab, and in 1956 he cut down to 50 a day, but he kept at it. When he married Ann he wrote to her brother Hugo, who disliked him, tactfully promising never to hurt her except with a slipper — but he did. In the last photograph of them together at Goldeneye, Fleming, who had been told by doctors to stop smoking and drinking, is holding his sinister cigarette holder in one hand and reaching for what looks like a very brown drink with another, while his wife stares into the camera, her ‘anguish’, as the caption notes, ‘clearly visible’.

Parker argues that Fleming and Bond were both pretty unlikeable, but that this made them more interesting. Besides his cruelty and vanity, Fleming was by today’s standards a racist. He loved Jamaicans but was also wary of them, always taking to Goldeneye his Browning .25 from the war, ‘for defence against the Blackamoors’. He was patronising about their ‘childish faults’ and ‘simple lusts and desires’, and didn’t take Independence seriously. Less heinously, he was also something of a snob. Sean Connery, who quite liked him, thought him ‘a real snob’, but in his review of Dr No Paul Johnson cleverly out-snobbed him, dismissing his snobbery as ‘very second-rate… not even the snobbery of a proper snob’.

Parker thinks Robinson Crusoe was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, and is a bit muddled about English titles, but his book makes an entertaining addendum to Andrew Lycett’s definitive 1995 biography.

Buy Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker

The Mitford files: Exploring the extraordinary lives of six sisters

Surely more forests have been felled in the name of the Mitford girls than any other family circle in history, and the death recently of 94-year-old Deborah, the youngest and longest-lived, prompts a consideration of the sisters’ contribution to the world of letters – as both authors and subjects.

By Mark McGinness.

First published in The National, 2 October 2014.

Between 1904 and 1920, Lord and Lady Redesdale produced a son, Tom, and six daughters – Nancy, the novelist and Francophile; Pam, a horsewoman, farmer and cook; Diana, a fascist beauty; Unity, a besotted Nazi; Jessica (“Decca”), an American communist and writer; and Deborah (“Debo”), the Duchess of Devonshire. They were six variations of the same face and voice with an obsessive dedication to a person or cause. Nancy’s love for Gaston Palewski, Unity’s for Hitler and Diana’s for the English fascist Oswald Mosley, blighted their lives – although none of them would ever admit it. Jessica’s dedication to communism and Deborah’s to her home, Chatsworth House, were just as strong but cast no shadows.

Four of the sisters – Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah – took to print. Memoirs from the last three of them (and more than 40 books among them); novels and historical biographies from Nancy; biographies and reviews from Diana; and exposés from Jessica, the Queen of Muckrakers. Three volumes of Nancy’s letters have been published (one, her correspondence with Evelyn Waugh), 700 pages of letters from Jessica, and Deborah’s 54 years of brilliant badinage with the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, In Tearing Haste. There are also the 843 pages of correspondence between all six sisters, covering 77 years.

These tomes join four previous biographies of Nancy (by Harold Acton, Selina Hastings, Laura Thompson and Lisa Hilton); two of Diana (by Jan Dalley and Anne de Courcy); three of Unity (the most comprehensive – and controversial – by David Pryce-Jones); one of Pamela, the quietest and, according to John Betjeman, “the most rural of them all”; and two of all six sisters: The House of Mitford by Diana’s son, Jonathan Guinness and his daughter Catherine; and Mary Lovell’s quite definitive The Mitford Girls. There was even a musical of the same name in 1981. Deborah’s daughter, Sophia Murphy, also produced The Mitford Family Album. Biographies of Deborah are certain, like her beloved chickens, to be hatched before long.

Why the fascination? The lives of the Mitford sisters have riveted, and repelled, Anglophiles, romantics and readers since the 1930s. Diana Mitford once wrote, “I must admit ‘the Mitfords’ would madden ME if I didn’t chance to be one.” Their hold on the public imagination, through their loves and marriages, their politics and opinions, their friendships and sense of fun, can be attributed to a mixture of aristocratic eccentricity, romance, rebellion, devotion, betrayal, estrangement, tragedy and loss; and through it all, a uniquely irrepressible wit. This absolute self-possession and determination to treat the gravest aspects of life as a lark are what make the Mitfords such an enduring study.

The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters (2008), superbly edited by Diana’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Mosley, presents the sisters at their vivid best, bouncing off each other, revealing a distinctive, instantly recognisable style that shines through each one’s letters. The lives of the Mitford girls seem as remote today as the Bennett sisters. The latter were fictional and the Mitfords have become so, too.

It is almost impossible for many to separate the family from their fictional equivalents. The books that made them so, and grew into what Jessica dubbed the Mitford Industry, were Nancy’s The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949), which become classics, still in print today, creating cult figures of her already notorious family.

The intensely autobiographical nature of Nancy’s fiction might suggest a lack of creative imagination, but the real-life models she was so brilliantly able to draw on – with some, but not much, embellishment – made it all the more fascinating for appearing to be true. Published in December 1945, The Pursuit of Love, a hilarious, high-spirited and sweepingly romantic tale came at just the right time to a country exhausted and numb after six years of war.

That spirit and the ingredients of love, childhood and the eccentricities of the English aristocracy in the guise of the Radlett family make it still so eminently readable today. Nancy trumped her success with Love in a Cold Climate four years later, again drawing on life with the Radletts, but focusing on their neighbours.

Half a century passed between Nancy’s first novel, Highland Fling (1931), and Debo’s first book. Eldest green-eyed Nancy never recovered from not being an only child and was relentless in her teasing. She called Debo “Nine” – her apparent mental age – and claimed she had to point to the words on a page to read. Debo played on this, claiming never to read; rather like Favre (as they called their father), who apparently only ever read one book, White Fang, which he found so good there was no need to read another.

Debo was certainly a late developer but would write almost as many books as Nancy, and proved herself as gifted, original and funny as her supposedly cleverer sisters. Most of them reflected her life’s work, Chatsworth House, the seat of the Cavendishes for 16 generations since 1549, the 175-room caramel-coloured pile, known as “the Palace on the Peak” in Derbyshire, which in 1959, she and her husband, Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, occupied (with their son and two daughters) and set about to rescue. Debo was arguably the greatest chatelaine of the 20th century.

In 1980, at the age of 60, she produced Chatsworth: The House (1980); then in 1990, The Estate: A View from Chatsworth. The Treasures of Chatsworth and The Farmyard at Chatsworth were published in 1991 and, in 1999, The Garden at Chatsworth. Two years later a bestselling collection of home thoughts and reviews, Counting My Chickens (2001), appeared. She was a hen breeder and chicken lover for more than 80 years.

The Chatsworth Cookery Book ­appeared in 2003. Debo’s hairdresser thought she had a nerve as she had not cooked since 1945. But she was better than two of her sisters. Nancy, looking after her father during the war, threw an egg into a pot of water and was appalled when “a sinister sort of octopus grew out of it”. So she threw in two more – the whole week’s ration – and the same thing happened. She then gave up. Jessica was no more adept. Her recipe for roast goose reads: “Take a goose and roast till done.”

In 2005, Round About Chatsworth was published, featuring the 35,000 acres that surround the house – plumb full of houses and architectural curiosities: bridges and byres, mills and a mortuary, turrets, towers and troughs, forests, fountains and follies – brimming with Devonshire knowledge and Mitford dash.

Writing about Chatsworth was the most natural thing in the world for Deborah and so it read. She listed her occupation in Who’s Who as “housewife” and would refer to Chatsworth as “the dump”. As Alan Bennett said in his introduction to the second collection of her journalism, Home to Roost … And Other Peckings (2009), a bestseller like her predecessor, “Deborah Devonshire is not someone to whom one can say ‘joking apart …’: with her it’s of the essence, even at the most serious and saddest of moments.”

And in a long life, she had her tragedies and her trials. She lost three children at birth and like many a duke, her husband had affairs. He was also an alcoholic and a gambler but gave these up so their last two decades were warm and companionable.

“Happiness is very rare and totally overrated,” Deborah would say. “Contentment is completely different and Chatsworth has made me content … I am the most easily pleased of the sisters.”

By December 2005, sisterless and widowed (her last sister, Diana, died in 2003 and the Duke the following year), Debo left Chatsworth to her son, the 12th duke, and his wife, moving nearby to the Old Vicarage at Edensor. She called it the Old Vic and soon made it her own. She continued to contribute to The Spectator as a columnist and reviewer. Her views were sturdily conservative – Crown and countryside, the social order and stiff upper lip, good manners, loyalty and friendship, but always expressed with originality and humour.

Then, at the age of 90 and by then almost blind, she published her memoirs, Wait for Me!, perhaps the most reliable and rational account of life as a Mitford sister, recalling the stumpy-legged infant trying to catch up to her five big sisters. Indifferent to their politics, her love for her sisters was unwavering. Debo had been the Redesdales’ last chance for another son. Mabel the parlourmaid recalled, “I knew it was a girl by the look on his lordship’s face.” Yet, unlike her tearaway sisters she loved life at home with Muv and Favre and became her father’s favourite. Apart from preserving Chatsworth and protecting the legacy of her sisters, the Duchess of Devonshire championed, through her writing and her patronages, traditional values and the importance of country life; proving in the end, to be the grandest and most remarkable of that remarkable brood.

Mark McGinness is a freelance writer and reviewer based in Dubai.

Ghika – Fermor – Craxton: 3 places, 3 creators

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lydia Aous, 1958

Our favourite museum, the Benki, is presenting an exhibition dedicated to three creators, whose lives were bonded through common places: Hydra, Kardamyli, Corfu. Three houses-refuges, which became a source of artistic inspiration, and housed a friendship that lasted over 40 years.

Sir Patrick Leigh-Fermor, English travel writer, built his house in Kardamyli of Mani, a house that was later bequeathed to the Benaki Museum. There, he hosted since the 1960’s the painters N. H. Ghika and John Craxton, among other friends, whose works decorated the place.

Earlier, main feature for all three of them was Ghika’s manor in Hydra, “a perfect prose-factory” as it was called by Fermor, who lived there for two years, writing most of his book “Mani”.

John Craxton as well, was attracted by the landscape of Hydra and painted a series of them. His valuable help the days that folowed the fire at Ghika’s house in Hydra, in 1961, is described at their extensive correspondence. In one of these letters Craxton is suggesting to Niko and Barbara Ghika that perhaps it is about time to move on to other places. Indeed, the Corfu house was going to replace the void and become a new place of meeting and creation.

Letters, manuscripts, editions and photos are the main theme of the exhibition, accompanied by drawings by N. H. Ghika and John Craxton. Works of the above painters coming from the Fermor house in Kardamyli form a separate section at the exhibition which runs from 17 October 2014 to 10 January 2015. Further details here.

Duchess of Devonshire on meeting JFK

Another video from the delightful series of interviews with Debo. She recalls times with Jack Kennedy and his funeral. She was at the White House during the Cuban missile crisis and could not understand all the talk of “missuls”; she thought they were some kind of thrush.

Click on the picture to play and briefly endure the annoying advertisement before the main event (sound again low gain).


The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire laid to rest

The Duchess of Devonshire funeral at Chatsworth House Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND

The Duchess of Devonshire funeral at Chatsworth House Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who were close friends of the Dowager Duchess, walked the entire route behind the hearse carrying her coffin The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire has begun her final journey from Chatsworth House to the parish church where she is to be buried.

By Gordon Rayner

First published in the Telegraph 2 October 2014

More than 600 staff from the Chatsworth estate have been give the day off work so they can line the two-mile route that the cortège is taking to St Peter’s Church in the village of Edensor.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who were close friends of the Dowager Duchess, were among the mourners, and walked the entire route behind the hearse carrying her coffin.

The estate staff lining the route fell in behind as the hearse passed, with more than 500 chairs set up for them at the church so they could watch the funeral on a giant screen showing the service from inside the church, which only holds 200.

Halfway through the service the sound of Elvis Presley singing How Great Thou Art filled the parish church.

The Dowager Duchess was a huge Elvis fan and owned a collection of Elvis memorabilia.

The Dowager Duchess, who died on September 24 at the age of 94, was the last of the Mitford sisters, the most celebrated and controversial family in pre-war high society.

It was her head for business that transformed Chatsworth from a crumbling stately home into one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions and the model for virtually ever other stately home in the country.

She was buried in the church’s graveyard next to her late husband, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, who died in 2004. His gravestone has been removed for the Dowager Duchess’s name to be added.

The plot is next to the grave of Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F Kennedy, who was married to the 11th Duke’s brother.

In accordance with the Dowager Duchess’s wishes, the estate staff lining the route of the cortège wore their work uniforms, with butchers turning out in aprons, gardeners in their green sweatshirts and tour guides in their crested blazers. All wore either a black tie or black armband.

As the staff gathered at their muster points to be briefed on their positions, they swapped stories and memories of the Dowager Duchess, who was known as “Debo”.

Paul Neale, 59, the head butcher at the Chatsworth Farm Shop, said: “We have turned out in our uniforms because it is what the Duchess wanted and it is the highest compliment we can pay her because she started the retail side of Chatsworth.

“She was a lovely lady, very much involved in the business and we would see her three or four times a week coming to look round the shop.

“She used to stop and talk to everyone. I’m so proud to have known her and to have worked for her for 18 years.”

The Dowager Duchess knew the names of virtually all of the 620 staff standing to attention along the route, from the 92 catering staff to the 40 gardeners, the 20 tenant farmers and the three gamekeepers.

Alan Hodson, 66, one of the 63 tourist guides among the mourners, said: “Today is a celebration of a wonderful lady.

“She used to speak to absolutely everyone, she had fabulous social skills, she would always admire people’s children or their dogs and you would see her holding the door open for visitors who probably had no idea who she was.”

The Dowager Duchess’s son, the 12th Duke, followed immediately behind the hearse with his wife and his sister Lady Emma Tennant. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall walked immediately behind them.

The Duchess of Cornwall’s former husband Andrew Parker Bowles was also among the mourners.

As the cortège progressed along its route, accompanied by the steady monotone beat of a single bell at the church, the numbers walking behind the coffin grew to hundreds and then well over a thousand as the staff and members of the public joined it.

The Dowager Duchess’s wicker coffin, ringed with flowers, was carried into the church by pall bearers including Stephen Reid, head gamekeeper, and Andre Birkett, manager of the Farm Shop.

The Dowager Duchess’s retired former butler, Henry Coleman, carried a cushion bearing her insignia of the Dame Commander of the Victorian Order.

The funeral service, conducted by Canon David Perkins, included music by Bach, Brahms, Handel and Grieg, and the hymns Holy! Holy! Holy! and We Plough The Fields And Scatter.

The readings included the poem Lament Of The Irish Emigrant by Helen Selina, Lady Dufferin, and a passage from Ecclesiastes Ch.3 v 1-22.

Funeral service of Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

The funeral service for Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire will be held at 12 noon at St Peter’s Church, Edensor, DE45 1PH on Thursday 2 October 2014.

Everyone is welcome to attend. There will be refreshments at Chatsworth after the service.

No memorial service will be held, as were her express instructions. Donations in her memory to the Addington Fund and/or Helen’s Trust will be much appreciated.

Full details here.

Duchess of Devonshire on her sisters and meeting Hitler

Debo was always confident in front of the camera and here she talks about some of the extraordinary events in her life. She was the girl who within a few short months danced with the young JFK and then had tea with Hitler. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

The video has a low level of sound. Perhaps best to listen with headphones after the irritating advert.

Click on the picture to play.


Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – obituary

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2005 Photo: REX

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2005 Photo: REX

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was the devoted chataleine of Chatsworth and the last of the Mitford sisters.

First published in the Telegraph 24 September 2014

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who has died aged 94, was the youngest and last of the celebrated Mitford sisters, and the chatelaine of Chatsworth, the “Palace of the Peak” in Derbyshire, which from the 1950s onwards she made into both a glorious public spectacle and, really for the first time, a consummately stylish private home.

She was born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford on March 31 1920, the sixth daughter of the eccentric 2nd Lord Redesdale, well-known to readers of Nancy Mitford’s novels as “Uncle Matthew”. “Debo” (as she was always known) was repeatedly assured throughout her childhood by her eldest sister Nancy that “everybody cried when you were born” on account of her being yet another girl.

Debo took refuge in quaintly odd pursuits. Another sister, Jessica (“Decca”) Mitford, described her spending “silent hours in the chicken house learning to do an exact imitation of the look of pained concentration that comes over a hen’s face when it is laying an egg, and each morning she methodically checked over and listed in a notebook the stillbirths reported in the vital statistics columns of The Times”.

As the youngest in a family of seven, Debo was constantly and mercilessly teased, despite the bellowing championship of her father. She was passionately fond of the country and country pursuits, and did not suffer from the brilliant, restless boredom so well-documented by her sisters. None of the girls was sent to school, as their father thought education for girls unnecessary; a succession of governesses was employed, one of whom, Miss Pratt, had her charges playing Racing Demon daily from 9am until lunchtime.

As a girl Debo was a fine skater, and was invited to join the British junior team; but the idea was vetoed by her mother. As an adolescent she witnessed several scandals surrounding her sisters — Diana’s divorce and remarriage, Jessica’s elopement, Unity’s involvement with Hitler — as well as the disintegration of her parents’ marriage.

She was famous for having chanted as a child, in moments of distress: “One day he’ll come along, the Duke I love.” When she married Lord Andrew Cavendish in 1941, however, he was a mere second son. Debo wrote to her sister, Diana Mosley, then in Holloway prison: “I expect we shall be terrificly [sic] poor but think how nice to have as many dear dogs and things as one likes without anyone to say they must get off the furniture.”

Debo remained surrounded by dogs for the rest of her life. In The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth (1982), the delightful and bestselling book she wrote, in between doing a lot of sums to illustrate that 365 ordinary-sized residences could fit into The House, with its 7,873 panes of glass and 53 lavatories, the Duchess took care to inform the reader: “It’s a terrible place to house-train a puppy.”

In 1944 Andrew’s elder brother was killed in action, and in 1950 the 10th Duke unexpectedly died. The Devonshires were left with 80 per cent death duties which took 17 years to settle. In 1959 they moved to Chatsworth, uninhabited since before the war.

When she had first seen the house after the war she had thought it “sad, dark, cold and dirty. It wasn’t like a house at all, but more like a barracks.” It had not been redecorated for decades, and during the war had been home to a girls’ boarding school.

But Debo embraced her role of chatelaine gaily, as she set about redecorating the house. “Debo has become the sort of English duchess who doesn’t feel the cold,” reported Nancy, disconsolately.

The Duchess was both beautiful and deceptively literate, although exceptionally modest. Lucian Freud painted her when she was 34, and Debo used to delight in the story of how an old woman was heard remarking, as she stood before the painting: “That’s the Dowager Duchess. It was taken the year before she died.” When the painting was completed, Freud allowed the Duke and Duchess to see it at his studio. “Someone else was already there,” she later recalled. “Andrew looked long at the picture until the other man asked, ‘Who is that?’ ‘It’s my wife.’ ‘Well, thank God it’s not mine’.”

She also sat for Annigoni, to whom she found herself apologising for her face: “I know it’s not the sort you like.” The artist replied, not very graciously: “Oh well, it doesn’t matter, it’s not your fault.”

The Duchess kept aloof from her family’s literary and political pursuits. She visited her Fascist sister Diana in prison, and her Communist sister Decca in California, keeping a light touch with both.

After visiting Decca and doing the rounds of her Communist friends, Debo sent Decca a photograph of herself and her husband, dressed in their ducal robes for a coronation, garlanded with orders, chains and jewels, staring stonily ahead. Beneath the photo she wrote: “Andrew and me being active.”

Nancy used to address letters to her sister “Nine, Duchess of Devonshire”, her contention being that Debo never developed beyond the mental age of nine. Certainly the Duchess always maintained that she never read books and that her favourite reading matter was the British goatkeepers’ monthly journal, Fancy Fowl magazine and Beatrix Potter.

The epigraph in her book The House is taken from Hobbes, who was tutor to the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Devonshire: “Reading is a pernicious habit. It destroys all originality of sentiment.”

Debo and Paddy 2008

Debo and Paddy 2008

Paddy and Debo 2008

Paddy and Debo 2008

Chatsworth, however, was always filled with literati, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, a great friend, was determined that Debo was a closet reader, who sneaked books the way alcoholics sneak whisky. As a writer, she was a natural storyteller with a knack for the telling phrase and a delight in human eccentricities.

Certainly The House is a wonderfully rich and beautifully written work. It is organised around a Handbook of Chatsworth written in 1844 in the form of a letter from the “Bachelor Duke” (the 6th) to his sister and is full of very funny accounts of the foibles of earlier dukes and duchesses. Among other stories, it chronicles the war waged against woodworm by the wife of the 9th Duke (the former Lady Evelyn Fitzmaurice). Believing concussion to be the answer, the formidable beldame kept a little hammer in her bag to bang the furniture where they lurked.

The Duchess showed acute commercial flair in raising money for the Chatsworth estate, making a nonsense of her sister Nancy’s generalisation in Noblesse Oblige that aristocrats are no good at making money. She presided over the bread, cake, jam and chutney industries which grew up to feed the farm shop, which was described by the late Hugh Massingberd in The Daily Telegraph as “every greedy child’s idea of what a shop should be”.

Although the house had been open to the public ever since it was built, it was not until 1947 that the revenue from visitors went towards its upkeep. In 1973 the Duchess set up the Farmyard at Chatsworth, “to explain to the children that food is produced by farmers who also look after the land and that the two functions are inextricably mixed”. A little boy from Sheffield watched the milking, then told the Duchess: “It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never drink milk again.”

Visitors to Chatsworth are able to buy items such as souvenirs, books, porcelain, knitwear, while the Farm Shop sells estate produce. A mail order business was established, along with cafés, restaurants and a commercial catering business.

Chatsworth Carpenters was an especially successful venture. The Duchess, in her gardener’s apron, was for many years a familiar sight at the Chelsea Flower Show, where she was to be seen busily selling furniture fit for a stately home to the owners of small town gardens.

The 11th Duke once observed: “My wife is far more important to Chatsworth than I am.” He added: “She is on the bossy side, of course; but I’ve always liked that in a woman.” She dealt heroically with her husband’s philandering nature and his weakness for alcohol, and the marriage was a happy one.

Despite living in a house overflowing with masterpieces by such artists as Rembrandt, Veronese, Murillo, Poussin and Reynolds, the Duchess always maintained that Beatrix Potter was her favourite artist, and Miss Potter’s enchanted world may indeed be the key to appreciating the genius loci of Chatsworth.

The Duchess was an ardent conservationist of vernacular architecture and was president of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. She also chaired the Tarmac Construction Group and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Her devotion to making Chatsworth a viable financial concern was well rewarded in 1981 when a charitable trust, capitalised by the sale of certain treasures, was established to preserve The House for posterity.

In 2001 the Duchess published Counting My Chickens… and other home thoughts, a collection of sharply observed musings on Chatsworth, gardening, poultry, dry stone walling, bottled water, the United States, Ireland, the Today programme, the Turner Prize and other topics. On the modern fashion for hiring business consultants, she wryly observed: “He arrives from London, first class on the train… Most probably he has never been this far north, so the geography and the ways of the locals have to be explained, all taking his valuable time. After a suitable pause of a few weeks (he is very busy being consulted) a beautiful book arrives, telling you what you spent the day telling him.”

After her husband’s death in 2004 she published a poignant tribute in Memories of Andrew Devonshire (2007). Other publications included In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008); Home to Roost … and Other Peckings (2009), a collection of occasional writings; and Wait for Me!… Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010). She was also a contributor to The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph. Her last book, All in One Basket, which brought together two earlier volumes of occasional writings, was published in 2011.

The Duchess claimed to buy most of her clothes at agricultural shows, adding: “After agricultural shows, Marks & Spencer is the place to go shopping, and then Paris. Nothing in between seems to be much good.”

Her dislikes included magpies; women who want to join men’s clubs; hotel coat-hangers; and drivers who slow down to go over cattle grids. She regretted the passing of brogues, the custom of mourning, telegrams, the 1662 Prayer Book, pinafores for little boys and Elvis Presley (“the greatest entertainer ever to walk on a stage”).

In 2003 she published The Chatsworth Cookery Book, introducing it with the words: “I haven’t cooked since the war.”

Debo Devonshire was appointed DCVO in 1999.

She is survived by her son Stoker, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and by two daughters.

Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, born March 31 1920, died September 24 2014.

Related articles:

Listen to the 2010 BBC Radio 4 interview on Woman’s Hour here.

Never Marry a Mitford

The Duchess of Devonshire talks about Patrick Leigh Fermor

Our archive of articles about or including Debo

Paddy’s great friend Debo Devonshire, last of the Mitford sisters, has died

A young and beautiful Debo

A young and beautiful Debo

Deborah, or Debo as she was known to her friends, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, and the last surviving Mitford sister, has died aged 94. This announcement from the BBC news website. She was the last of Paddy’s friends from his younger days left alive. It is the end of an era.

Her son, the Duke of Devonshire, announced the death in a statement from Chatsworth House, her stately home.

The Mitford sisters fascinated – and sometimes scandalised – British society in the 1940s.

Unity was a friend of Hitler, Diana, the second wife of British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, and Jessica a left-wing polemicist.

Deborah was more focused on her home life. Listen to the 2010 BBC Radio 4 interview on Woman’s Hour here.

Nicknamed the “housewife duchess”, she made Chatsworth one of the most successful and profitable stately homes in England after marrying Andrew Cavendish in 1941.

But along with her siblings, during her lifetime she moved in the same circles as Sir Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy and Evelyn Waugh.

She also accompanied her sister Unity to tea with Hitler in 1937, was painted by Lucian Freud, and amassed a collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia.

The statement from her son said: “It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, has passed away peacefully this morning.”
Deborah Deborah was the youngest Mitford sister

It added that an announcement about funeral arrangements would be made shortly.

Born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford on 31 March 1920, the duchess was the sixth daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdale.

The Mitfords’ childhood at their family home in the Oxfordshire village of Swinbrook was immortalised in her sister Nancy’s novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.

Her parents made a poor job of hiding their disappointment that Deborah had not been born a boy, leaving Thomas their only son.

The Mitfords’ father disapproved of educating girls, famously insisting that hockey would make their ankles fat, and Deborah spent her formative years skating and hunting.

Her sister Unity’s infatuation with Hitler saw the young Deborah invited to tea with the German dictator, although the visit made little impression on her.

“If you sat in a room with Churchill,” she later recalled, “you were aware of this tremendous charisma. Kennedy had it too. But Hitler didn’t – not to me anyway.”

At Chatsworth, the Duchess took on a major role in running the house and its garden, which have been used in a number of film and TV productions.

In July 2002, the duchess and her husband spoke out against the government’s proposed ban on fox hunting.

Made a dame in 1999, she became the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire in 2004 after her husband died and their son inherited his title.

She wrote a book about her life, Wait for Me: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister, which was published in 2010.

Related articles:

Never Marry a Mitford

The Duchess of Devonshire talks about Patrick Leigh Fermor

Our archive of articles about or including Debo

Drink Time! by Dolores Payás

Drink timeOne of the privileges of running this blog is that from time to time I get to meet some of Paddy’s friends and relations. At the relaunch of Billy Moss’ War of Shadows in May, I was introduced to Dolores Payás who was Paddy’s official translator into Spanish. She and her publisher told me that she had a book coming out in the summer called Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir which was an account of her time staying with Paddy at Kardamyli over the last two years of his life.

Before I went away on holiday to France a copy of the book arrived in the post and I took it with me and it turned out to be a great choice for holiday reading. It is a short book at 111 pages but always entertaining.

Dolores stayed with Paddy for extended periods on a number of occasions in the two years before his death. She was given Joans’s room which appeared to remain a highway for the numerous cats that continued to live in and around the house. They were often alone with only Elpida for company as she prepared meals and looked after the house. At other times Paddy still hosted dinner parties which were always lively and went on into the early hours. He was as ever the kind host:

He was grateful for whatever gifts life brought to his door, whether in the way of quality conversation, a tasty meal, books, the sun that rose every morning, and the sea roaring at his feet. Life was generous to him and he responded in kind, offering the world his own universe by way of exchange.

Whatever they were doing there were two times of the day when Paddy would interrupt proceedings and announce it was drink time, and promptly move into the living room and help himself to a large drink be it vodka or gin. These times gave some pattern to the day and we are told that Paddy looked forward to them enormously. His capacity for drink appears to have remained undiminished even to the end.

Dolores and Paddy became close friends and she delights in offering us a very intimate portrait of the man. For true Paddy fans this book will be a very welcome addition to our bookshelves. Unlike the biography which lacked the personal touch, this book is quite intimate, and about two people, both of them deaf, enjoying time together even on the occasion of a strict telling off by Paddy’s Greek doctor. We get quite close to Paddy and Dolores is able to reveal something of his character and some of his more personal thoughts as he came towards the end of his life. If you want to understand more about Paddy the man, not the writer or bon viveur, you will enjoy Drink Time!

Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)

Two in one – Nick Hunt and Dolores Payas in Bristol 4 September

Nick Hunt, author of Walking the Woods and the Water is talking with Dolores Payas on the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor at Stanfords Bristol on 4th Sept at 6.30pm.

This is a great chance for those who live in the depths of the west of England to hear Nick talk about his walk to Dolores who has written a lovely volume about her time with Paddy at his house in Kardamyli. I will be reviewing her book, Drink Time, in September.

Tickets are nicely priced at £3.00 including a glass of wine. Too good to miss!

Details here.

Relaunch of A War of Shadows by Billy Moss

A War of Shadows

A War of Shadows

In 1952 Billy Moss published his second volume of war memoirs, focusing on his activities after the Kreipe kidnap which he had described so vividly in Ill Met by Moonlight.War of Shadows has recently been republished by Bene Factum and I was honoured to have been invited to the recent launch party at the RAF Club.

A War of Shadows

It is a darker book than Ill Met. It starts with a discourse on death in its many forms, variety of impacts, and importance. Billy is in reflective mood as he describes the last year of his war, during which time he engaged in ambushes in Crete with his Russians whilst Paddy was recuperating from his illness in Cairo. There were even plans made to repeat the kidnap with the replacement General!

From Crete, Billy is deployed to Macedonia where he encounters a more cynical form of resistance. As the war in Europe passed on towards the shrinking Germanic core, Billy volunteered for SOE operations in the Far East and was parachuted into Siam, where he saw out the dog days of the war, occasionally listening to test matches on the BBC World Service.

The launch of the book represents a significant triumph for his family, especially his daughters. There is a view that Billy’s part in the Kreipe kidnap has been played down over time with more attention on Paddy’s role. It is important therefore to Billy’s memory that his role is recognised and that people know that after the kidnap Billy continued to engage in fierce operations against the Germans and Japanese, showing tactical skill and great bravery.

Billy Moss at a book signing in the early 1950's

Billy Moss at a book signing in the early 1950’s

I read A War of Shadows

a couple of years ago (I managed to find a first edition) and it is a very enjoyable read, offering us more detail on the Crete operations and an interesting perspective on the way the war ‘wound down’. The new paperback edition has a delightfully personal introduction by Billy’s daughter Gabriella, and closes with an end-piece by acclaimed SOE writer Alan Ogden which is to all intents and purposes a short biography of Billy. So if you want to know more about this extraordinary man you should buy a copy of the new edition of A War of Shadows


Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

The recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

Billy’s whole family are very much involved in preserving his memory. Proceeds from the book will go to support various charitable activities on Crete. At the launch, Billy’s granddaughter gave a wonderful speech honouring his memory. She wore a beautiful jacket of silver thread depicting Mongol horsemen at the charge with bows taut; this jacket belonged to her grandmother Sophie, the woman who dominated that vibrant community of heroes and free thinkers in Cairo that was Tara. The jacket was hand-made in Cairo from cloth that Sophie bought in the souk. The text of the speech follows.

You can purchase War of Shadows in all good book stores but if pressed for time click here to buy from Amazon. A War of Shadows

Thank you Anthony, on behalf of all my family, for your kind words – and for all you have done: this evening celebrates the first reprint of A War of Shadows since 1952, and I want to take this opportunity to say how enormously we appreciate your unstinting dedication in bringing this book back into the light.
For us it is a very special occasion, and I want to thank all of you for coming this evening – my family welcomes you all.

We have just returned from Crete where, 3 weeks ago, we commemorated together the 70th anniversary of the Special Operation Executive’s abduction of the German General Kreipe – the only successful such kidnap of the war – carried out by Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy, with the help and support of a great swathe of the Cretan population. It was Billy’s diary, written in the field, which became the book, and then the film, Ill Met by Moonlight. Paddy and Billy spirited the General by boat to the Middle East.

From this point – or rather, from the point of his treasured friendship with Paddy – A War of Shadows takes up the story of the rest of Billy’s SOE war : in Crete for a second time, then Macedonia and the Far East. It is a candid observation of the times, places, personalities and politics. It liberally mixes humour with stark reality. Never melodramatic, it is at times a sobering and thoughtful book on what it actually means to be a soldier, dealing with death. At times it is also a very personal account : the answers to many questions lie within its pages.

Billy’s life, from the moment he was born, was extraordinary in so many ways but it was tragically short. He died in 1965. We his family carry him within us always, but it seemed that, as the decades passed, he would largely be forgotten by the world at large.

It is impossible to describe what it was to find, in Alan Ogden, Billy’s ultimate champion. Alan had already written about Billy and other SOE agents in his books Sons of Odysseus and Tigers Burning Bright. My parents first met Alan at the Special Forces Club in January last year, and it was he who absolutely insisted that Billy’s story should be told, and so he introduced them to his publisher, Anthony Weldon!

Alan threw himself into writing a short biography of Billy which is now published as the Afterword to A War of Shadows. ALAN, we are just so grateful for everything you have so generously done for Billy’s memory.

There are myriad ways in which we have felt support, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all of you whom we have gathered here tonight.

There are so many strands, and some of you have very particular links to my grandparents. ONE of you was a baby in wartime Cairo : SIMON, your mother was a marvellous and lifelong friend to them both. ONE of you is the son of their fellow Tara inmate, and named after another Tara inmate : XAN, your father was ever the dearest of friends. ONE of you, as a girl, knew them – and even knew Pixie the Alsatian – when they were living in Ireland in the 1950s : MERCEDES, you have vivid memories of Billy having to rescue you when Pixie had you pinned against a wall.

As I mentioned, we have just visited Crete. Some of us had been before, and for some of us it was the first time. It is hard to find words to express the experience, or our heartfelt gratitude towards the people there, or to say how much we are moved by their generosity of spirit.

There is also the most extraordinary of Cretan links: during the operation known in Crete as the Damasta Sabotage, one brave man was hit by an enemy shell full in the belly, and it seemed he could not possibly survive ; but survive he did – all this is described in A War of Shadows; and tonight one of his twelve grandchildren is here – a research biologist at Glasgow University – our dear EMMANOUELA.

So on behalf of Billy and all his family, we thank all of you for coming to share this evening with us. Let’s raise our glasses in Cretan fashion: Eviva!

Jan Morris – Travels Round My House

Jan Morris and members of the 1953 Everest team

Jan Morris and members of the 1953 Everest team

Jan Morris knows a good story when she sees one, and she is one too. A gravestone under the stairs; a posthumous book written and printed; over 60 books – history, biography and novels under her belt; Jan Morris has lived and written as a man, as a woman, and believes one day she may transcend both conditions. In this BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature we hear Jan interviewed and can listen to readings from her books.

As the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing’s conquering of Everest approaches, writer and critic Anthony Sattin visits the Welsh home of Jan Morris and gets an exclusive peek into the scrap books and mementoes from that great Imperial adventure – part of the sketches and the relics of a lifetime’s travel.

Morris recalls the scoop that made her reputation; joining the successful Everest expedition of 1953, and, against extraordinary odds, reporting the successful ascent back to The Times of London, in code, and in perfect timing – the news reached London to be announced on the morning of the Coronation.

To ferry the news back to London she employed two runners who actually ran all the way from her wind-battered tent at the foot of Everest, 180 miles to Kathmandu and back; avoiding the clutches of Daily Mail journalists, eager to steal the story.

A committed Welsh Nationalist Republican – though not actively involved in burning things down or blowing them up – Morris tells of early years in Wales, hobnobbing with more active nationalists, and of her infatuation with things as diverse as Manhattan and her recently deceased cat Ibsen. She also discusses the ‘ten confused years’ during which she undertook gender reassignment, and the approach of mortality – hence the gravestone under the stairs.

Fellow writers Pico Iyer and Sara Wheeler, both talk of the inspiration she has provided over the years.

And for Jan, the last word, “It was all in aid of fun”.

Presenter: Anthony Sattin
Reader: Eleanor Bron
Producer: Sara Jane Hall

Listen to the programme by clicking on the picture below of Mount Everest.


Baron Pips von Schey

Originally posted as a comment on the Your Paddy Thoughts page, I thought this too good to be left buried deep in that page. My thanks to Brian Human who posted it here.

One of the most significant of the characters that inhabit Paddy’s pre-war world is Baron Philipps (Pips) von Schey. Paddy’s stay with Pips at the Schey country house at Kovecses enlivens the later pages of A Time of Gifts. This episode gets an unexpected reference in Edmund de Waal’s sparkling biography The Hare with Amber Eyes (p. 177 of the illustrated edition, Chatto & Windus, 2010) due to an important family connection.

In 1899 Baroness Emmy Schey von Koromla married de Waal’s great grandfather, banker Viktor von Ephrussi. Pips was her younger brother and Kovecses becomes a recurring presence in the lives of the Ephrussi family.

In The Hare Kovecses is described as ‘a very large and very plain eighteenth century house (“a large square box such as children draw”…) set in a flat landscape of fields with belts of willows, birch forests and streams. A great river, the Vah, swept past, forming one of the boundaries of the estate…There was a swimming lake with fretted Moorish changing huts, lots of stables and lots of dogs.’ Trains stopped ‘at the tiny halt on the estate.’ The Hare includes several pictures of Kovecses.

Pips is pictured in a pen-and-ink drawing playing Wagner at the piano. He had been educated by tutors and had ‘a wide circle of friends in the arts and the theatre, is a man around town in several capitals and is impeccably dressed…’. A further sign of his high profile: ‘Pips appears as the protagonist of a highly successful novel of the time by the German Jewish novelist Jakob Wassermann…Our aesthetic hero is a pal of archdukes…He is erudite about incunabula and Renaissance art…’. Kovecses became a retreat for the Ephrussi family, a refuge from the banking hothouse of Vienna for games, music and plays, for swimming, walking riding and shooting in the years before 1914.

With the advent of war, ‘Uncle Pips is called up, handsome in his uniform with its astrakhan collar, to fight against his French and English cousins’. In 1915 he ‘is serving as an imperial liaison officer with the German high command in Berlin, where he is instrumental in helping Rilke get a desk job away from the Front.’ Wartime shortages beset the Ephrussies in Vienna and in 1916 they go to ‘…Kovecses for the whole long holiday. This means that at least they can eat properly. There is roast hare, game pies and plum dumplings…’. By August 1918, ‘There are only two old man to tend the gardens and the roses on the long veranda are unkempt’ at Kovecse.

After the war Pips maintains his friendship with Rilke and gives his niece, Elizabeth, de Waal’s grandmother, an introduction to the poet. She sends him her poems and they correspond, though they never meet.

By the early 1930s and with the ascendancy of fascism and anti Semitism life became increasing difficult for the Ephrussies. In 1934 (the year of Paddy’s visit) ‘Viktor and Emmy holiday together at Kovecses, but since the death of her parents it is a strangely diminished place, with only a couple of horses in the stables and fewer gamekeepers and no great weekend shoots any more…The swimming lake has been let go. Its edges are susurrating reeds.’ Following the Anschluss in 1938 Viktor and Emmy flee Vienna for the relative safety of Kovecses. ‘In the summer of 1938 Kovecses looks much the same as it has done, a jumble of grand and informal…[but] The roses are more unkempt…The house is much emptier.’ The safety is only relative: ‘The borders are under review and Czechoslovakia is fissile. And Kovecses is just too close to danger.’ Germany occupied the Sudetenland; Emmy died at Kovecses on 12th October 1938 and was buried in the churchyard of the nearby hamlet. In early March Viktor got permission to leave for Britain, where he died in 1945.

The war and its aftermath wreaked their havoc on Kovecses and the Schey family, though happily Pips survived and Paddy records that he died in Normandy in 1957.

I have found that you can read The Hare with Amber Eyes on-line here.

‘The Ariadne Objective:’ Spooks, Germans and the battle for Crete

Ariadne-jacket-453x680A review of Wes Davis’ recently published book by Alexander Clapp.

First published in 8 March 2014

On May 27, 1941, days after the first airborne invasion in history, the German army hoisted a Nazi flag atop an abandoned mosque in Hania, western Crete. The gesture was poignant. Crete – which had overthrown three centuries of Turkish rule just three decades prior – was again under the heel of an occupying power.

The Cretans were unshaken. The island’s peasantry armed itself with muskets and daggers and took to the crags and caves of the White Mountains. The campaign of sabotage that followed – an echo of repeated revolts against the Ottomans, Venetians and Arabs – marked the first mass civilian resistance to Nazi rule in Europe. “We had encountered for the first time an enemy that was prepared to fight to the bitter end,” marveled a German lieutenant.

Wes Davis’s “The Ariadne Objective” (Crown, 2013) traces the British intelligence service’s collaboration with this hardscrabble fifth column. The plans to wrest Crete from Nazi control formed part of a larger wartime strategy to “set Europe ablaze” through the Special Operations Executive (SOE), “Churchill’s secret army.” In Crete the stakes were particularly high. Cretan restlessness proved crucial to delaying Hitler’s march to the East. As the war in North Africa came to a close, the island was to become a strategic linchpin to the European theater. By 1943, the British naval command looked to Crete as a promising base from which to retake the Aegean and the Continent at large.

“The Ariadne Objective” distills existing accounts of the Cretan conflict – W. Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met by Moonlight,” George Psychoundakis’s “The Cretan Runner,” Antony Beevor’s “Crete” – into a thrilling, highly readable narrative. The book benefits from a remarkable group of protagonists. Just as the Greeks of 1821 attracted a spirited cast of Western philhellenes, so too did the Cretan resistance become a curious meeting ground for a platoon of Anglophone scholars. Most were Classicists who had scraped together the rudimentary basics of Modern Greek. Many – N.G.L. Hammond, Thomas Dunbabin – went on to hold distinguished academic posts after the war; others – Evelyn Waugh, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor – were to become the literary giants of their generation. “It was the obsolete choice of Greek at school which had really deposited us on the limestone,” recalled Leigh Fermor.

Davis weaves in and out of these figures’ fascinating back-stories. The book narrates Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding’s respective hikes across Europe in vivid detail; the one-eyed Cambridge archaeologist John Pendlebury provides an excursion into the British excavations at Knossos; a chapter on life in wartime Cairo – including a detour into the rowdy antics of the “Tara villa” inhabitants – acts as a kind of comic relief from the grittiness of the Cretan front.

Sporting shepherds’ crooks and cork-dyed mustaches, these British guerrilla leaders spent months sleeping in caves, organizing resistance bands and smuggling supplies to the beleaguered islanders. Over time their efforts paid off. In the words of a German commander on Crete, the Nazis made the mistake of “regarding a quite substantial partisan movement as nothing more than a few gangs of cattle thieves.”

This thinking was not entirely unfounded. Some Cretans chose to collaborate with the Germans against their countrymen. Those who did resist were internecine and uncertain of their objectives. The available weaponry was hopelessly antiquated. “Stand still, Turk, while I reload” was still the threat of choice among the elderly fighters.

But if the Germans underestimated the determination of this ragtag uprising, so too did they misunderstand its means. In order to deny the Germans any legitimate right to bring reprisals against the local population, the British SOE commanders concentrated the Cretans’ efforts on disrupting Nazi supply lines, provoking discord between Axis commanders and draining the occupiers’ morale through a carefully crafted propaganda campaign. “We want not so much to kill Germans as to terrify and bamboozle them,” advised SOE resistance leader Tom Dunbabin. The smuggling of Italian commander Angelo Carta from Crete to Cairo in 1943 was one such bloodless blow to the enemy’s morale. It was also the dry run for a more devastating attack on German confidence – a ruse that forms the theatrical climax of the “The Ariadne Objective.”

On April 26, 1944 Patrick Leigh Fermor, W. Stanley Moss and a team of Cretan partisans abducted the German commander of Crete, General Heinrich Kreipe, from his headquarters at the Villa Ariadne in Iraklio. Passing through 22 enemy checkpoints, the team worked their way to the southern coast of Crete, sheltering in caves by day and evading German search parties by night. By May 15 Kreipe was in Alexandria; two weeks later he was a prisoner of war in Canada.

“The galvanizing effect of the mission could still be felt in the tense months that followed the end of the war,” writes Davis. “As the rest of Greece plunged into civil unrest – pitting factions of Communist partisans against each other and against various stripes of nationalists – Crete remained relatively calm.”

An intriguingly highbrow current runs through the book’s otherwise soldierly narrative. Greece was not merely a shared strategic prize for German battalions and British spies; it was also an intellectual middle ground for two competing nationalisms, each of which claimed the cultural mantle of the Classical world as its own. Evidence of this mutual enthrallment to antiquity resurfaces throughout “The Ariadne Objective.” The German invasion of Crete is code-named “Mercury.” The British cruisers stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean are named the Orion and the Dido. Shipping out to the front line, Pendlebury reads Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” for a crash course in military strategy. Following their conquest of Crete, the Germans import their archaeologists to tend to the island’s historical sites. The diary entry of a German commander flying out of Crete: “just as Daedalus had done so many centuries ago.” “Minotaurs, bull-men, nymphs of Ariadne, kings of Minos, and German generals – a splendid cocktail!” writes Moss after abducting Heinrich Kreipe.

The most arresting example comes a few days following the general’s capture. In a well-cited incident on the slopes of Mount Ida, Kreipe quietly quotes the opening lines of Horace’s “Soracte” ode. Taking up where the general had paused, Leigh Fermor, Kreipe’s captor, recites the rest of the poem’s 24 lines.

“It was a reminder that the war itself was the aberration, interrupting something far more important and lasting. The moment of connection he and the general had just shared had sprung from a deep-running current of literature, art, and civility,” notes Davis.

The incident – like much of the clash in Crete – represents a strange last flowering of the world of the 19th-century imperialist scholar. “The Ariadne Objective” examines that story ably and admirably. This is necessary reading for anyone interested in Greece in the Second World War.

Paddy’s attempt at buying a hat for Joan

It often takes me quite a while to post items that have been very kindly sent to me by some of our many readers. This is just one such example and I have to apologize as I have lost the details of whoever sent it to me. Suffice to say that the content on here is often the result of your hard work in finding items and sending them to me so please do keep it up and I will always acknowledge your contribution. This is unique example of being unable to do that. If you sent me the original link and are reading this please step forward! PS – the mystery contributor has been found. Thank you Rob MacGregor!

Below is an extract from Neville Phillip’s 2008 biography The Stage Struck Me! in which he mentions an amusing episode involving Paddy at the shops! Can you imagine him shopping?

You can actually read the whole book online via Google Books where we are told:

“The Stage Struck Me!” is a funny, informative and sometimes sad account of the life of a jobbing actor and writer in the 1940s and 1950s, full of anecdotes about the famous, the infamous, the charming and the downright loopy people he met along the way. After joining the South African Army and serving as a gunner in the coastal artillery, Neville Phillips was transferred to the entertainment unit where he spent four years doing shows for the Allied troops in North Africa and Italy. In 1946 he was demobbed to London and it was here that Neville Phillips met and got to know some truly remarkable people, as well as writing West End reviews, pantomime, cabaret, and a musical starring Pat Kirkwood. “The Stage Struck Me!” is a fascinating and sometimes poignant account of times, places and people that played such an important part in a young aspiring actor’s life.

buying a hat for Joan

Read the extract in pdf format here.

A new book by Patrick Leigh Fermor- Abducting a General – to be published in October

'Billy' Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

‘Billy’ Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

I have just learned that we can look forward to a new book by Paddy relating the events of the Kreipe kidnap. Based upon his own account called Abducting a General, the book is due to be published by John Murray in October 2014. A pity it misses the precise date of the 70th anniversary, but welcome nonetheless.

We will be blessed with a lot of new material about the abduction and its key players this year. We have already had the new book by Wes Davis, The Ariadne Objective, which contains a lot of new material after painstaking research, and ‘Billy’ Moss’ account of his time in SOE after the exploits on Crete, A War of Shadows, is also due for republication in April.

The John Murray website tells us this:

A daring behind-enemy-lines mission from the author of A Time of Gifts and The Broken Road.

One of the greatest feats in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s remarkable life was the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, on 26 April 1944. He and Captain Billy Moss hatched a daring plan to abduct the general, while ensuring that no reprisals were taken against the Cretan population. Dressed as German military police, they stopped and took control of Kreipe’s car, drove through twenty-two German checkpoints, then succeeded in hiding from the German army before finally being picked up on a beach in the south of the island and transported to safety in Egypt on 14 May.

Abducting a General is Leigh Fermor’s own account of the kidnap, published for the first time. Written in his inimitable prose, and introduced by acclaimed SOE historian Professor Roderick Bailey, it is a glorious first-hand account of one of the great adventures of the Second World War. Also included in this book are Leigh Fermor’s intelligence reports, sent from caves deep within Crete yet still retaining his remarkable prose skills, which bring the immediacy of SOE operations vividly alive, as well as the peril which the SOE and Resistance were operating under; and a guide to the journey that Kreipe was taken on from the abandonment of his car to the embarkation site so that the modern visitor can relive this extraordinary event.

The publication date for Abducting a General is set for 9 October.

Bringing Bond to book

bondWe continue our series of articles looking at the work of Ian Fleming who was a friend of Paddy. Fleming was influenced by Paddy’s exploits and he used the Traveller’s Tree in particular as a source for Live and Let Die.

By Matthew Woodcock

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 14 December 2013

There is one last James Bond book from the late 1950s that remains unpublished. We will not find the typescript lurking in the archives, nor hidden amongst the papers held by Ian Fleming’s estate, for this book is not about James Bond but written by Bond himself. It is from Fleming’s 1959 novel Goldfinger that we learn that 007 spends his hours on night duty at the Secret Service compiling a manual on unarmed combat called Stay Alive!, containing the best that had been written on the subject by his peers in intelligence agencies around the world. Bond is more industrious in the field than at the typewriter and no more is heard about this great unfinished work once his thoughts drift back to his previous assignment and time spent enjoying the company of the ill-fated Jill Masterson.

It should come as no surprise that Fleming’s hero has writerly pretensions. Yet again, Bond and his creator have interests or characteristics in common, along with their shared dash of Scottish ancestry and background in naval intelligence, and a similar penchant for custom-made Morlands cigarettes. During his twenties, Fleming read widely in French and German literature — Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain was a particular favourite — and he subscribed to all the avant garde literary magazines of the day. He experimented briefly with poetry, collected first editions for a while, and launched the Book Collector magazine. Ultimately, through his friend and later editor, the poet and novelist William Plomer, he entered the literary world of postwar London, met T.S. Eliot and befriended Edith Sitwell. But to what extent did these kind of literary and bibliographic interests shape or influence Fleming’s work when he began writing the Bond books?

Bond too is, of course, a man of books. Fleming took the name of his hero from the spine of a trusted ornithological guide to the West Indies. And the seemingly effortless, spontaneous genesis of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in 1953, drew as much upon the author’s reading of Dornford Yates, John Buchan and ‘Sapper’ (creator of Bulldog Drummond) as it did on his wartime experiences.

The clubland stalwarts were formative influences on Fleming, but they are — at best — literature spelt with a very small ‘l’. Bond himself has bookish impulses: the book-lined sitting-room glimpsed briefly in Moonraker is a valuable resource, used in preparations for forthcoming missions, furnishing him in this instance with a volume on card-sharping by John Scarne. Researching details of voodoo rites in Live and Let Die, Bond consults The Traveller’s Tree by Fleming’s friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. Appropriately enough, 007 also likes a good thriller and purchases the latest Raymond Chandler at the close of Goldfinger, and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service displays a ready familiarity with the Nero Wolfe series, written by the equally well-read Rex Stout. It turns out that M too knows of Wolfe. En route to Istanbul in From Russia with Love, Bond enjoys a literary busman’s holiday by reading Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios.

One might pause to consider just how do spies respond to fictional rehearsals of their trade? Did 007 snort in derision at Ambler’s accidental hero — himself a crime writer — or nod in recognition at his frustrations and disillusionment? Would he compare the quality of Ambler’s villains with those that he himself routinely faced in the field? Fleming’s villains themselves also appreciate a good book. At the start of From Russia with Love we discover that SMERSH’s chief executioner, Red Grant, likes to unwind by reading P.G. Wodehouse, and no one in the organisation would dare question such a choice.

Literary references and analogies frequently run through Bond’s mind: an allusion to Paradise Lost appears in the short story ‘Risico’, where he is disguised, naturally, as a writer; a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson strikes him in Diamonds are Forever, when he realises that he is sharing a ship with two of the Spangled Mob’s henchmen; he even attempts composing a haiku in You Only Live Twice.

None of the above, read in context, would have found a receptive audience with the likes of Eliot and Sitwell, or indeed among the literary pals of Fleming’s wife Ann. Fleming’s at times uneasy proximity to such circles never influenced the Bond books’ plot or structure, nor determined his initial choice of genre, but it did shape the author’s conception of the ‘literary’ and his recognition of how appreciation of ‘fine’ writing and the ‘right’ kind of books might be used for rhetorical effect, to engender the desired impression of his central character. The literary references in the Bond books are comparable to the furnishing of technical details about cars, dining, drinks, gambling and the like that the author employs to ground his fantastic plots in a recognisable reality — what Kingsley Amis identified as ‘the Fleming effect’. They help to build up Bond’s characterisation in deft, if brief, brushstrokes.

It could be suggested that the spy thriller itself — certainly after Somerset Maugham’s 1928 Ashenden — became the perfect genre with which to explore so many of the anxieties about identity and its representation to which the modernist greats gave expression. Like Eliot’s Prufrock, Bond and his peers are for-ever preparing ‘a face to meet the faces’ that they meet, always working with that lurking uncertainty as to whether they are the hero or the anti-hero of their own life’s narrative. Joseph Conrad had earlier delved into similar territory in his thriller The Secret Agent.

Had Fleming lived to tell of 007’s eventual retirement from the Secret Service we would undoubtedly have witnessed Bond swap his Walther for a pen and become a writer, thus following the career path of previous agents turned authors, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, John le Carré, Stella Rimington and, of course, Fleming himself. He might even have completed Stay Alive!

Related article:

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger

Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading

The 18-year-old Anjelica Huston, directed by her father, makes her screen début in A Walk with Love and Death as the 14th-century French aristocrat Claudia, fleeing the savagery of the Jacquerie

Angelica Huston recounts her interesting childhood, often beautifully, in A Story Lately Told.

By Lewis Jones.

First published in The Spectator, 4 January 2014.

Unlike many celebrity memoirs, Anjelica Huston’s is worth reading. In her Prologue she writes that as a child she modeled herself on Morticia Addams, and where a lesser celebrity memoirist would go on to say that she eventually played Morticia in a film of The Addams Family, Huston is generous enough not to labour the point. Instead of the usual ghosted drivel, she offers — as she does in her acting — a quirky charm and a reckless honesty. Her story is an interesting one, and is generally well written, sometimes even beautifully so.

Her father was the great film director John Huston. Her mother ‘Ricki’, an ex-ballerina and his fourth wife, taught her to shine her own shoes and iron her shirts: ‘Mum said you had to be able to do these things in case you grew up to be poor and couldn’t have servants.’ Her childhood was spent mainly at St Clerans, the estate her father bought in Co. Galway, which she evokes with an artist’s eye — its drawing- room, for instance, ‘pale gold, gray, pink, and turquoise’, with an 18th-century French chandelier, a Tang horse, and a ‘large, incandescent’ Monet ‘Water Lily’, which he had won gambling at Deauville.

‘Dad’ was often away — in 1951, when Anjelica was born, he was making The African Queen — but was still the dominant presence. She remembers him as ‘taller and stronger and with a more beautiful voice than anybody’ and, as she noticed over breakfast in his bedroom, ‘extremely well endowed’. His eyes were brown and intelligent, ‘like monkeys’ eyes’, but ‘when he got angry, they would turn red’. He sounds rather like Noah Cross, the evil patriarch he played in Chinatown.

He had ‘a firm regard for artists, athletes, the titled, the very rich, and the very talented’, so guests at St Clerans included Guinnesses, John Steinbeck, Peter O’Toole and Marlon Brando, as well as such girlfriends of Huston’s as Min Hogg and Edna O’Brien, who told Anjelica, ‘Your father is a terrible man, a cruel, dangerous man.’ Her mother had affairs with Patrick Leigh Fermor and John Julius Norwich, by whom she had a daughter.

Huston was joint master of the legendary Galway Blazers, and Anjelica used to hunt with them sidesaddle. A favourite horse was Victoria, ‘a liver chestnut Arab Connemara cross’, who ‘if a stone wall was too high to clear’, would ‘jump on top of it and then off, like a rabbit’.

Ireland was something of an idyll, but was ended by the family’s move to London, where Anjelica was educated at the Lycée (which she hated, and which does not seem to have helped her French — she thinks ‘onion’ translates as onion), Holland Park. She smoked banana peel on Hampstead Heath, and shoplifted from Biba, for which she later apologised to Barbara Hulanicki, who said she knew all about it and it had been a great advertisement for her shop (which may explain why it went bust). She modelled for Vogue, and understudied Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia; and then when she was 17 her mother was killed in a car crash, and her life turned to ashes.

She moved to New York, where after ‘a rather tranquil liaison’ with ‘a doll-faced Vietnamese called Duc’ she fell into the clutches of Bob Richardson, the photographer, who was much older and psychotic, and they lived for a while in the Chelsea Hotel, which ‘smelled of bad luck’.

A second volume, Watch Me, covering her life in Hollywood, is to be published next year. A Story Lately Told augurs well.

A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York Anjelica Huston

Simon & Schuster, pp.254, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857207425

A World of Private Mystery: John Craxton, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

For a few months in wartime London two 19-year-old artist friends shared a studio in the St John’s Wood area. Equal in talent and ambition, and equally patronised by wealthy aesthetes and some of the most fashionable painters and intellectuals of the day, they were toasted as the gilded future of English painting. One may fairly be said to have fulfilled the prediction – he was Lucian Freud. The other was John Craxton who, though he lived to be almost as venerable as his friend, and always retained a core of devoted admirers, is known hardly at all by the public at large today. The present retrospective show of 60 paintings and drawings by Craxton at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge offers an opportunity to mull over the vagaries of artistic reputation.

“There are moments when the London-born artist achieves a state close to ecstasy”

by Robin Blake.

First published in the Financial Times, 29 December 2013.

Vagary is a word that sorts well with Craxton’s career. His early London-based wartime work is a compendium of influences from four luminaries at whose feet the teenage Craxton sat: Graham Sutherland, Ben Nicholson, John Piper and Henry Moore. From Sutherland, who invited Craxton to Pembrokeshire in south Wales, came a line in quasi-surreal zoomorphic landscape, with some rather striking results; from Nicholson (channelling Picasso) a diluted form of cubism; and from Moore and Piper a group of drawings that mix fluent inked outlines and hatched shading with patches of atmospheric watercolour and gouache. Other early drawings have a Dürer-like touch with the Conté pencil, or else a fixation on a Samuel Palmer-esque “poet” dreaming in a rural landscape. Many of these works from the early and mid-1940s are extremely accomplished, showing just why they attracted attention; but seen in retrospect they are clearly apprentice work.

As the war ended, Craxton escaped from dingy, rubble-strewn London for Pembroke and the Scilly Isles (off southwest England), destinations that became a prelude to Greece, the land and climate of which he already dreamt. He finally reached the Aegean in 1946, and went on to Crete the following year, where he eventually established a life-long base. However, he was often restless, travelling to elsewhere in Greece and the Mediterranean. He returned from time to time to London where Freud and Francis Bacon were established, in their different ways, as stay-at-home painters of anxious, existential interiors. Craxton, on the other hand, was filling his paintings with light-filled Aegean landscapes and figures that danced and leapt, or lounged and slept, but were universally outlined in luminous colour. His subjects were Dionysian goats and youthful goatherds, taverna sailors and sirtaki dancers, mountain gorges and islands across the sea. His rejection of the label “neo-romantic” was about the prefix: he acknowledged that he was a romantic.

Craxton’s compositional signature, from his early years to much of the mature painting, is a preoccupation with the binary division of the canvas, and the balance of left and right, whereby the eye switches back and forth between two contrasting sides, or is impelled towards a central feature of interest such as a twisted tree. This kind of repetitive balancing can look compulsive and a touch academic, yet it is expressive of Craxton’s own nature, and this is also part of the key to the decline of his reputation.

Craxton lacked Freud’s near monomania for painting, for shrinking the world into the narrow space of a studio. Preferring the art of living, he spent much of his time in bars and tavernas, in conversation with a wide range of friends, and on journeys and excursions. So the compositional balances in his work – sun/moon, light/dark, mountain/cave – echo the balance he sought in his life, which was a perfectly sane objective, even though it resulted in a degree of creative vacillation, for which he coined the term “procraxtonation”. Incidentally he shared both the attitude and the indecision with another of Greece’s English residents, his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Craxton’s highly characteristic cover illustrations for Fermor’s books have probably since become his most widely seen works.

The inevitably thin catalogue of paintings that resulted from procraxtonation was not improved by bad reviews back in Britain, where the market for Craxton’s work chiefly lay. He had a solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery in January 1967, a bitterly cold month in the middle of a period when artistic London was distracted between Pop art and Abstract Expressionism. Unsurprisingly Craxton’s sun-filled modernist pastoral, tinged with Aegean mythology, was treated as a complacent, expatriate irrelevance. The golden boy had fallen headlong out of fashion, and he felt deeply discouraged.

We can see these works less sourly now. True, some seem patterned and formulaic, and they are a touch emotionally passive even as they celebrate the blazing passion for life that the Greeks call kefi. But in diverse and accepting times, there is plenty to be said for such positive and gently life-enhancing visions, while there are a few paintings in which Craxton transcends himself, and even achieves a state close to ecstasy. One of these is “Landscape with the Elements”, the cartoon for a tapestry commissioned in 1973 by Stirling University. It is in its own right an astounding success as a painting: a sumptuous, all-embracing canvas as grand and dazzling as a Turner or a Monet. Now owned by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, this vibrant dialogue of night and day gorgeously affirms young John Craxton’s flight from the grey ashes and black smuts of austerity Britain, and his refusal, in spirit, ever to come back.

Until April 21. Find out more at the Fitzwilliam Museum website.

The Stronghold and Hide and Seek – selling fast!

Xan Fielding in Crete

Xan Fielding (front centre) in Crete

Xan Fielding’s books about his time in SOE and wartime Crete have been republished by Paul Dry Books and are now available from Amazon and are selling fast.

Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-Time Agent
is available for order now at £9.95 on Amazon – through the link above.

The Stronghold: The Four Seasons in the White Mountains of Crete
is also available for order now at £9.95 on Amazon – through the link above.

These books are very difficult to get hold of and The Stronghold in particular is quite rare and sells for between £200-£500 on eBay.

Paul Dry Books link is here.

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order the third volume of Paddy’s trilogy,The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Magouche Fielding talks about living with Arshile Gorky

This video is taken from the Tate Modern website featuring their retrospective of Gorky in 2010. Magouche talks about her life with Gorky whilst rolling her cigarettes!

At the time of this video she was aged 89. She appears worldly but not world-weary. This is from a 2003 New Yorker review by Peter Scheldahl.

“Then, in February, 1941, he met the lovely, brilliant nineteen-year-old Agnes Magruder.  She was the adventurous daughter of a Navy captain – she worked as a secretary for a Chinese Communist organization – and her modest social elevation tickled Gorky’s vanity. Upset by the match, the Magruders provided scant support, but the growing Gorky family spent summers at their country home in Virginia, where Gorky, working outdoors, made several series of astonishing drawings not so much from as inside nature: botanical and insect forms quivering with itchy vitality while participating in an august formal order. Mougouch was self-sacrificing. “Dear Joking Jesus how wonderful it will be when he has a studio really his own,” she wrote to her confidante, the collector and artist Jeanne Reynal. She put Gorky first for as long as her sanity could bear it.”

Link to Tate Modern site here.

Related article:

Magouche Fielding – Arshile and Agnes Gorky: Master and Muse

Magouche Fielding – Arshile and Agnes Gorky: Master and Muse

Arshile Gorky and Magouche or Mougouch

Arshile Gorky and Magouche or Mougouch

I have received word of the death of Xan Fielding’s wife, Agnes “Magouche” Fielding. She had apparently been ill for some time and I am informed that she died on 2 June 2013. We know little about Magouche who was married to Paddy’s very dear friend Xan until his death in Paris in 1991. This article tells us much more and is by her step daughter, the art historian and writer, Hayden Herrera.

First published in Vogue and reformatted for December 2009.

The painter Arshile Gorky’s relationship with his wife, “Mougouch,” was passionate, turbulent—and misunderstood.

I grew up surrounded by the paintings of Arshile Gorky, one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century and the subject of a current retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The paintings belonged to my stepmother, Agnes (nicknamed Mougouch), and they gave me hints not only about Gorky but about who Mougouch was and had been in the past. Full of searing colors, peculiarly animate shapes, and energy-driven lines, they moved me in ways I did not understand. Since then, I have looked and looked at Gorky’s work. I even wrote a biography of Gorky in order to try to figure out why he painted the way he did. Still, his work remains a mystery. That was the way he wanted it.

The specter of Gorky came into my life in the summer of 1948, when my father, a painter named John C. Phillips, met Agnes Gorky at a party in New York City. The host took my father aside and said, “Be nice to Mougouch. Her husband, Arshile Gorky, just died.” My father was happy to comply, for Mougouch was a beautiful and vibrant 27-year-old with long brown hair, a sensuous mouth, and large eyes that held a hint of mischief. Her responsiveness and her blend of boldness and femininity made her a magnet to men.

In the months that followed their meeting, my father and Mougouch fell in love. In December, together with her two young daughters, Maro and Natasha, they sailed for Naples and finally settled in France. My older sister and I learned about our father’s new family from photographs he sent us at our boarding school. During summers on Cape Cod we came to know our stepmother and our new sisters, who called our father “Daddy.” Compared with our previous stepmother, Mougouch was astonishing in her affection and her sense of fun. She called us “darling,” and I was entranced by her swift, graceful walk and her melodious voice.

When to my delight my father returned with his family to the United States and bought a house on Beacon Hill in Boston, my mother, who lived in Mexico, sent me to live with them. Mougouch was so motherly that when my baby sisters Antonia and Susannah were christened at Boston’s Trinity Church, I decided to be christened with them so that she could be my godmother. Our house in Boston was full of Gorky’s art books and, even better, his art. His presence was alive there, for Gorky remained a powerful figure in Mougouch’s world. Ten-year-old Maro, who herself became a painter, talked about her father incessantly, holding on to the image of his genius. She insisted that with his Armenian background, he was a much more compelling figure than my proper Bostonian father. We would try to decode Gorky’s imagery. Some works had almost cartoon-like lines that nearly coalesced into recognizable creatures. In one, we definitely discovered Bugs Bunny.

Mougouch was born Agnes Magruder in 1921, the eldest daughter of a naval officer and a mother who was descended from the renowned neoclassical sculptor Harriet Hosmer. Agnes’s childhood was full of travel—school in Washington, D.C., then the Hague, Virginia, and finally Boston, where she was sent to live with her dying grandmother and where she fell in love with painting. “My mission,” she explains, “was to cheer up my grandfather and his gloomy house overlooking the Charles River.” Her mother thought college unnecessary, so Agnes finished school in Switzerland. When her father was posted to Shanghai in 1940, she was so rebellious—she spent the night with a young diplomat and broadcast her fascination with Chinese Communism—that her parents packed her off to college, after all, in Iowa City. From there, she took a bus to Manhattan and enrolled at the Art Students League, only to quit for a typing job at a magazine called China Today. What she remembers about this period was her extreme loneliness. Every day on the way to work she said hello to the man behind the newsstand just to have a human exchange.

In February 1941, Willem de Kooning and his future wife, Elaine Fried, told Agnes that she ought to meet de Kooning’s great friend Arshile Gorky. Elaine described Gorky as a “terrible show-off who sings and dances and makes everyone dance in a circle waving a handkerchief.” A few days later Gorky stopped by de Kooning’s studio and said he wished he had a strong American girlfriend like Elaine. Elaine persuaded him to come with them to a party where they would introduce him to a nice blonde American girl. At the party, Agnes remembers, she sat on a bench between de Kooning and “a man with a mustache who was very quiet and rather pokey.” She was still waiting for the exotic stranger to appear when most of the guests had departed. On her way out, the man with the mustache stopped her and said in his accented English, ” ‘Miss Maguiger?’ And I said, ‘Oh, Gorky!’ ” He had expected a blonde, and she had expected an extrovert. They went to a coffee shop, and Gorky asked her so many questions that she finally emptied her handbag onto the table to give him a picture of her identity.

The following evening he took her to an Armenian restaurant. Soon they saw each other daily, and he gave her the name Mougouch, which he said meant “little mighty one.” When Gorky identified the welts on her stomach as bedbug bites, he moved her to a new apartment, whose skylight he scrubbed so thoroughly that the putty collapsed and rain poured in. The upshot was that she moved into his studio on Union Square.

That summer Gorky was to have an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He and Mougouch drove across the country with Gorky’s good friend the sculptor Isamu Noguchi. When he and Noguchi argued about clouds, in which Gorky was absolutely certain he saw peasant women, Mougouch sided with Noguchi, and Gorky was furious. Crossing a bridge over the Mississippi, he became so angry that he ordered Noguchi to stop the car. He was going to walk back to New York. “I went after him,” Mougouch recalls. “He almost threw me into the Mississippi River!”

Upon their arrival in Los Angeles, Gorky was in a pique because the hotel was too expensive. Exhausted, Mougouch went to bed. Noguchi came in to say good night, and Gorky, in a fit of jealousy, burst into the room and dumped a bagful of lawn clippings on top of her. Mougouch insists that “there was not a murmur of electricity between me and Isamu,” but the critic Katharine Kuh suspected “a flirtation on Noguchi’s part.” In fact, both Mougouch and Noguchi were extremely seductive. Mougouch was brought up to be amusing and articulate and to make whomever she talked to happy. Gorky, reared in the Armenian province of Van in Ottoman Turkey, was highly puritanical. He did not understand that for Mougouch, flirtation was simply part of good manners. To this day, as a great-grandmother, she is an irrepressible flirt with men, women, children, and animals.

In September Mougouch and Gorky were married in Virginia City, Nevada, scandalizing her patrician family. She was 20. Gorky, who lied about his age, was probably about 41. They bought a curtain ring at Woolworth’s, found a justice of the peace, and said their vows. After drinking champagne in a bar, they camped in the Sierra Nevada in a double sleeping bag. During these early years, Mougouch and Gorky struggled to make ends meet. She worked for United China Relief, and Gorky made a few sales and did some teaching. He had not had a New York show in years, and his reputation was at a low ebb. Mougouch tells me that even Noguchi had warned her not to marry Gorky, because he was “stuck in a rut” and kept scraping and repainting the same canvas.

With the captivating Mougouch at his side, Gorky’s circle of friends expanded. Over the years, Léger, Mondrian, and Miró all had occasion to visit. The couple met Surrealists Roberto Matta, Yves Tanguy, and André Masson, who had come to the United States to escape the war. At a dinner specially organized for them to meet the Surrealist poet André Breton, Mougouch served as translator, and the friendship took off. She remembers dancing down the street with Gorky because Breton had promised to visit the studio. Later, she was apprehensive: “What does one give a poet for dinner?” The menu—artichokes, pilaf, and Brie cheese—was a success, and Breton was full of admiration for Gorky’s paintings.

The breakthrough in Gorky’s work came in the summer of 1943, when Mougouch’s mother invited him, Mougouch, and their infant daughter, Maro, to stay at her farm in Virginia. Being in the country surrounded by family was a catalyst for Gorky. “Gorky came back one day with this rather complicated drawing and said, ‘Will anybody understand this? Do you think I’m mad?’ ” Mougouch told him his drawing was marvelous and to go back into the fields to make more. “This summer was the real release of Gorky,” Mougouch wrote to an aunt. He had created a world of his own, a world so immersed in nature that he could look in and out at the same time.

Mougouch had a deep understanding of Gorky’s work and was also a brilliant facilitator of his career, charming potential dealers and cooking delicious meals for museum curators. But during their second Virginia summer, her letters to her best friend, Jeanne Reynal, expressed a feeling of aimlessness. For a woman of Mougouch’s intelligence and energy, cooking, cleaning, and looking after her baby was not enough. She wished she could be a writer, and her letters indicate that she might have excelled in that field. She set up her typewriter in a cabin, wishing “to lay an egg myself and when I get up and look, nothing there…humiliating.” In another letter, she rationalized: “…o well hell there is time and there are more important fishes to fry, how to live and propagate gorkys, paintings and infants though I know it would be better if I did more I don’t so there.” Jeanne told Mougouch to look at Maro and at the transformation in Gorky’s work. “You have had a part in this. These things are not to be sniffed at.” (Mougouch did produce another Gorky—Natasha, born in 1945.)

Thanks to the dramatic change in Gorky’s painting, the dealer Julien Levy took him on and gave him a show in 1945. Then came the first of a series of disasters that made Gorky’s last years a calvary. On January 16, 1946, his studio at their house in Connecticut burned down, and many of his paintings were lost. Early in March, disaster struck again. Gorky underwent a colostomy for rectal cancer. He became, Mougouch recalls, “totally paranoid …a tree cut down.” No matter how hard she tried to convince him that his “rearranged body” did not disgust her, he himself, a fiercely fastidious man, was revolted. He sometimes burst out in violence. The miseries that plagued Gorky seemed to rekindle the horrors of his childhood—his experience of the Armenian genocide in 1915 and, four years later, the trauma of his mother dying of starvation in his arms. Mougouch wrote to Jeanne, “Gorky has to do some drawing or he & I will die.”

Soon, “working like a mad man—a happy one,” as Mougouch wrote, Gorky was drawing as though it were a race against mortality. But his total focus on work was distancing. “More and more our marriage was just about my engagement with Gorky’s painting,” she recalls. “But I loved him.” She wrote him letters of encouragement when she took her daughters away for the summer: “Everything that comes from your beautiful hand seems touched with magic that sings in my chest.” Gorky wrote back, “…when you return I want my harvest too [sic] be very big and good…. You are with me my darling without you I could not go on working.”

When Mougouch returned, she was thrilled with Gorky’s “harvest.” Gorky, however, was depleted and unable to work. He talked of suicide. Ever the optimist, Mougouch tried to lift his spirits. At a party for her twenty-seventh birthday, in June 1948, she remembers “whirling around with a lunatic pleasure,” dancing by herself in the vegetable garden. But Gorky’s depression was invasive. “He was wrapped in silence all those last months.” In mid-June she had had enough. She left the house and spent two days with Matta, who, over the years, had made many attempts to seduce her. “I felt a new strength. I felt that somebody had loved me and I could go on forever.”

Gorky found out about the affair but for a while said nothing. Another disaster swiftly followed. Gorky’s neck was broken in a car accident. His right arm was temporarily paralyzed, and he thought he would never be able to paint again. Mougouch did what she could to alleviate his misery, but, she recalls, after the accident “everything just collapsed.” One night in a rage, Gorky broke furniture and tore up drawings Matta had given them. Mougouch tried to soothe him, but he pushed her away, and she fell down the stairs. Later that night, she told him that she loved him and would not leave him. The next day, Gorky’s doctor told her that Gorky was dangerous. He insisted that she take her daughters to her mother’s in Virginia. On the morning of July 21, Gorky called Mougouch and said he was going to commit suicide in order to “free her and free himself.” She said she would come back to him, but it was too late. Having left ropes dangling from various trees and rafters, Gorky hanged himself in a shed. He left a note written in chalk on the box he’d stood on and kicked away: “Goodbye my loveds.”

After Gorky’s death, Mougouch stayed in the city with Jeanne. Matta’s love, she says, “held me up.” In August she went to Maine, and Matta joined her. On their way back, they stopped at my father’s house on Cape Cod. My father was out, but when he returned he discovered Mougouch—with whom he had flirted at the party they’d met at just the month before—dancing with Matta. In the following months, he and Matta vied for Mougouch’s love. Mougouch went to Marcel Duchamp for advice, and he told her that the responsibility of a wife and two children would be too much for Matta. He said, “I think you should go somewhere with the children and paint or write.” Mougouch wept as she saw Matta off on his flight to Chile to see his family.

She and my father were married at the Closerie des Lilas in Paris in 1949. For Mougouch this was a marriage of equals—she was not in my father’s thrall. She kept the myth of Gorky alive and shepherded his legacy, finding dealers to handle his work and encouraging museums to show and buy it. Though the shadow of Gorky’s suicide hung over her life, she was the perfect artist’s widow, just as she had tried to be an ideal artist’s wife. Since then, her life has been rich in friendships with artists, writers, and filmmakers. She is admired as a dazzling hostess, witty, elegant, and subtle. Restless always, she left my father after ten years and eventually married the writer Xan Fielding, with whom she seemed content. While he was dying of cancer, they lived in Paris on the Rue de Rivoli. I remember with various sisters following Mougouch down the Paris street and trying to imitate her proud, sensuous, and graceful stride. I did not love her any less after she was no longer my stepmother. Over the years, I have learned from her how to cook, decorate a house, dress, talk, walk, and look at paintings.

Today, Gorky is seen as a bridge between the School of Paris and Abstract Expressionism, a movement that took off just at the moment when he died. As her best friend put it all those years ago, Mougouch played a part in this artistic transformation. When the Gorky retrospective opened in Philadelphia in October, Mougouch could not be there, but the coming together of so many magnificent Gorky paintings and drawings is testimony to her triumph as well.

Find out more about Arshile Gorky on his Wikipedia page.

Related article:

Xan Fielding obituary

Xan Fielding Crete books to be republished

Xan Fielding in Crete

Xan Fielding (front centre) in Crete

I have just discovered that Xan Fielding’s books about his time in SOE and wartime Crete are to be republished by Paul Dry Books and will be available, if Amazon is to be believed, in June 2013.

Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-Time Agent
is available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

The Stronghold: The Four Seasons in the White Mountains of Crete
is also available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

These books are very difficult to get hold of and The Stronghold in particular is quite rare and sells for between £200-£500 on eBay.

Paul Dry Books link is here.

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order the third volume of Paddy’s trilogy,The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

House in Wales

Cliff Cottage - Fforest Farm - Newport

Cliff Cottage – Fforest Farm – Newport

There is so much to discover about Paddy and Joan’s life. The detectives are always at work, and I thought I would share with you this note I received from Alun Davies, an ex-Army man like myself who somehow has become the Honarary Consul in Wales for Hungary. How do these things happen? 🙂 Please share with us your memories or investigations. You can always contact me at tsawford [at] and I promise to reply, ever so slowly!

Dear Tom – here is a small piece of the jigsaw of Paddy’s life which you might enjoy. Each summer we go down to West Wales as a family and stay at Newport in Pembrokeshire. When I read In Tearing Haste I noticed a reference to Newport and asked Artemis if she knew more.

The long and short of it is that I have located the cottage in which Paddy and Joan stayed in the summer of 1961. This was not exactly difficult as on page 83 of ITH he gives the address as Cliff Cottage, Fforest Farm. In fact I know Fforest Farm but the property is now called Fforest Cottage.

I spoke to Joanna Ward who now owns the cottage – picture attached – who told me that her father had bought the property in 1963 from Rex Warner’s wife after he had died.

The footnote on page 84 of ITH says:

PLF had borrowed the house from Barbra Ghika (1911-1989), nee Hutchinson, who married the painter Nikos Ghika in 1961. She was married previously to Victor, 3rd Baron Rothschild 1933-46 and to Rex Warner, writer, painter and translator of Greek tragedies, in 1949.

I am wondering if Charlotte Mosley was right in thinking that the house was borrowed from Barbra when it seems to have been owned by Rex Warner and his later wife. Given Rex’s background in Greek classics, and the fact that he was the director of the British Institute in Athens after the war, Paddy must have known him well.

I realise this is not necessarily of great interest – but as I know that area well I found it interesting to follow up the lead.

Best wishes