Tag Archives: Deborah Devonshire

A Woman’s Hour special: ‘Debo’ – the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Woman’s Hour devoted a whole programme to an  interview with Deborah Cavendish, or as we know her ‘Debo’ – the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire in 2010.

Deborah Cavendish

You can listen to the podcast here!

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Deborah Cavendish is 90 years old and has witnessed the 20th century up close. She has met anybody who’s anybody – Churchill, Hitler, JFK. She is also the last survivor of a remarkable set of women – the Mitford sisters: Nancy, who became a writer, Jessica who became a Communist, Unity who became a Fascist – and Diana who married one. In a special edition of Woman’s Hour Jenni talks to ‘Debo’ – the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire about her life, and the times she lived through. In her autobiography ‘Wait for Me’ she also talks about her own personal challenges; her husband, the Duke, had a long battle with alcohol and three of her children died within hours of their birth. She’s also credited with helping to save one of Britain’s great country houses, Chatsworth, which is enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.

A Review of In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor from the Spectator

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‘In Tearing Haste’ Category

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

Sean Connery and Ian Fleming

As background to the Imperial War Museum’s 2008-09 exhibition For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James BondThe New York Review of Books  featured a discussion of the merits of Ian Flemings’s work by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Entitled ‘Bondage’ it is a wide-ranging review, and for shock factor it intially does tend to focus on Fleming’s penchant for what Wheatcroft calls ‘schoolboy sexual fantasies’. One critic found Fleming’s ‘sex distasteful—male brutality and female submission, or what Bond himself called “the sweet tang of rape”—he lamented Fleming’s “vulgarity and display” and his love of luxury goods.’

Well, that all makes for good reading but two things caught my eye. First of all there is some mild criticism for the overrated Sebastian Faulks and his 2008 attempt at writing a Bond story Devil May Care; more on Mr Faulks at a later date. Not only do I not particularly rate his writing (and I doubt he cares) but he is also a critic of Paddy’s.

The second was a letter that Paddy wrote to Ian Fleming picking him up on a point about Pol Roger champagne. Fleming was probably the first proponent of what would now be called ‘brand placement‘. As anyone who has read a Bond book or seen a film cannot fail to have missed, Bond does not get by with ‘Tesco Value’ when he can obtain a top brand alternative, presumably on Her Majesty’s expenses.

Paddy and Joan were friends of the Flemings, but, along with Debo Devonshire, were particularly close to Anne Fleming, and supported her through the difficult times following Ian’s death and his failure to get his estate in order. Read In Tearing Haste for more on this.

The particular part of the NYRB article that caught my attention is below, and shows Paddy’s excellent eye for detail, which we see constantly in his own work:

“While Devil May Care is short on sex and sadism, it does begin with one unfortunate having his tongue torn out; but then Faulks’s own tongue is a little too obviously in his cheek. We get Gorner, an impossibly horrible villain, a brutal enforcer called Chagrin (nice touch), a glamorous heroine with whom James is far too diffident—and a distinctly autumnal flavour. The book is set in 1967, when Fleming not only didn’t write it but could not have written it, and 007, as he admits, is showing his age. Now and again the writing flags. Bond has been in Tehran a few days when he lunches alone on caviar and martinis, before spreading out “some maps he had bought from the hotel shop…. The country was between Turkey to the west and Afghanistan to the east. Its southern frontier was the Persian Gulf, its northern limit the Caspian Sea.” Well, yes.

There are a few other lapses which it would be tedious to list, including a tennis match that is not only implausible in itself but whose scoring goes awry. We all make mistakes, including the originator. After Fleming published On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, that worldly sophisticate was mortified to receive a magisterial rebuke from his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor: Ian surely knew that Pol Roger is the only champagne never sold in half bottles.”

You can read the full article from the NYRB here. I will publish it at some later date for the archive.

OPRIG GAGINONANUS – a winner!

Garage in Constant Use

When the challenge to solve the mystery of OPRIG GAGINONANUS was laid down less than two weeks’ ago, I did not think we would have a winning entry within two days! Marion Worsley from Sussex emailed me from her Blackberry with an accompanying photo to tell me:

“I am standing in market mews, surrounded by garages and 10 signs to remind any fool who had not spotted the continuous double line that also every garage door is “No Parking.  Garage in Constant Use”.  This is however the only one with a concertina mechanism.  I’m afraid no cat. Could send you a picture of a blue tee shirt hanging out of the window instead? I am now going to walk away as I can see coming towards me the slightly perplexed postman who very kindly directed me to Market Mews but then went on to ask what I was looking for. I vaguely mumbled that I was looking for garage doors, smiled, thanked him and walked on. leaving hanging in the air a question mark over my sanity. I will send you more pictures this evening.

Marion Worsley

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device”

Winning entrant Marion Worsley in Market Mews

Remember the challenge was to try to find the location that Paddy had sketched in his letter to Debo Devonshire and if possible photograph the same combination of letters that faced Paddy in 1992. Extra marks were to be awarded for a photograph including a cat.

Later Marion mailed me with more pictures:

Hi Tom

Here are the other photos from Market Mews. Slight artistic license for the cat… but did send you a picture of the tee shirt. I got a tourist who spoke very little English to take the picture.  I think that if I had tried to explain to him why I wanted a picture of myself next to a No Parking sign, he would have been even more confused. He will no doubt go back home and tell his friends that it is true that the English are a little mad. The entire mews consists of garages. I have added pictures of a few more should you want to add them to your Garage picture Collection. For the purists, the concertina garage is between No 9 and No 11 Market Mews.

Kind Regards

Marion”

The concertina doors from a similar perspective to Paddy's OPRIG sketch

From the other angle

It is no surprise that one or two things have changed; the doors seem to have been painted over and the cat has probably passed away. However, I was so pleased that a blog reader was inclined to be more than a little crazy and take up the challenge with such style. The ‘cat’ was a piece of improvised genius.

Very well done to Marion. We are planning an official presentation ceremony ‘on location’ later in the autumn. As you can tell she is a lady with some pretty mad ideas, one of which includes the possibility of walking some of Paddy’s route on 2011. Watch this space!

(For garage door enthusiasts I have posted all of Marion’s photographs in the photo section. It is clear that we are not alone in our obsession with OPRIG. Just Google OPRIG and look at images! I have placed some of these in the photo section.)

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OPRIG GAGINONANUS

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Lady Anne Tree – Obituary from the Telegraph

Lady Anne Tree was Debo Devonshire’s sister-in-law and a friend to Paddy.

Duke’s daughter who became a prison visitor and persuaded inmates to earn money from needlepoint.

First published in The Telegraph 13 Aug 2010

Lady Anne Tree, who died on August 9 aged 82, was a scion of one of England’s most famous families, with friends and connections that ranged from John Betjeman to Lucian Freud, Oswald Mosley to John F Kennedy; but she became best known for her tireless campaigning on behalf of the incarcerated, and set up a successful, if unlikely, scheme that paid prisoners for needlepoint.

One of her prison acquaintances was the infamous Moors murderer Myra Hindley. Having been a regular prison visitor for more than a decade, in the late 1960s Lady Anne was appointed to see Hindley on a weekly basis, and introduced her to Lord Longford, who subsequently embarked on a quixotic campaign on the killer’s behalf. Unlike Longford, however, Lady Anne never saw reason to grant Hindley parole “because she wasn’t fit to come out. I don’t believe she was safe. She didn’t feel sorry and if you don’t feel sorry, you can do something again.”

The two women discussed books, and “kept pretty well off” the subject of Hindley’s crimes; the visits ended after a decade, to the relief of both.

Lady Anne continued to be involved with Britain’s growing prison population, and she wrote incessantly to the Home Office in an attempt to change the rules so that prisoners could earn money by working while they were locked up.

Lady Anne Tree (2nd left), her sister Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, John Betjeman (right) and the choreographer John Cranko Photo: GETTY

The work she had in mind was embroidery. “I noticed over the years what a terrible waste of time there was,” she said. “And I got such a lot of fun out of embroidery.” A long campaign finally brought a change in prison rules and the setting up, in 1997, of Fine Cell Work, a scheme in which prisoners are taught to produce high-quality needlepoint cushion covers, quilts and rugs – some to designs submitted by famous names.

Prisoners are allowed to keep a share of the proceeds (37 per cent), creating a small lump sum to help set themselves up on release. The financial attraction of Fine Cell was obvious, but embroidery also became popular as a “bird-killer”, or method of getting through jail time.

Perhaps surprisingly, 80 per cent of those inmates involved were men, with Lady Anne giving short shrift to those who considered themselves too manly for the pursuit. Her standard retort, delivered in an accent which she confessed was “too posh” for the surroundings, was: “If you feel this is poofy, don’t bother us, because we don’t want to train you.”

Anne Evelyn Beatrice Cavendish was born on November 6 1927, second daughter of the 10th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Mary Gascoyne-Cecil, Mistress of the Robes to the Queen. She grew up at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, but was never sent to school because her father disapproved of the idea. During the war she moved with her governess to Eastbourne, where she worked in an Army canteen.

Lady Anne began visiting prisons aged 22, shortly after marrying Michael Tree, a son of the Anglo-American Conservative MP Ronald Tree, whose house, Ditchley Park, had been used as a retreat by Churchill during the war. Michael was well-known in London society, where he was nicknamed “Radio Belgravia” because he was always first with the news. He was attached to Christie’s and was a good amateur painter.

In May 1944 Anne’s elder brother, William Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington, had married Kathleen Kennedy, younger sister of the future president John Kennedy. But four months later, in September, he was killed in action while serving as a major in the Coldstream Guards. Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy herself died young, in a flying accident, in 1948.

The Kennedy connection reinforced Lady Anne’s interest in helping prisoners. “Kick Kennedy had a close friend who went to prison,” she said. “When he came out, I thought him in very bad shape.” Diana Mosley (née Mitford), who had been locked up with her husband Oswald during the war, was another source of advice. The two women had a family connection because Lady Anne’s brother, Andrew, had married Deborah, youngest of the Mitford girls.

Lady Anne described Oswald Mosley as “very charismatic, but a beastly man”. She had much more admiration for the artist Lucian Freud. Lady Anne introduced the artist to her brother Andrew Cavendish in 1959, by which time he had become the 11th Duke. More than a dozen Freuds now grace the collection at Chatsworth. Among Freud’s sitters were both Lady Anne and her sister Elizabeth.

Lady Anne cited two reasons for focusing on needlepoint in her campaign. Her mother-in-law, Nancy Lancaster, owned the interior designers Colefax and Fowler, so “I had the possibility to sell good-quality needlework for good prices through shops.” She was also convinced that sewing was therapeutic: “It is meditative, a way of thinking, of taking stock.”

Lady Anne did other prison work, at one point serving as deputy entertainments officer at Wandsworth jail. Under her stewardship prisoners were treated to a display of samurai swords brought in by a former general, and to a talk from John Betjeman. “He came waddling on and was funny, but too highbrow,” Lady Anne noted.

Within a decade Fine Cell work was generating £200,000 in sales from the prisoners’ creations (cushions cost £95; quilts up to £1,000), and today more than 60 volunteers train 400 prisoners. The work has been exhibited by the V&A, commissioned by English Heritage and sold to leading interior designers. Prison systems in other countries have expressed interest in starting similar schemes.

The Trees lived in fine houses, notably the Palladian house Mereworth Castle, in Kent, in the 1950s and 1960s, and later Shute House, near Shaftesbury, where in 1969 they commissioned Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe to design the superb water garden.

Lady Anne could be fabulously outspoken. When Lady Diana Cooper was entertaining Harold Macmillan to lunch at her London house in 1982, Lady Anne noticed her hostess reach down for something in her handbag on the floor. “Diana’s got Uncle Harold by the privates and he doesn’t like it!” she called out across the table.

Michael Tree died in 1999, and Lady Anne is survived by her two daughters.

OPRIG GAGINONANUS

Here is something completely ridiculous, a challenge for you all that recalls Paddy’s late night walk through Shepherd Market, London in early October 1992.

In a letter to Debo Devonshire dated 6 November 1992 (see page 293 of In Tearing Haste), Paddy writes to tell her of a strange experience just before he left for a trip to Antibes to collect a French literary prize for A Time of Gifts. Paddy and Joan had dinner with Magouche Fielding (Xan’s second wife). Joan left early and Paddy decided to walk home … “through Shepherd Market – my old haunt when young * – and into Market Mews. I had only gone a few paces when, on a wide black surface on the left side, I saw a strange message in huge letters in White:

‘OPRIG’, it said,

And underneath,

‘GAGINONANUS’

What could it portend? It looked simultaneously insulting, enigmatic and vaguely improper, especially the message below.”

Paddy enclosed a sketch.

Paddy's first sketch - OPRIG

It was only when he stood four square in front that all was revealed – click here to see the picture.

The challenge therefore is for those of you who live in London, or who are visiting this month, to see if you can find GAGINONANUS. There are enough geographic clues, and to add to this Paddy further writes to Debo, “If on leaving your front door, passing the Curzon Cinema, and turning right into the Mews, you’ll [see it].”

Let’s hope that like for Paddy the concertina doors will be ajar so that you can see it just as Paddy did. Perhaps they have been painted over? Do they still exist?

If you find GAGINONANUS then send me a photograph (tsawford[at]btinternet.com) with a brief retelling of your search. Special merit if you can include a cat in the picture!

The prize? Well, the satisfaction of ‘being there and having done it’ and a first edition copy of Words of Mercury for the first person to send a picture.

I shall personally resist the temptation to find it until the end of August. If we have had no responses by then, I shall go on a search myself.

* Paddy had lived at 43 Market Street before he departed on his journey in 1934

Book review: In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor from The Scotsman

First published in The Scotsman 13 September 2008

by Roger Hutchinson

THE MARVELLOUS THING ABOUT yours [books],” wrote the Duchess of Devonshire to Patrick Leigh Fermor in May 1974, “is that they never appear.”

Deborah Devonshire professes a pathological dislike of reading. Somewhere in the unfathomable depths of that eccentricity may be discovered the contrary reason for her having been, for over half a century, the favourite correspondent of one of the greatest British authors of the 20th century.

Debo and Paddy had been swapping letters from various parts of the globe for 20 years when she congratulated him on the paucity of his output. When he received that letter he was in fact just finishing A Time of Gifts, the first volume of the travelogue through Europe in the 1930s which would cement his reputation. If we are to believe the Duchess, she has never read a word of it or any of his other works.

This does not mean that their collected letters, expertly compiled by Charlotte Mosley, is entirely non-literary – there are plenty of gems here for the student of the Leigh Fermor oeuvre. It means rather that their friendship was established on broader grounds.

The youngest Mitford sister, Debo Devonshire, clearly possesses oodles of her siblings’ trademark charm, without the family handicap of being mad as a meat-axe. Patrick Leigh Fermor saw and fell for her at an officers’ ball early in the Second World War. She did not so much as notice him until several years later. By the early 1950s Paddy Leigh Fermor was difficult not to notice. Handsome, polyglot, rakish, wildly itinerant and with a war record straight out of a John Buchan novel, he fell upon London society like a wolf on the fold.

He must have been able to pick off debutantes at a hundred paces. But Deborah Mitford was made of sterner stuff. She had set her sights on a duke. PLF would have to settle for best male friend. We should say, one of her best male friends. Her roster of masculine admirers is extraordinary. President John F Kennedy tops the chart, but it winds down through almost every eligible and ineligible man in the developed world. Debo’s good fortune – and now that this engaging anthology has been published, ours too – is that not a single one of them was half so good a writer as her faithful Paddy.

Naturally, most of the words in this collection were authored by PLF. But if Deborah Devonshire has been a foil, she was a perfect one. Chatty, witty, teasing, gossipy, relentlessly cheerful and with more than a hint of modest good sense, her short replies bounce off his beautiful essays like volleys of tennis balls off a cathedral. Continue reading

Chatsworth Celebrates the Many Lives of Deborah Devonshire

As you will know by now Deborah Devonshire (one of the famous Mitford sisters), the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire is one of Paddy’s closest friends. Their communication by letters over more than half a century forms the basis for the collection of letters edited by Charlotte Mosley – ‘In Tearing Haste’ – of which I have written before. The seat of the Dukes of Devonshire is Chatsworth in Derbyshire and this year Chatsworth will be staging a special exhibition to celebrates Debo’s 90th birthday. I thought it worth posting details for those who may be interested. For more information please  read the press release below or visit www.chatsworth.org .

In an epic year, Chatsworth is staging a special exhibition throughout 2010 in honour of the 90th birthday of Deborah Devonshire (on March 31), now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the last surviving of the famous Mitford sisters.

Andrew and Deborah Devonshire

 Feb 18, 2010 – Sister, mother, wife, Duchess, writer and celebrated national treasure.  Over the years Deborah Devonshire’s path has taken her in many directions creating a life story which is nothing short of fascinating. In an epic year, Chatsworth is staging a special exhibition throughout 2010 in honour of the 90th birthday of Deborah (on March 31), now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the last surviving of the famous Mitford sisters, marking the nine eventful decades of her life, illustrating her many interests and achievements.  

Memories of the Dowager’s Mitford ancestry, and her famous siblings, will be evoked with many unique items never seen by visitors before, including numerous letters, plates from the much loved Berlin dinner service sold by her father and purchased by her husband, the Cavendish/Devonshire family tree and the beautiful Renoir painting left to Chatsworth by her sister Pamela.

Visitors will experience a rare insight into the remarkable life of Deborah, illustrated with mementos and keepsakes personally chosen by her Grace including early diaries, the Dowager’s childhood ice skates (skating was an early passion), her nature notebook and a copy of her wedding invitation.  Deborah’s passion for all things outdoors quickly becomes clear.  A keen supporter and participant in all country pursuits, the exhibition will include the Duchess’s gun and game books.  Two of her beautiful handmade walking sticks are also featured, and her love of poultry reflected in a wooden chicken sculpture and her rosettes and prizes for eggs.

Deborah comments: “Putting this exhibition together has meant thinking back over the nine decades of my life so far, and trying to gather together mementos and photographs that will interest visitors to Chatsworth this year. I hope people will enjoy the wide range of things on view, from Paris dresses and works of art I love, to family photographs and a telephone from the gift shop at Graceland. I have been lucky enough to know many fascinating people and be involved in local and national organisations and good causes, and the displays will reflect these.”

In the 1950s, the Dowager had the huge task of restoring Chatsworth after the depressing war years (it had been leased to a girls school), and making it fit for the growing number of visitors, and as a family home. The wallpaper patterns that she used then will be shown alongside the books she wrote later in life, celebrating Chatsworth’s house, collections, garden, food and landscape. Her growing family is represented by glamorous private images of her and her young children by Norman Parkinson.

As Duchess, she was involved in many significant public and state events, and chose to take on many public responsibilities, charitable concerns and interests. The robes she wore to the Queen’s coronation in 1953, at which her son, the present Duke, was page to his grandmother Mary, widow of the 10th Duke, will be on display, alongside presentation objects from public engagements over the last 60 years.

Having known many famous artists and writers, there will be displays of early work by Lucian Freud, sculpted heads of some of the Dowager’s more illustrious artistic friends, by Angela Conner, and the special edition of one of his books given to her by Evelyn Waugh, with blank pages to avoid the bother of actually having to read it.

Deborah continues: “I have known Lucian Freud for well over fifty years, and he remains a great friend and a fascinating person. Being painted by him, when I was in my thirties, was a slow process, as he is not a lightning artist, but I think the result is full of insight – I certainly get more like the picture the older I become.”

Her tastes and style are represented by a number of exquisite couture gowns and other clothes and hats; favourite works of art by Atkinson Grimshaw, Tchelitchev, Jo Self, Epstein, Frink and others; a selection of the jewelled insect brooches she was given by her husband over many decades; and mementos of her hero Elvis Presley, including the Elvis telephone, and a section of fence from Graceland.

After 54 years in charge of Chatsworth [and its estate], Bolton Abbey and Lismore Castle in partnership with her husband, the late Duke, the Dowager’s retirement has not been quiet. Memorabilia relating to her latest books, and forthcoming memoirs, will be on display, together with new photographs taken for the exhibition, including a special image of the Dowager with her seventeen great grandchildren.

Chatsworth re-opens on March 14 and the exhibition runs until 31 October 2010. Entrance is free with house admission. For more information please visit http://www.chatsworth.org