They wrote it this week: Nobody loves a fairy when she’s farty
Extracts from diaries and letters written between July 27 and August 2
1940, Mells, Somerset
[To his friend, Lady Diana Cooper] There was a Home Guard parade at 10 this morning. There were about fifty men – all from Mells – and Col Spencer addressed us.
The Church parade part collapsed. The men refused to go to church because the organist is a Conscientious Objector! When I say “refused” I don’t mean they disobeyed an order, but they chose not to go. Col Spencer said very truly: “But you don’t go to church to worship the organist.” I suspect it was done to vex the rector who has appointed the organist.
- Conrad Russell, English aristocrat and farmer, 1878-1947.
Letters of Conrad Russell 1897-1947 edited by Georgiana Blakiston, John Murray, 1987
Dominic sent me a copy of The Seagull and I read it on the way to the Tyrol. The plane was delayed and we were four hours waiting in the airport. I didn’t mind as I hate airports and I think it’s good we suffer, just so we take flying more seriously and don’t think we can come and go as easy as we please.
- Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer, b. 1941.
Get a Life! The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood, Serpent’s Tail, 2016
Girl dancing with uniformed fellow asks his designation and is told he is a Gurkha officer, she says she thought they were black, and he says, “No, only our privates are black” and she replies “My dear how fantastic”. Johnny Schlesinger told me this story and I think it is very funny.
- Kenneth Williams, British actor and comedian, 1926-1988.
The Kenneth Williams Diaries edited by Russell Davies, HarperCollins, 1993
1967, Brighton, Sussex
Peggy arrived about eight. “Darling!”she said, “I’m going to take you to a Chinese restaurant.” How I loathe Chinky food, I thought – and said – “Oh, that’ll be nice. I’ve always liked Chinese cooking.” [...] Peggy ordered a ridiculous meal. She kept insisting there wasn’t enough. “Bring another bowl of rice,” she said to the moon-faced waiter. “No! Two bowls of rice.” She then turned and scanned the menu and ordered a waiter with long moustaches to bring us all savoury pancakes. They tasted like shoe-leather dipped in something a hyena might be expected to pass after eating a purgative root. “Ugh!” I heard Kenneth groan as he tried eating one. “There’s not enough of these!” Peggy said, tearing at a waiter’s sleeve. “I’ve had quite enough to eat,” everybody chorused at once. “These pancakes are horrible,” Peter piped. This was the signal for us all to admit that well, perhaps, they weren’t as tasty as might have been hoped. We had lychees and ice-cream and ginger. After this we had green tea. “Isn’t it delicious?” Peggy beamed as we imbibed the scented filth.
- Joe Orton, British playwright, 1933-1967.
The Orton Diaries edited by John Lahr, Methuen, 1987
1975, New York
[To his cousin, Leila] Thanks for the recipe. I’m gonna learn to cook … one day. My/our diet is very healthy. Lots of whole food stuff, pumpkin seeds etc, vitamins, fish ... meat … but not always. We try to avoid any junk food especially SUGAR. I’m as healthy as a bull. I do yoga exercises (nearly) every day. I’ve been food conscious for years – quite an expert at revitalising a drug krazed body! I bet I live till a ripe old age, I know I will!
- John Lennon, British pop star, 1940-1980.
The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012
1984, Glyndebourne, Sussex
[A production of Strauss’s Arabella was being put on at the famed rural opera house owned by the Christie family.] If the Queen has to go to an opera and she has to be “forced” (there is no record of a voluntary visit), Glyndebourne is on her wavelength with its country-house atmosphere, comfortable neo-baronial decor, old clothes and dogs. When the Christies’ new puppy was held up to her she really lit up. Julia [Strong’s wife] said that when the ladies went upstairs and she caught the Queen at certain angles she was now an old lady and looked older than her mother now at eighty-four. It is unfortunate that she still dyes her hair rather badly, but she bowled along, dressed in bright pink chiffon, on the whole not at a loss for words.
- Roy Strong, British museum curator, b. 1935 (Queen Elizabeth II was at this time 58 years old.)
Slendours and Miseries: The Roy Strong Diaries 1967-1987, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2017
The Mercury yesterday contained the best journalism on the Spanish War I have seen – an account of Guernica by Geo Steer. It was unexaggerated, concrete, and one of the most moving articles I have ever read. It is terrifying to think that Guernica is merely an experience in miniature of what most of the big towns in Europe will suffer in the next 10 years unless a miracle happens.
- Doreen Bates, British civil servant, 1906-1994.
Diary of a Wartime Affair by Doreen Bates, Penguin, 2017
1938, Neshobe Island, Vermont
[To Noel Coward] I am glad Neysa is coming back. She was here in July and left a trifle the worse for wear. In one ill-starred Badminton game, I was her zealous but unwieldy partner. In one behomothian lunge at a quill, my racquet struck Neysa instead – hitting her on the head and laying her out stiffer than a plank. After she had been revived and the game resumed, I flung myself into the contest with all the old ardour, leaping about like a well-nourished gazelle and coming down with all my weight, such as it is, on the little lady’s foot. Later I upset her out of the canoe into the cool, sweet waters of the lake. But only once. So she left in good humour and will be back on these shores on the 21st inst.
- Alexander Woollcott, American journalist and wit, 1887-1943.
The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day, Methuen, 2008
1952, Freetown, Sierra Leone
[To his brother, Hugh Greene, who had informed him that a “very nice piece and a good drinking companion” was coming out to the colony from the UK.] I’ll look out for the girl, but I don’t feel inclined really for a playmate. Life is quite complicated enough as it is. A drinking companion would be a boon if there was anywhere to drink and anything to drink. But there’s only one hotel, and nothing to get but bad bottled export beer of uncertain kinds, Scotch if you are lucky, gin which is a depressant, and South African wines that make you feel like hell the next morning.
- Graham Greene, British writer, 1904-1991.
Graham Greene: A Life in Letters edited by Richard Greene, Abacus, 2007
[To his friend, the Hon George Borwick] Well the bum was a joke this morning I can tell you! and after the bowel motion I thought I should become demented or something. But thank goodness the ointment and the suppository shoved up, has quietened everything down and I was able to venture into the street looking like most other pedestrians. I said to the chemist “there is so much talcum powder up there that I daren’t blow off … everyone would be covered in the dust” and he just said shortly “rather you than me” and rang up the till. Money is all they think about nowadays.
- Kenneth Williams, British comedian, 1926-1988.
The Kenneth Williams Letters edited by Russell Davies, HarperCollins, 1995
1985, New York
[Brown had just returned from London, where she was researching early rumours of trouble in the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales.] But what of the poor Princess of Wales? There’s so much gossip. It seems all that shy, youthful exuberance of hers is being transmuted into the stifled feelings of a caged butterfly, entirely unaware of the mechanism of her own extraordinary appeal. She knows how to use it instinctively but is utterly uninterpretive of her life and fate, which is hardly surprising given how young she is. Patrick Lichfield told me that her intense unhappiness is expressing itself in volatile rages that exhaust Prince Charles, and have started to really concern the Queen and Prince Philip. The more she becomes a star on the world stage, the more Charles feels overlooked and withdraws into his melancholy inner life. Now that he doesn’t have to pretend to be the world’s hot bachelor, he is reverting to his real self, a lonely, eccentric figure haunted by self-doubt. He thought he was signing up for a passive, sweet-natured young girl who would produce him the heir and the spare and not interfere in any way with his glum, dutiful life and off-duty pleasures with the blondes of his past, like Lady Tryon and Camilla Parker Bowles, but that’s not how it’s turning out. The world is mad for Di.
- Tina Brown, then editor of Vanity Fair magazine, b. 1953 (All of this insider society gossip would only become public knowledge a decade later.)
The Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992 by Tina Brown, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2017