Wednesday, 27 June 2012


I have been married twice.
The first time I was twenty three and she was twenty two.
The second time I was forty five and she was seventeen, or so she said. 
On both occasions I fell desperately in love and got married for fear of heartbreak if I lost them..
My first wife was English, aloof, elegant, languorous, and  impossible to impress.       
My second wife was none of these - but more about her later.

 I met Eve Ekin, daughter of Major William and Mrs Doris Ekin at her 21st birthday party in December 1952. This private affair, held at the family’s Bayswater house, proved to be a rather pretentious gathering with more elderly people than young. The music was provided by an ancient 78 rpm gramophone which could hardly be heard above the chatter of the guests, the buffet was laid out in a narrow hallway and the bar was set up in the kitchen. This would have been fine if the women had not been in long evening dresses and the men in black tie which demanded far grander surroundings.
 I noticed Eve sitting alone in a corner of the drawing room watching whatever was going on. There was something exceptional about her. She was tall, very slim with dark short cut hair, slightly oriental hazel eyes and an air of acceptable superiority. She gave me the impression of being bored rather than shy, so I asked her for a dance. The number, as it turned out, was aptly Noel Coward singing  ‘Some Day I’ll Find You.’
 Eve was so thin that when I held her, my arm curled right round her waist. I liked that as my preference was never for the more voluptuous. I asked her if she was enjoying herself.
 'Not much,' she said, 'My father organized all this. Most of these people are his friends. I don’t know half of them. I don’t even know who you are.'
 The outcome of this first encounter was the discovery, over coffees and lunches during the next few days, that we both wanted to get away from parental authority but were trapped because neither of us had sufficient income to escape to wherever we thought we might be happier.
 To this end Eve had got herself a job as receptionist in a fashion house starting in the New Year. I, on the other hand, found my happy-go-lucky way of life curtailed by Eddy who, with the aid of two walking sticks, returned to the food factory and reclaimed his office and secretary.
 Since his absence, profits had gone up, everyone had managed without him and when he discovered that I had simplified all communications and paperwork, I became more of a thorn in his side than ever. So he sent me to Strasbourg for a month to study the art of stuffing unfortunate geese with overdoses of maize to fatten them for Foie Gras.
 My sudden, imposed separation from Eve was cruel indeed and, when she saw me off on the continental train at Victoria Station, our forlorn, tearful adieus were potent enough to make any passer-by weep with sympathy.

 I was lodged by our luxury paté suppliers in a picturesque house in the centre of Strasbourg. It was January, it snowed, my surroundings reminded me of Brueghel paintings and the garret I was allocated boasted a magnificent roll-top desk which demanded to be written on. So I wrote, and wrote, countless poems and romantic letters to Eve and received countless poems and romantic letters from her by return.
 In one letter she excitedly informed me that, after her first week at the London fashion house, one of the couturiers had insisted she should model his creations as she had the perfect figure and elegance to do so. She was sent to a top hairdresser, taught how to make up, given lessons on how to walk up and down the rostrum, and now I would not be coming home to a mere receptionist but a mannequin working for Digby Morton, one of the five leading British fashion designers.

 I returned to London in March and was met by Eve at Victoria Station on the very same platform where  I had kissed her goodbye a month or so before, she had then been wearing a beige raincoat, sensible brown shoes, her hair not that tidy, her face pale with little make up.
 As I stepped off the train I caught sight of a quite radiant vision. A tall auburn haired girl in a black tailored coat, peacock blue silk scarf round her neck, matching gloves, matching stiletto heeled shoes, matching furled umbrella, wide eyes highlighted by a touch of mascara, a hint of lipstick, standing, by chance I think, in a shaft of bright sunlight which was piercing the railway dust from way up above her. If I had not already fallen in love with her I would have found it hard to pretend that she did not affect all my sensibilities. I stood rooted for a moment, dropped my suitcase, moved forwards to hug her, hesitated in case she was a mirage, and straight away asked her to marry me.
 'Why not ?' she said, 'but you’ll have to ask Daddy for my hand first in time honoured manner to keep him happy as Mummy, I’m afraid, will insist of a white wedding, and he’ll have to foot the bill.'

Eve Ekin 1952

Saturday, 16 June 2012


In February 1952, King George VI died at Sandringham and anyone who was anyone and everyone who wanted to be someone went into mourning.
 I feared for a moment that this would thwart all my efforts to become a Deb’s Delight, but once I had paid my respects to the deceased monarch at Westminster Abbey with members of Phoebe’s family (who insisted on introducing me to their friends as André de Launay a probable descendant of the Marquis de Launay, governor of the Bastille decapitated in 1795) my social life took off at a great pace.
 As an ‘item’, Phoebe and I were invited to various house parties in stately homes, attended point-to-points for which I bought a flat-cap and shooting stick, danced Scottish reels at the Royal Caledonian Ball and later in the year at Queen Charlotte’s Ball and the Pineapple Ball. We went to the Derby and Ascot in June, ate strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, peaches and cream at the Henley Regatta, and raspberries and cream at the Goodwood races. All in all I had a wonderful time until Phoebe, with trembling lower lip, told me she thought she was pregnant.
 ‘I’ve missed a month,’ she said, ‘and that’s never happened before. I'm not telling Mummy because she'll insist on me having an abortion and I don't want that.'                                                                                                  This suggested to me that marriage was the alternative.
 For the next few days I went into a blue funk trying to imagine what it would be like married to Phoebe, how Eddy would react to another little bastard in the family, how it would completely curtail my freedom and tie me down for ever to the food business as I would have to become a dependable provider.
 The real truth then made its wily way from my heart via various nervous channels to my little brain. I was no longer in love with Phoebe. She was great fun, we got on terribly well, but I did not want to live with her as man and wife. The guilt of not having done anything sensible for some time was beginning to weigh on me and on occasions I had longed for a little time to myself to read or go to see the plays and films which were not ‘de rigeur’ in her world.
 She then rang me.
 ‘It’s alright. False alarm. I’m not pregnant. I was just late,' she said, then added, 'You can enjoy life again now. 

 'I’ve never seen anyone so petrified.’
  We had dinner together that night and both knew that the relationship was over. She was a little more down to earth than I. 'I had a good time converting you into a snob, and I love your Frenchness, but always knew it wouldn’t last. I don’t think you respect the world I come from enough to be one of us.'
 'Not OCD?' I suggested.
 'Oh, you’re OCD now, but not the sort that would ever be in awe of an MFH.'
 I hadn’t learned everything. I raised an eyebrow.
  'Master of Fox Hounds,' she explained.
Phoebe married the son of a Baronet six months later and I married another debutante a year or so after that. 

Self at Point-to-point
Phoebe and friend at the Pineapple Ball

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


In January 1952 the fun and games at Weir Pool came to an end when Eddy after two operations and two plaster casts, returned from France and the house was turned into a one-patient nursing home. Bedridden and propped up by countless pillows, he made life a misery for everyone, so I moved out and into the back room of a mews flat in Kensington owned by a friend who needed a lodger’s rent. This young man was very well connected socially and introduced me to the London debutante scene immediately.
 At a wedding reception I became smitten by one of the pretty bridesmaids who seemed to regard me as something rather comical.  'Is it true that you’re French and import caviare?' she asked intrigued.       
           'Yes,' I replied.
'How exciting! Mummy used to buy little pots of it from Fortnums but can’t afford it anymore.'
 'We supply Fortnums,' I informed her, 'Play your cards right and you can get a huge discount.'
 'That’s awfully cheeky'  she giggled, 'but rather sweet.'
 Her name was Phoebe and I invited her to tea at that fashionable emporium the next day.  
 Fortnum & Mason’s was not one of the places I frequented. I never felt too comfortable among the customers, specially the bowler hatted, drain pipe trousered Guards officers with their debutante girl friends who behaved as though they owned the place.
Phoebe was sitting at a table in the tea room waiting for me. I had brought her a pink ribboned 2oz pot of caviare and placed it in front of her. 
 'Goodness!' she exclaimed, 'How super! Does this mean that I now have to play my cards right?' 
 'Hopefully,' I said, 'but not here.'
 Over scones, Devonshire cream and raspberry jam, I learned a good deal about her. She had been presented at Court the previous year, had done the season, did not have a boyfriend, her parents were divorced, she lived with her mother near Windsor, had two brothers, the older one worked in the City, the younger was still at Eton. 
 She questioned me at length about my background then looked at me sincerely with wide open eyes and said, 'I don’t know why, but I do like you though you’re quite wrong for me.'
 'Why am I wrong for you?' I managed.
 'Mummy would never approve.' She screwed up her nose as though facing an unsolvable problem and sighed deeply,  'I’m afraid she wouldn’t consider you OCD.'                                                                                         I had no idea what she was talking about.
 'Our Class Dear,'  she explained, then, without pausing for breath, 'It’s all terribly stupid I know, but it matters terribly to her. She spent a fortune on my coming out so that I could meet the right person for the future because we’re not very well off and she lives in the 19th century and I won’t be twenty one and free to do as I wish for another two years.'
 She put her hand on mine and squeezed it gently. 'I’m terribly sorry. I’ve been very rude, but I want to be honest because I know I could become really fond of you.'
 Despite this major setback, she met me secretly for lunch several times in places where it was unlikely she would be seen in my company by anyone who knew her family.
 Because of my apparent inferior upbringing, a more permanent relationship was out of the question unless I made a study of her mother’s absurd social conventions, learned the essential etiquette and could prove to be reasonably presentable. .  .
 I suggested she should teach me her rules of conduct so that when she deemed me ready she would not be ashamed of me, and she jumped at the idea.
 'It’ll be easy peasy,'  she said, 'because even if you make mistakes you are French so can be excused. What Mummy would never forgive you for, however, is putting milk in your tea cup before pouring the tea, as you did at Fortnums. An MIF is unforgivable.’
 'MIF?' I queried.
 'Milk In First. It’s just not done.'
 From then on, she played Professor Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle and even got her older brother to join in my edification for good measure.
'You must never say ‘pardon,’ she told me on my first day of serious instruction. ‘I know it’s a French word, but it’s wrong. When you need to apologize you should say ‘I beg your pardon’, and if you haven’t understood something you should ask ‘What?' It sounds rude and abrupt and nannies don’t like it, but anything else is wrong.        
 On another day we had lunch with her brother Nigel in the ladies annex of his club in Pall Mall which in itself was unnerving.
'You should never ask for a ‘Sweet’ or ‘Dessert’. ‘Pudding’ is the only word you can use for anything from ice cream to spotted dick, and you’ll get keel hauled if you utter the word 'serviette'  instead of 'napkin.'
'Jerry' or 'Pot' for chamber pot if there isn’t a convenient lavatory,' Phoebe put in, 'and never ever use the word

 They both shuddered at the mention of the word.
 Nigel gave me his tailor’s address. 'He’ll know what you should wear, and don’t pay him for months, he won’t expect it. And buy yourself a curly brimmed bowler from Locks of St James’s, a colourful waistcoat, and walk with a furled umbrella but don’t open it unless there’s a really serious downpour.
 My conversion took a few weeks, put me in debt with tailor and hatter and, when Phoebe decided I was ready, I bravely accompanied her to Fortnum’s again to meet ‘Mummy’, a jolly, plump, carefree woman who downed a couple of gins in preference to tea and found me so acceptable that she allowed her daughter to come and stay at Weir Pool the following weekend. 

Drew aged 20 in West London. 1950

Sunday, 3 June 2012


It is an awful thing to say but the car crash, resulting in Eddy being bedridden for months, proved to be a glorious release from cheerless drudgery.
 I returned to England alone, leaving him in Pau encased in plaster but well looked after by Elise, his mother’s housekeeper, my mother having cleverly convinced everybody that it would be more sensible for her to stay in Pangbourne to arrange for his eventual homecoming.
On my arrival she embraced me like never before not only thankful that I had survived the accident but grateful that, for a while she would be released from the tedium of wifely duties...
 'We must make the most of our freedom while it lasts,' she said, 'for when Eddy returns our lives will become a nightmare.'
 Pierre immediately moved into her bedroom and Weir Pool was declared an open house to all and sundry. When mother and lover did not go out together, they threw dinner parties for Pierre’s film studio friends, talented artistic people who opened my eyes to how rewardingly exciting a creative life could be. I now could have as many people for sleep-overs as I wanted, so invited musician friends to come and play the piano, saxophone, clarinet, double bass, or whatever instrument that came to hand while I beat the drums as everyone else danced the night away. We turned the place into a night club.
 I became infatuated with Irina, a young ballet dancer from The Red Shoes, who renamed Weir Pool ‘The Enchanted Madhouse’ and taught me the pas-de-deux, then with Holly, a stills photographer from Pinewood Studios for whom I trod water ( sort of solo synchronized swimming ) across the Thames wearing a bowler hat and carrying a tray of drinks unaware that she would sell the picture to the Daily Mirror who devoted a page to the idiotic feat. Within days the photo was syndicated worldwide and a BBC TV unit filmed me doing the act again for a children’s programme.
 Thankfully these antics never reached the eyes or ears of the patient in Pau, and despite all the excitement, I was quite sensible and dutifully went to work at the factory every day, proving myself indispensable to the directors who were in charge as they did not speak enough French to communicate with most of our suppliers. Eddy had given me a notebook with instructions on how to deal with the multitude of business matters (from checking that the storeman did his stock taking regularly on Fridays to negotiating the best prices for fresh truffles) so I commandeered his office and his secretary, a dear old soul who never for a moment doubted my ability to make the right decisions, and  found, to my surprise that most of the correspondence and mountain of paper work that he constantly laboured over was quite unnecessary. A telegram or brief phone call would more often than not suffice to deal with any problem and, instead of spending hours behind his desk, I did everything that was necessary before lunchtime enabling me to go to theatre matinees in the afternoon or peacefully read in the park.
  I read a great deal during this period and saw every important play I could, all of which stimulated me to write, but I had little idea where to start, so I took a correspondence course on the science of fiction writing and learned one very simple rule for composing a story - face a character with a conflict, on overcoming the conflict the character causes another, on trying to overcome both he causes a third....and so on until the problems can be resolved.
 I borrowed an Underwood typewriter from the accounts department and, from then on, did not go out in the afternoons, but wrote short stories, stage plays, radio plays and television plays, sent them off to their appropriate destinations, collected rejections by return until one day I got something accepted...