Wednesday, 3 July 2013

THE END.. for now!

Dear family, friends and lovely readers,

As I have maybe mentioned to you before in a earlier post, my Dad, Drew Launay used to email me all his posts before hand and then I would upload and publish them onto this blog once a week.

I had three emails with his last three posts sitting in my inbox when he left us and I didn't read them till weeks after.

My surprise was the last one he sent me and the last post you have all read by now.

I found this last post particularly emotional and very special to me. His last written words to me in the email were about his wedding to my mother. I can't describe how magical it felt when I read it. I cried and smiled for hours.
Both my dad and I are quite sceptical and though I would love to believe it as some sort of sign, deep down I don't really believe this last post was anything but pure coincidence, but what a wonderful coincidence… and for that I thank him so much as he has made me once again so happy and proud.
I am absolutely sure that if I could speak to him and explain how this coincidence came about, his words would be: How extraordinary!!!!! and then we would chat about other things!

THANK YOU all for reading A little Sailor Told me…. and being part of my wonderful father's family life!!

The little sailor will now take a small vacation to gain some strength and it will RETURN…sometime in September.
It won't be as funny and witty as I am sadly not as clever as my Dad, but I will do my very best to edit into posts the Autobiography my Father left us.

Until we meet again!!

With all my love,

Melissa Launay

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


At some stage during the upheavals of moving from Earls Court to Gloucester Road to Cornwall Gardens, I consulted a solicitor about divorcing Eve, an emotionally unpleasant procedure which was now obviously essential if Maribel and I were to get married. 
  All Eve and I had to do, he told me, was agree about the access to, and upkeep of, Nicolas and Matthew and the ownership of possessions. If we could do this on amicable terms the whole thing would be very simple and cost a minimal amount. 
 I wrote to her suggesting she keep the house and all its contents and that I would guarantee regular payments for the boys till they were eighteen as well as send her extra funds when I could afford it. It meant that I would virtually lose everything I had ever worked for but peace of mind was more important to me than belongings and, unlike her, I was capable of starting from scratch again.  
 Eve answered by return gratefully agreeing to everything and the solicitor took over. But a while later he called to advise me that, having sent Eve a document for her to sign agreeing to everything we had discussed, he had received a letter from Major Bill’s solicitors stating that they were acting on behalf of his daughter and that the terms suggested were quite unacceptable. This meant that the divorce proceedings and the costs would escalate.  
 Eve had yet again been unable to keep her father from meddling in her life and, though he had always regarded my writing as a fickle and precarious pass time without a future, someone had obviously pointed out that authors often sold the film rights of their books for a fortune and could become very rich. If this should happen he thought she should have at least 50% of anything I earned. 
  'What we unfortunately must do now,' my solicitor said, 'is reply, categorically stating that your wife went to America without prior notice, deserting you and her children, and that you believe her to be incapable of looking after your sons due to her excessive consumption of alcohol.' 
 I really did not want to do this, but it was pointed out that if I didn’t fire a warning shot across the enemy’s bows, I might be torpedoed first and sink into the sea of disaster.
  An unpleasant letter was therefore despatched and, by return, Major Bill immediately climbed down. The case went to court where the judge stated that he thought  I was extremely civilized in my attitudes, granted a decree nisi,  maintenance only to be paid till the children were seventeen and the amount reduced considerably from what I had been ready to pay. The decree absolute came in due course.

 On June 23rd, a sunny Monday, Maribel and I were married.
 We had planned a simple little celebration after the registry office nuptials, then a three day honeymoon by the sea somewhere on the East Coast. But it didn’t quite turn out that way. 
 Just before lunch Maribel and I presented ourselves at the Kensington Town Hall along with five of our closest friends, sealed our union without fuss, then went back to the flat for a previously prepared cold buffet, not expecting more than twenty five or so guests, but half Louisa Aranda’s Spanish ballet company showed up with two guitarists and the wedding breakfast turned into a very noisy  Andalusian fiesta. The troupe danced the Sevillana, endlessly, clapped their hands, stamped their feet and sang loudly with a vengeance.
 As evening drew near I anxiously looked at the clock having planned to drive my young bride to a far away hotel before nightfall. But darkness fell and at midnight two police officers banged on the door as someone had complained about the disturbance. We closed the windows, the officers had a couple of drinks and dawn broke before the last partygoer left.          
  The next day we drove to Orford on the Suffolk coast where we had oysters for dinner and stayed the night. On our way back we visited Cambridge which pleased Maribel immensely, for I later heard her tell people that we had spent an academic honeymoon in ‘Orford and Cambridge’.   

The married couple


Saturday, 15 June 2013


At ten o’clock one Saturday morning in February 1975, I received a phone call from Jack Martin, the American gossip columnist to whom I had spilled the beans about George C.Scott and Trish Van De Vere in Nerja four years earlier. I had kept in contact with him but not seen him since, though we were neighbours, for he lived in Cornwall Gardens, one of the most agreeable squares in London just across Gloucester Road from us. 
 He was in a panic.                            
 He had been offered a very lucrative post on the National Enquirer which would mean him living in New York. It was a career move he could not refuse, but he had to leave within a week and was unlikely to come back to London. Would I be interested in taking over the long lease of his flat at the very economical rental he was paying and look after his furniture, paintings and antiques until he could arrange for their transportation to the States? All this in one distressed breath. 
 'Probably' I said, 'But could Maribel and I see the flat before committing ourselves ?'
 'Come round and have coffee, now.'
  Number 34 Cornwall Gardens was a four storeyed Georgian Terraced house with columned entrance and steps up to a yellow painted front door. 
 We rang the bell.
 The door opened, we walked into a black and white tiled hallway, climbed the stone staircase with wrought iron balustrade and found Jack waiting for us on the first floor landing. He ushered us into what can best be described as a museum. A vast living room was dominated by three tall arched windows opening onto a small balcony which overlooked the garden square with its multitude of plane trees, elms, beeches and abundance of bushes. The ceiling was high, the polished parquet floor covered with Persian rugs, the walls dove grey hung carefully with prints, watercolours, oil paintings, and a giant Victorian mirror above the fireplace. There were several sofas, a satinwood inlaid mahogany sideboard, a number of Queen Anne style chairs, a pedestal desk, a Georgian games table, a plethora of porcelain figures, silverware, clocks, ceramics, a doll’s house, it was a repository of valuable antiques. Andy Warhol’s large portrait of Mao Tse-tung stood on an easel in one corner. 
 The rest of the flat consisted of a dining area with small open plan kitchen, a bathroom, separate lavatory and bedroom, also furnished with antiques, with a corner window looking out onto a church. 
 'How much is the Warhol worth ?' I asked. 
 'Millions. It’s my most treasured possession. I know Andy,.' Jack said. 
 'And you’re ready to trust us with all this ?' 
 'I can’t think of anyone better. You wrote a book on antiques after all.'  
 'It was a Bluffer’s guide,' I reminded him. 
 'Everything is insured anyway,' he said, then informed us that Twiggy, and her husband Michael Whitney were moving in within a few days for three weeks. It had originally been arranged that they would stay for a year or so, but they too were unexpectedly going to the States, which explained the panic. Twiggy would contact us before leaving and hand over the keys. He had just one favour to ask. Would I supervise the removal men when they came to collect all his furniture. 'I’ll leave you a list of what has to go, more or less everything except fixtures and fittings and the double bed which Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero slept in when I lent them the flat.' 
  We discussed the rent and other , which added up to less than we were paying, shook hands on the deal and went home, stunned that we had had the luck to be offered such a luxurious apartment for next to nothing. 
  The next three weeks were spent dreaming about the flat. We walked round Cornwall Gardens several times and stood looking up at the first floor of No 34 not believing that we would soon be living there ourselves.. Then Twiggy rang and we went round.
 The actress-model, whom I had seen so often in fashion magazines, on television and in the film of "The Boy Friend" was smaller than expected, beautiful rather than glamorous and more delicate than on screen. She talked excitedly about a show on Broadway she was going to rehearse and, after several drinks, handed us the keys. She and Michael were leaving early the next morning. 
  With a certain amount of diplomacy, and a good deal of patience, we waited till the following afternoon before rushing to take possession in case their departure had been delayed. We then found it a quite extraordinary experience moving into someone else’s apartment knowing we were at liberty to open every cupboard, every drawer, change the furniture round and use what had never been ours. When surrounded by objects of great value it is also a little worrying, so Maribel and I spent the first few days putting every piece of pottery, porcelain and glassware that might get broken safely away, and changed Mao Tse-tung’s position so that he was not staring disapprovingly at us while we sat back on the sofa watching television.
  During the first week of June, Jack Martin’s removal people came to pack up and take away his possessions. For several days Maribel and I watched as the flat was first filled with empty tea chests and mountains of newspaper, then slowly but surely gutted. When they had finished and gone, we found ourselves standing in what seemed like a small, dusty, empty ballroom with nowhere to sit down. So we went out to buy a new sofa and other essential, collected all our worldly goods from the Gloucester Road flat and happily settled down to a new way of life. 

Andy Warhol's Mao
Flat  in Cornwall Gardens

Saturday, 8 June 2013


On a Monday morning in March 1973 I dutifully turned up at the Mayfair offices of the American advertising agency which was thankfully giving me full time employment as a copywriter. 
 I had not worn a shirt with cuffs or a tie for over twelve years and the only suit I possessed looked rather tired so, having re-equipped my wardrobe, I set forth, scrubbed and hair-trimmed like a new boy on his first day at school.  
 I was welcomed by a senior director who hailed from Philadelphia - a dyed in the wool ad-man unbearably seeped in the glories of the company’s successes. He showed me to what would be my own office with the use of a secretary from the typing pool. Because I was French I was to work on the “Isola 2000 “ account, a new ski resort in the Alpes Maritime, and the Blue Band Margarine account because I had written a book on luxury foods. 
 After my first day of swatting up on skiing terms and attending a creative meeting to discuss carbohydrates, saturated fats, calories and cholesterol,  I was overwhelmed by a deep depression realizing how much I was going to dislike the job, but then overcame it  by thinking of the money which soon enabled Maribel and I to move from our inadequate Earl’s Court bed sitter to a larger, brighter flat in Gloucester Road, Kensington.
 Maribel, unable to get a work permit, but not wanting to be dependent on me, cleverly got herself a position selling tickets at the box office of the Collegiate Theatre in Bloomsbury through a Madrid theatrical  friend who was directing the mime artist Lindsay Kemp in a new show based on Jean Genet’s “Lady of the Flowers". 
  When I had finished work I joined her at the theatre which took me back to the days of “The Aimless” reminding me that I had lost possible opportunities in that world by moving to Spain. Fired again by the 'smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd' I started on a three act play during office hours, finding this more rewarding than praising the joys of slalom-discipline and the benefits of hydrogenated soya oil.  
  Meanwhile, Maribel's stint in the “Flowers” box office led her to meeting another Spanish stage director who was rehearsing a flamenco dance production at the Victoria Palace Theatre. As his English was negligible, he could not make himself understood by the electricians, so asked her to help him translate the lighting plots - the colour changes during a performance that have to be cued exactly to the music.    
 Maribel was quite confident that she could sort things out and, without hesitation, took over and, on the afternoon of the dress rehearsal, I slipped away from my agency desk to sit in the back of the stalls, intrigued to see how she had got on. 
 Overture, curtain up, Louisa Aranda, the star appeared resplendent in a pink spot when it should have been pale blue,  José Antonio, her partner,  made his entrance bathed in sickly green when it should have been amber, the twenty flamenco dancers had to compete with a thunder and lightning storm and, for several minutes the orchestra found themselves playing in total obscurity. She remained surprisingly calm while everyone else went into a blind panic but, in time, everything was put right for the opening night.  

    At the end of April  `The Innocence Has Gone, Daddy´ was published in hardback by Cassells and was well received by the press as :
     ‘a controversial novel that explores the taboos of incest
      and deals frankly and sensitively with a harrowing experience
      rarely touched upon even in today’s free thinking society.’

  It was instantly banned in South Africa, which was considered a plus, then published in the States and in paperback in both the UK and US.  
 The book’s appearance enhanced my status at the agency and, in July, I was sent to Isola 2000 to dream up an advertising campaign for the following year. With all expenses paid it was a good opportunity to take Maribel with me to meet my parents on the coast. 
 After spending a few days in the deserted sun-dried winter resort  trying to imagine the chalets and slopes covered with snow, we went down to Cagnes to stay in the big white house.    
 My mother thought Maribel very young and warned me that I was risking her infidelity when I was in my dotage, but she was pleased that I would have a nurse to look after me when I was gaga. Eddy also thought her very young but much preferred her to Eve whom he had always found too reserved.  Maman, aged 96, still obsessed with sex, immediately leaned forward in her wheel chair to feel Maribel’s breasts and congratulated me on having found someone better endowed than ‘your last wife.’ 
  On our return to England I finished my play and sent it off to a number of managements. One surprising impresario decided to produce it, but before that a change of residence and marriage were to dominate our lives...

“Lady of the Flowers" dancer : Luisa Aranda

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Dear family, friends and other lovely readers,

My Dad would email me regularly about all sorts of little things and send me his latest posts that I would then upload onto this blog.
I haven't been strong enough to look at my inbox in the last couple of weeks, but I have three remaining posts from him. The last three he wrote and they are wonderful.

I would still like to share these with you, so I will be posting them after this for you to read if interested.

A couple of years ago, my Dad wrote his biography for his own and our amusement, this biography has been serialised here in this blog by him.
I will try and find it together with Matthew my brother and carry on his blog. I am sure it won't be as funny and I am not sure how I will edit it yet, but I'll do my best to  do it and post the rest of his life, for him and for us.

For those who don't know the details, my father came to visit me in London the 2nd of May 2013 for a long weekend.
 I had, like always many plans for him that involved a lot of talking from my behalf ( poor thing, such a good listener), walking (he always complained how much I made him walk), dinner parties with all my house mates and friends, a theatre show or two, exhibitions and lots of quality time by the sofa catching up with everything.

On Thursday the 2nd he arrived, we spend the rest of the day catching up with his latest news on Nerja town, our house, my brothers and complaining about Ollie ( his cat), which he has lived with for the last 12 years, he loved her but she also drove him mad as she would never leave him alone following him everywhere and would like to sit on top of him at any opportunity.
On Friday we had our friend Belinda over for lunch in our garden, it was a surprisingly beautiful sunny day for London and we made the most of being outdoors. In the evening we met a group of my friends and Ash my boyfriend and we all went to the theatre and a late dinner.
 On Saturday we had Ash's mum, Libby over for lunch and we all spent another lovely day catching up, having a BBQ and just laughing and joking all day.
On Sunday he started to feel a little weak and cold and developed a fever. I started worrying so we went to the doctors for the first time, nothing seemed alarming so they sent us home with the usual rest.

By Tuesday he had deteriorated to such an extent we had to call an ambulance and they took him into St Thomas hospital.
The rest of the week is still a blur as we just kept having worse and worse news and it is still a nightmare to remember.

My brothers Matthew, Nicolas and Leon all flew into London, from Spain, LA and Northern Ireland.

On Saturday the 18th of May our very loved Daddy died at 10.15 p.m. Aged 82.
All my brothers, Ash and I were there by his bed, played his favourite Jazz songs and we wished him a very good journey and to see him again one day.
It was BEAUTIFUL and so so sad, but we are all so GRATEFUL to have been there with him, by his side all along.

He was, IS, the best person I have ever met, the best Daddy in the world and I will love him and miss him forever.
I am so proud of him and I only wish every day to be more like him, i'll work on that for the rest of my life. I know my brothers Nicolas, Matthew and Leon feel the same.


I will now start sharing the next three posts. THANK YOU for reading!
With lots of love,


Drew aged 5
Drew aged 80 with grandson Toby

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


On the day of my forty third birthday, in December 1973,  I sat wrapped in scarf and overcoat in front of a one bar electric fire watching watery snowflakes melt into grimy droplets as they hit the window panes of our Earls Court bed sitter.    
 Only a year before I had been the proud owner of a four bedroom house with swimming pool,  a car, money in the bank and thought I was well on the way to undoubted success, but now I had absolutely nothing having virtually given all my worldly goods to Eve so that she could take care of the boys comfortably.
To add insult to injury I received a phone call from her, not wishing me happy returns as I half expected, but asking for more funds and, on learning that I could not oblige, suggested that if I was as broke as I said, I should get a job as a pump attendant at a petrol station.
 I had sent my finished novel  `The Innocence Has Gone, Daddy ́  to the publisher the previous week, having spent the advance in advance and had completed the translation from the french of a tedious cookbook, having also spent the advance on that advance, so came to the conclusion that I must be mismanaging my life 
  I did not contemplate suicide but was aware of a very empty feeling in my stomach which could have been due to hunger or the fear of a woeful future when Maribel ( now my only source of income )  came home unexpectedly early from working in a private nursing home, to announce that she had been dismissed. The management had been informed that she had no work permit and that the Home Office were only allowing her to stay in England till the end of the year. 
 'If I get a divorce,'  I heard myself say, 'we can get married and you’ll automatically become a British subject.'
 She thought about this for a minute or two, then simply said, 'O.K', rang her mother to tell her of my proposal and asked her to send some money so that we could go down to Nerja for Christmas.
 Having gratefully received the news that I was going to make an honest woman of her daughter, my future mother-in-law suggested that we stay with her, but we would have to sleep in separate bedrooms for the sake of decorum.
 When we eventually got down to Nerja, by train because we could not afford the air fare, my-wife-to-be slept with her mother and I slept alone with the dog.  
 It was a difficult Christmas. The tension between Eve and I negated any festive spirit and I felt I had failed miserably as a loving father when I gave unexciting presents from London to Nicolas and Matthew, having lost touch with their interests and not knowing what they might want.  
 Far worse for them, but unknown to me, was the fact that Major Bill had insisted they should attend a private international school in Malaga, refusing to believe that the local lycée was providing them with a perfectly good education. He had played the finance card against which I could not compete, arranged for Eve to have an allowance which would cover more than the school fees, and the poor boys found themselves having to get up at six in the morning to catch a special bus that took them to the college two hours away, only getting back in the evening, exhausted.
 The revelation that father and daughter had arranged all this behind my back gave me a reason to take the bull by the horns and talk to Eve about all our futures. Thankfully she agreed that our marriage was over and that I should enquire about the two year separation legally necessary to obtain a divorce. She didn’t really care what the outcome would be providing she could keep the house and I continued to pay for her well being.  
 A few days later I said goodbye to Nicolas and Matthew not knowing  when I would see them again, sensing they were unhappy and feeling that I had let them down. The tears all round did not help and, during the return journey to London, I was overwhelmed by a wretchedness which proved embarrassing when I sobbed uncontrollably and loudly as I lay  in the bunk of our sleeping compartment shared with two seriously severe Spanish army officers. who were quite unsympathetic.   
  Once back in our dismal Earl’s Court flat, I forced myself to face the fact that it was my obstinate determination to remain freelance that was at the root of this misery and concluded that I should give up creative writing and get a job in advertising again where I could earn a regular income.
 I sat down with the telephone on my lap and rang all my old contacts.
 The three people I asked to speak to at the first agency had all left years ago. The only person I knew still working at the second didn’t recall my name. However, a young girl in public relations whom I had once taken out to dinner but who had dampened my wanton intentions did remember me and had even read my novel 'The girl with the peppermint taste' . She excitedly told me she was now married to the Managing Director of the London branch of an important American agency, why didn’t I come round to supper one day with whoever I was sharing my life ?
 A long week passed before the invitation was confirmed. Maribel and I then gratefully joined a little buffet supper party in the Knightsbridge flat where Peter and Patsy lived in wealthy comfort.  
 While Maribel chatted away to the other guests, I sold my soul to Peter who, believing that having a published author on his team would impress clients,  offered me a position as a copywriter.  
 So back I went into that terrible business of attending endless creative meetings during which I, and others, put forward  nonsensical ideas which might attract the attention of disinterested shoppers to products they wouldn’t want. 

Mother in law
The loving couple


Thursday, 2 May 2013


Shortly after starting work on the `Navy Lark´ screenplay, I started feeling uneasy about the Producer who did little else but sit in a black leather armchair, his feet up on the window sill,  ringing casting directors requesting young actresses to audition for parts which did not exist. 
 When the first draft was finished it was sent off to Leslie Phillips and Jon Pertwee ( the stars of the radio show ) for their approval, but they failed to respond. 
 Puzzled at not receiving any answers, the Producer asked me to drop in casually on Leslie Phillips who was appearing nightly at the Criterion Theatre, and find out why there was a delay. 
 I went back stage one evening, was received by Mr Philips in his dressing room where he told me he was happy with the screenplay but that neither he nor anyone of the original radio cast would work with the Producer who had a bad reputation in the business. 'And It won’t do you much good associating with the likes of him either,' he added.
 Without the original actors it was obvious the project would not get the necessary backing and, three months later I was told I wouldn’t be paid, so called it a day.  
 Desperately needing funds to pay the rent, to send money to Eve and for daily expenses, I depressingly took on the translation of a french cookbook as well as finishing my novel.  
 On learning, for the first time, that I was actually in debt and troubled about the immediate future, Maribel reminded me that she was a qualified nurse and could probably earn a living in London, at least for herself. She certainly did not want to be dependent on me and all she needed was help in applying for a job. 
 Her English had improved but was by no means fluent, all the same I contacted a number of nursing agencies on the off chance that someone who spoke Spanish might be needed and one management, which specialized in sending auxiliaries to hotels to look after sick foreigners, took her on. immediately.           
 They had a Venezuelan patient on their books whom no one could understand. It wasn’t so much a question of nursing but minding a mentally unstable eighteen year old heiress who had run away from her parents in Caracas, flown to London with an important diplomat, but had then accused him of raping her. The Venezuelan Embassy had become involved, booked her into Claridges Hotel, but she could not be left alone. It was a perfect assignment for Maribel who looked after her for several days making sure she took her prescribed medication and accompanied her on expensive shopping sprees, sightseeing and generally keeping her entertained.   
 Pleased with the responsible way she coped with this first mission, the agency then sent her to look after an elderly gentleman from Philafelphia who was recovering from a heart operation. Her main duty was to take him every day in his wheel chair from the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch down an underpass to Hyde Park where he liked to sit by the Serpentine and feed the ducks. Maribel did not like the underpass. It was dark, it was smelly, and pushing the wheel chair up the slopes was difficult. One day she decided to brave the traffic instead. Half way across the busy intersections, the wheelchair got stuck between a double decker bus, an articulated lorry, a diesel oil tanker and hooting taxis. Her patient became very agitated, nearly had a stroke and she only got him safely to the other side of the road with the help of a policeman who stopped the traffic for her. 
 After this incident the agency sent her to a less risky assignment, a Lady Constance who lived in a palatial house in Bayswater and was keen to improve her knowledge of Spanish while convalescing after a serious illness. She was delighted to have a young companion who could read her Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays in the original and accompany her on daily chauffeur driven rides to Regents Park where she could watch her white Pekinese being exercised from the comfort of her Rolls. The not so young chauffeur insisted on buying Maribel an ice cream when he drove her home and she was never quite sure whether he expected something in return. 
 This comfortable engagement lasted two months and only ended due to a misunderstanding of the English language which she was mastering amazingly well, but not quite well enough. . Already puzzled and a little irritated by the British love of queueing - a custom not recognized as enjoyable in Spain - Maribel refused point blank to co-operate when her patient announced 'This afternoon we are going to Kew.'
  What all afternoon ?' Maribel queried, following this with the unnecessary observation that ‘You Eengleesh are fokin mad !' which was found unacceptable.  
 She was good at her job, however, and next sent to the Ritz to look after a descendant of the poet John Donne who was staying there while recovering from a stomach operation. Her duties this time , apart from taking his pulse three times a day, was to keep him company at luncheon and make sure he kept to a special diet. During these meals he insisted that she should sample the elaborate dishes on the menu which he could not enjoy - oysters, caviare, foie gras, escargots, partridge, whatever. One day she took a doggy bag in with her to smuggle home some of the delicacies for me as a surprise. He spotted her slipping a slither of smoked salmon off her plate into the bag on her lap and was quite shocked. 'There are some things, my dear, that even young Spanish senoritas should not do at the Ritz,' he said, and shortly after let the agency know that he would prefer a more mature British nurse to look after him. 

 These encounters with the wealthy and educated helped to improve her English and, one evening when I took her to a book launch in a staid Pall Mall club, I spotted her across the room in deep conversation with a tall, elegant white haired man who sported a small walrus moustache. He was bending down to listen to something she was saying which clearly amused him.  A little concerned that she had no idea who he was, I joined them as casually as I could.  
  'What a delightful young lady,' he said to me moving away apologetically as someone else demanded his attention.
  'What were you talking to him about ? '  I asked Maribel  
  'I was telling him how much a hate Franco. He was very knowledgeable about Spanish politics.' 
  'Well he would be,' I said. 'That was Harold Macmillan, the former Prime Minister.'
She shrugged her shoulders, quite unimpressed, and reached for a glass of wine from a passing tray. 
 Despite Maribel’s favourable earnings, my overdraft increased and the bank manager called me in to read me the riot act. 
 I did not want to leave London, the only place I was likely to get freelance work . I could no longer afford the St James’s flat, so we moved to a far less salubrious accommodation at the wrong end of the Earl’s Court Road. 

 Leslie Phillips.
 Jon Pertwee.
 Harold Macmillan, 1sr Earl of Stockton. PM. PC. FRS


Thursday, 18 April 2013


Once settled in our little St James’s flat, after our flight from Malaga, I took Maribel up the road and along Piccadilly to the nearest grocery store for essentials - Fortnum & Masons - a mistake on my part for she thought that all supermarkets in London would be as superbly carpeted and every purchase gift wrapped.  The next day I took her a little further afield to Soho where I suggested it would be cheaper to shop in the future.     
 She was a little girl those first few days in London, wide eyed at the double decker buses, the policemen, the taxis, the silence in the restaurants and Underground compared to Spain.  I saw all the familiar streets through her eyes and enjoyed every minute of her delight. 
 Came the first weekend and I took the boys to stay with Major Bill and Doris. Once again I was thankful for the traditional English rules of behaviour when facing adversity - whatever else, the parties concerned must avoid embarrassment at all costs. 
 The encounter was cold but civilized. My disapproving in-laws blamed me for their daughter’s incomprehensible departure to America but were pleased to see their grandsons who were less happy at the thought of spending a few days with them.
 The boys were missing school of course, and we were spending far too much money on what seemed to them to be a holiday that would never end, but it did end after only a week when I got an unexpected phone call from Eve. To my surprise she was ringing from her parents flat, had flown back from New York where things had not worked out with Easy Rider. She sounded contrite, had missed the children terribly and was longing to go home and lead a quieter life with them. She wanted to meet and talk things over. I invited her to lunch during which she admitted she had been drinking too much over the past few months and really wanted to live more sensibly. Her plan was to return to Nerja  and get the house ship shape before the boys joined her. Could I arrange for them to fly back with Maribel whom she wrongly presumed would not be staying with me permanently. 
 That night Nicolas and Matthew joined her at their grandparents till she left for Spain and, a week later, Maribel accompanied them down to Nerja leaving me to get on with the Navy Lark screenplay. 
 I missed her more than expected and could not wait to meet her at London airport on the Sunday morning she was due back. 
 The night before I went out with friends, returning late to the St James’s flat and went happily to bed. At 8 a.m, however, I received a call from the Immigration Department at Heath Row, an authoritative voice asking me if I was Mr André Launay and if I was acquainted with a Miss Maria Isabel Martin-Lagos Rodriguez of Spanish nationality ? 
 My heart sank. Something terrible had obviously happened to her. 
'The young lady in question,'  he went on 'arrived here last night from Malaga with insufficient funds to justify her stay in the United Kingdom for any length of time. We therefore had to hold her overnight. She gave us your name as guarantor but unfortunately you did not respond to our call. She apparently boarded an earlier flight than planned. Do you know this person ?' 
 'Yes, of course. We live together.' 
 'Then perhaps you would be kind enough to come and collect her in your own good time and also answer a few questions about your own financial status.'
 I shaved,  dressed and drove hell for leather to Heath Row where I was cross examined by an immigration officer who had it in his head that Maribel had been a holiday fling with unfortunate results. 
 'We get quite a few of these ladies who come here for medical relief, and if this is an embarrassment for you, seeing you are a married man, we could arrange for her to be sent home and her file would be closed.'
 I was taken aback by this, assured him that she was more than a holiday fling and that we might one day become engaged when I got divorced. 
 His attitude changed from 'man to man with deep understanding of the world' to 'serious immigration officer not wanting every Tom, Dick and Harriet to come into the country thank you very much.'
 Where was I born ? Did I have British Citizenship ? Did I have a current British Passport, a permanent residence in the U.K. ' He had understood from the young lady that I was a writer.  Did I earn enough to support us both and was I in regular employment ? 
  I answered all his questions ending with the fact that I had just finished the screenplay of The Navy Lark. 
 'What, the BBC Navy Lark ?' he asked, his attitude changing yet again to that of a smiling ardent fan of the radio programme. 'I was in the Royal Navy. It’s a great show. A great show. Do you know Leslie Phillips and Jon Pertwee ? Can you get me their autographs for my daughter ?' he asked. 
 'Only if I can have my lady friend back,' I said. 
 He shook my hand, asked me to wait a moment and returned ten minutes later with Maribel who looked very pale, distraught and dangerously fuming. Having changed her flight without letting me know, she had been asked by the Heath Row Passport Control on arrival,  how long she intended to stay in the U.K and how much money she had, to which she had replied 'Maybe for ever. I have two thousand pesetas ( £10 )'
 Not satisfied with this they had filtered her through to an office where she had asked them to ring me, and as I did not answer they had locked her up with a large number of immigrants in what she described as a prison. Given a hard bunk to sleep on and such a disgusting supper that she had promptly been sick.  Because of this,  the prison matron had presumed she was pregnant and had come to England for an abortion.
  It took her a happy day’s expensive shopping to recover from the ordeal.

Navy Lark radio poster
Maribel shopping in London

Thursday, 11 April 2013


In January 1973, an English producer asked me to come to London to work on the film adaptation of The Navy Lark, a successful radio comedy series at the time. He guaranteed me monthly expenses on top of the writing fee. I did not want to leave Maribel, the boys, nor stop work on the new novel, but my finances were dire so I could not refuse. 
 The week before I set off, Eve paid me a very perturbing visit at the flat. Easy Rider had unexpectedly gone back to America for good and she was going to join him in two days time. She had asked her father for money, had booked her flight to New York and had no plans about returning - if at all !         
 'What about Nicolas and Matthew? ' I asked, astonished. 
 'You can move into the house and look after them with your devoted little puppy.' she said. 
The devoted little puppy referred to Maribel, an unnecessary slight which I ignored. I told her I was leaving for London shortly and couldn’t take the boys with me. 
 'I don’t care,' she said,  'I’m going whatever happens. You’ll just have to sort something out.' 
 It was late afternoon, she had obviously had too many drinks at lunch time, so I took her lunatic plan with a pinch of salt. The following day, however, when I went to the house to check what she was up to, I  found her sober and packing. 
 'I rang Mummy,' she said, 'told her you might be going to London with the children and she said she’d be happy to look after them at weekends.' 
 'What, and abandon them alone in a hotel room during the week ?'
 She didn’t listen, she didn’t care. It was irresponsible madness and the day after she left for America.   
 Somewhat shattered, I struggled with the dilemma I now faced and concluded that there was only one solution. I would take the boys with me to london and ask Maribel to come with us as well to take care of them.  
 The moment I suggested this to the three, they went quite berserk with joy. They would sight-see all the monuments, go to the cinema, visit museums, go to the cinema, eat Macdonald hamburgers and go to the cinema. There was no going back on the idea whatever the cost and, fortunately, my agent put me in contact with a travel writer client who wanted to let her apartment in central London for a few months as she was going to Russia, which solved the accommodation problem.. 
Maribel had never been abroad before so had to apply for a passport. 
So try to deny our She was not one to shy away from the tedium of Spanish bureaucracy but acted very nervously when asked to get photocopies of her birth certificate.  
 'What is the problem ?' I asked her, puzzled. 
  'The problem, ' she answered, 'is that I’ve been lying to you. I’m older than I said and I’m not Mexican. I was born in Granada, my father never went to Mexico and my mother is my real mother. I just don’t happen to get on with her, so try to deny our relationship.' 
 'Why on earth didn’t you tell me the truth ?' I asked. 
 'I’d heard that you were only interested in young girls and wanted to impress you with a more exciting background.' 
 She then handed me a photograph of herself, aged eight in her communion dress asking if I thought it would do for the passport. 
 'Hardly,' I said.     
 The four of us arrived in London on a cold, rainy, winter’s day, not knowing much about where we were going to stay except the address off St James’s Street.
 The taxi from the airport delivered us to an old luxury block a stone’s throw from the Ritz Hotel. We collected the keys from a disdainful porter, took the lift up to the third floor and let ourselves into an Edwardian lady’s bijoux one bedroom flat furnished with little else but precious antiques and valuable paintings.
 The little place was centrally heated, thickly carpeted throughout,  large brass taps over an enormous bath gushed steaming hot water from an impressive geyser. I thought it all cosy and wonderful. 
 'There’s no television !' Matthew cried out, alarmed. 
 'We’ll hire one,' I said. 
 'There’s no place for us to sleep' Nicolas pointed out. 
  'I’ll get a couple of camp beds.'
  'And where’s the kitchen ?' Maribel asked.
 I opened a cupboard door revealing a small kitchenette. 
 It’s got to be our home for an unknown amount of time, 'I told them,' So lets try to make the best of it. 
  'OK ....' the three piped up. 'Now can we, go to the cinema ?' 

Maribel in her holy communion dress age 7
Eve before leaving to the USA

Thursday, 4 April 2013


In 1972, when Maribel and I opened 'Libreria Nerja' a sort of book club where English language readers could come and borrow hardbacks or exchange paperbacks, Spain was ruled by Generalisimo Francisco Franco and one was not free to do whatever one pleased whenever one wanted.

On a pleasantly peaceful Friday evening, when we were busy sorting out books, there was a sudden commotion in the street and we saw that three Guardia Civil vehicles had drawn up outside the premises. A Commandant and four armed officers then marched in, took Maribel to one room, and pushed me into another where I was told to sit down and wait, a guard with pistol and automatic rifle at the door. 
 After an anxious half hour, not having the faintest idea what was going on, the Commandant  came in and, rather menacingly, cross examined me about my political affiliations. 
 I gathered that someone in the town had denounced me as being a communist sympathiser distributing left wing propaganda, I tried to convince him that I was nothing of the sort but he refused to believe me till I showed him a few samples of the books we were displaying  -'An Illustrated History of Freshwater Fish',  an early edition of  'Alice in Wonderland '  and ' The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ' proving my innocence, which only peeved him, so he told me that as I had unlawfully advertised the library on the rear window of my British car. I was to deliver the vehicle immediately to the Guardia’s headquarters in Malaga where it would be impounded. 
 As I was frog marched out of the building,  Maribel emerged from the front room incensed, hissing in my ear, 'Franco is a complete idiot and the police born with minimal brains !’ which I thought a bit risky. 
 We were ordered to drive my somewhat battered Morris estate in convoy to Malaga, a military jeep in front and two behind in case I tried to make a run for it. When we got to the police headquarters I was told to leave the car in a basement among a number of spotless Rolls Royces, Porsches and Jaguars, all with foreign number plates, and hand over the keys. We were then allowed to go and we took a bus home. 
 Maribel’s fury did not abate. The next day she insisted we take the bus back to Malaga to see the powerful head of the Aduana  (Customs and Excise),  a close friend of her late father’s, who would sort things out. I had never seen her angry before and made a mental note not to get on the wrong side of her in the future. 
 At the entrance of the Palacio de la Aduana we were forbidden entry despite an appointment, which made her even more angry, but she threatened the guard in charge with the garotte if he didn’t let her 'uncle' know she had come to see him, and after a brief phone call he allowed us through with what was, more or less, a reverential bow. 
 We made our way up a marbled staircase to the first floor. Maribel knocked loudly on an imposing pair of double doors, a voice bid us enter and I followed her into a vast room at the far end of which sat a severe looking white haired man behind a massive desk flanked by Spanish flags, a portrait of the Generalissimo looking down at us from one wall. 

The Aduana chief stood up, came round to greet Maribel warmly, shook my hand coldly and bid us sit down on the uncomfortable chairs provided. 
 'What are you doing in the company of this foreign individual ? ' he asked her rudely, presuming I did not understand much Spanish. 
 'He is a good friend,' she replied. 
 'More than a good friend according to your mother to whom I spoke yesterday,' he commented. 
  'It is not really anyone else’s business,' she countered, then told him the whole story.  
 Through a heavy sigh he explained that the Guardia Civil and the Aduana had orders to deny rich foreigners their luxury cars to discourage them from settling down and starting up businesses which might be counter productive to the country. He therefore wasn’t sure he could help, but he would see what he could do.  What was my car worth ? How much money did I have in the bank ? Had any American corporations invested in the library ? He did not ask about our supposed communist activities, the charge for our arrest obviously having been changed by the Commandant.
 Maribel told him that I was, if anything, an impoverished author with no business connections and that my vehicle was quite old and of no great value. He raised his eyebrows suggesting that we had perhaps wasted his valuable time, stood up and politely walked us to the door. 
 Nodding in my direction, I then heard him whisper in Maribel’s ear, 'You really are attractive enough to find yourself someone more suitable.'
 Ten days later I received a letter from the Guardia informing me that I could collect my vehicle after paying the equivalent of  £40 for renting a space in their car park. 
 The whole episode made me realize how energetically efficient Maribel could be, on top of which, unlike me,  she had never for one moment been intimidated by those in authority. So she went up another notch in my estimation. 

Franco, the Guardia Civil and the Aduana

Thursday, 28 March 2013


Notable episodes in life, changes in direction, major setbacks, minor triumphs, do not necessarily follow each other in sequence but often happen all at the same time, the dovetailing of events confusing the memory. 1972 proved to be such a year for me.  
 The publication of my novel, The Girl with a Peppermint Taste upset Eve and her parents who identified with some of the less likeable characters and were very miffed, they therefore no longer regarded me as very lovable.  I had been abroad a good deal so had also daily contact with my sons, while Maribel now became my main happy preoccupation. Though I had earned  more money from my writing than ever before, I saw it disappear remarkably quickly in the payments of rents, travel and the general financing of life for myself and others. 
 When the John Lindsay family returned to New York and the Frigiliana house was left empty, Eve thought we should sell it and buy something similar in Nerja. It was not an easy decision. I loved the place and had always imagined living there for ever, but for her it had unpleasant memories. An English couple, with whom I later became great friends, were keen to buy it, so Eve lost no time hunting for a new home and quickly found an old, but suitably renovated, three bedroomed terrace property in the middle of the town.  
 The sale of one and the purchase of the other took a few months to complete. When all was done. Eve moved in with the boys, Easy Rider and the dog, while I chose to remain in my bachelor flat thinking it wiser to wait for our frail relationship to become clearer. I sensed a legal separation was in the offing.
 Meanwhile, in London, Triton, my publishers were swallowed up by a larger company and the managing director swapped jobs and set herself up as a literary agent with most of her authors, including me, as clients. 
 'You have to follow up Peppermint with a similar novel as quickly as possible,' she informed me, 'so lets’s have an outline I can send to publishers from you soon.' 
 I had nothing in mind, having already used up all my domestic trauma experiences, but then I received a quite astonishing letter. It was from the Sun journalist with whom I had had a brief affair when we were adapting Peppermint for serialization together asking me if she could give my surname to a baby boy to which she had just given birth. She claimed I was his father. 
 My first reaction was that she had not given birth to a baby at all but was trying some lunatic tactic to get me back, for I had deliberately lost contact with her finding we were incompatible. She had initially told me she could not have children. I feared that if I was not very careful she could cause me endless trouble and therefore decided not to answer her letter but wait for developments, if any.
  Within a week I received another letter with a photograph of a baby and the threat that if I did not acknowledge being the father she would write unpleasant things about bastards to Eddy and my mother suggesting that inappropriate behaviour obviously ran in my family.  Unsettled, I rang a lawyer in London. 
 'I get six or seven cases like yours every month,' he said, a little bored. 'The lady in question has probably been sleeping around, got pregnant, has no idea who the father of the child might be and is writing to all her lovers hoping that one of them will bite. My advice to you is to do nothing, absolutely nothing, except pay the invoice my secretary will be sending you for this consultation.'  
 I therefore did nothing but worry the problem incessantly till Maribel, the only person I told, suggested I make use of the psychological stress as a conflict for my urgently awaited story.
  Time passed. I received no further letters and, thankfully, heard nothing more from the new mother, well..... not for twelve years.  
 In the weeks that followed, I worked on an outline.  
 What if this baby was really mine ? What  if, instead of a boy it was a girl ? What if, when she was eighteen,  I met her as I had met Maribel, not knowing she was my daughter.... and slept with her ? Innocent, incest ? 
 It was controversial, daring at the time. The idea grew. I gave it the title The Innocence Has Gone, Daddy, and sent the synopsis to my agent who got it contracted by Cassells, a then highly reputable publishers  and I started writing the book straight away.  

The summer proved comparatively peaceful. I joined the boys down on the beach as often as I could. Maribel continued to live with her mother but stayed with me on as many nights as possible. She  gradually filled the cupboards with her clothes and I lowered the bedroom mirror so that she could see more of herself than the top of her head.  
 As autumn approached and the cold Northern European winter loomed, the English speaking resident community seeking the sun doubled in Nerja and with it the complaints that the town offered little in way of cultural entertainment. 
 In storage, packed in cardboard boxes, I had two thousand books, a collection I had started when I was fourteen. When I was searching through them for a particular volume with Maribel one day she commented  'What a waste of knowledge. There are enough here to start an English language library.' 
It was a brilliant idea.
 With all her local connections, Maribel  found a cheap empty house on the main street to rent. We furnished it with unwanted chairs, sofas, and coffee tables from various well wishers, built countless shelves and started 'Libreria Nerja' where anyone could come and browse or borrow for a small donation to help cover the costs. 
  We opened it in the evenings. the place soon became a meeting place for what might be termed the 'foreign intellectuals', but Franco and his fascist regime were still in power and both Maribel and I were denounced and arrested for being communist sympathisers distributing left wing propaganda material..

Drew with Nicolas
Maribel and mirrow
Dictator Franco

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


It was a sleepless night, the one I spent after walking Little Miss Mexico home. I knew so little about her and wanted to know more. 
 She had told me she had studied medicine in Madrid to become a doctor but had abandoned that when her father died. She now worked as an auxiliary nurse in a Malaga hospital during the week and Nerja at week ends. I wrote little that made sense the following day and, that evening I went out on the town with the sole intention of looking for her. I knew she didn't  like the local Spanish places and, sure enough, found her in a more sophisticated bar frequented by foreigners. 
 She was alone, sitting on a high stool, talking to the barman, her jet black hair hung down in curls, she was wearing a blue blouse, white jeans, a thick leather belt round her tiny waist , a large leather handbag hanging from her shoulder on a strap. 
 When she saw me she jumped down from her perch and came to greet me with a kiss on both cheeks. 
 'Can we go to Torremolinos ?' she asked me straight away
 'When ?' 
 'Now ! To 'Barbarelas', it’s a disco. Fantastic music. I really want to go.' 
 I hesitated. It was a two hour drive, already ten o’clock, but we were in Spain where people never sleep and I didn’t want her to be reminded that I was over forty. I said yes. 
 She chatted all the way, about her work at the hospital which she didn’t like and her duties as the local practicante giving injections to all sorts of people. She had punctured the bums of nearly every high minded councillor at one time or another, even the very fat Mayor’s.
 At 'Barbarelas', she went straight on the dance floor and gyrated to the thumping music. I lamely followed, waved my arms about feeling completely out of place and uncomfortable. I had been good at the tango and pasa-doble back in the Pau Casino days, had loved holding my partners close during slow fox trots or even waltzes, but there was none of that now. Couples exercised in front of each other never touching, and I felt awkward and clumsy imitating them. When the music eventually slowed down and I was able to hold her by the waist, it became obvious we were a poor match. My chin rested on the top of her head.
 When the place closed at 6 am and we ambled back to the car I asked her if her mother would be angry at her being so late and she said she had told her she was staying with hospital friends in Malaga. So we went back to my flat and slept together. At mid day she brought me a cup of coffee, tidied up the kitchen, mopped the floor, and left her toothbrush ( which she always had in her bag ) next to mine in a mug. 
 Unforeseen and unplanned, Maribel and I became recognised as a unit. As in many small communities, individuals seen together more than once were automatically coupled, like Jack and Jill. Thus in Nerja there was Eve and Easy Rider, Joy and Al, Nancy and Jake, Chuck and Rosie and so on. Gossip would then be rife if one partner was seen with someone different , 'It’s Nancy and John now,' or 'It’s Chuck and Laura, hadn’t  you heard ?'
 'Maribel and Drew' were now invited out as partners to the surprise of many including myself. Though I was not always keen to go to American cocktail parties when one had to dress up, or Spanish beach parties when one had to dress down or English barbecues where one ended up with a headache due to drinking too much. I went along because my new energetic other half loved it all and would have gone without me if I had refused, possibly meeting a younger man, a risk I did not want to take because I had become very fond of her, though I was not admitting it to her, or even myself..     
 We fell into a fairly regular routine. Maribel went to her Malaga hospital every day leaving me to write in peace,  then she came to the flat around eight. Very soon her mother heard that she was having an affair with a married foreigner twice her age who had two children and whose wife was a hippy living in sin with an American drug addict. Understandably displeased, she made her objections known which only encouraged  Maribel to break more conventions. At weekends she blatantly stayed all night with me, causing added furore, till I decided to meet the mother in order to show her that I was not the devil incarnate. In her dark and depressing apartment decorated with pictures of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ , crucifixes and statuettes of saints, I handed this solidly built white haired widow the peace offering of a bunch of flowers and she politely offered me a peach liqueur. She rattled off a volume of sentences very loudly - the majority of local Spaniards shouted at the foreigners believing it made their language clearer - and I did not understand a word, but my visit worked wonders with the nosey woman next door who let it be known to the world that I was a very acceptable, well meaning 'caballero' in whose company innocent young Maribel would come to no harm. 

  It became clear to me, however, that I was not behaving very responsibly. The John Lindsays had returned to America, the Frigiliana house was empty, sooner rather than later we would have to return there and get our family life back on a normal footing which would make my situation with Maribel impossible. 
  I agonized over what to do, finally coming to the distressing conclusion that she and I should separate. We were heading towards a more permanent relationship which could not be. She was too young. I did not want to contemplate a divorce that would inevitably hurt the boys and the longer we stayed together the more hurtful the break would be. 
 One morning, gutted in advance, I suggested a walk to tell her of my decision. I prepared the ground as gently as I could, she sensed what was coming, we sat down on the beach in the bright morning sunlight and I explained that as a married man with two children I could not consider a future with her, we had to part and delaying the awful day would only increase the pain. 
 She gripped my arm tightly, desperately tried to hold back the tears but could not. I got up immediately, kissed her on the top of the head and walked quickly away before she could see that tears were also welling up in my eyes. 
 The depth of sadness I felt after only a few paces away from her was so unbearable that I stopped in my tracks, knew that if I turned round to look at her it would be fatal, but glanced over my shoulder all the same and saw this small vulnerable little girl curled up on herself, hugging her knees, rocking herself and sobbing with such grief, that I just could not bear it. 
 So I ran back to her. 
 If in the few minutes before we had both experienced a destructive heartbreak, the following few minutes were filled with ecstatic joy. 
 'I don’t know how it’s all going to work out,' I said, 'but I can’t leave you. It must be love'
  Which it was.

Maribel age 22