One month ago I decided to put this annual together. I’m amazed at the amount of people who have contributed pieces all with a common theme: Mitfordiana. As I discovered, getting the contributions was the easy part! Editing and formatting…what a nightmare. It took about 4 days, a few hours per day (often until 4am in the morning) to format this but I think it looks rather well! The dimensions of the book are quite large, 8.5×11 and it is 160 pages…all with content, none of those deceiving blank pages at the front and back! The cost of producing such an annual was never far from my mind, I initially wanted to keep the book around the size of The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life but unfortunately that made it a print run of over 300 pages…and with each page the cost was greater. Those who have used CreateSpace will be aware of the pricing sanctions etc. I want to be upfront and let you know that on each book I will earn about £1.09 royalty which is going towards producing an official website for The Mitford Society. I want to create an online record for archives etc because, as you will know if you subscribe to the mailing list, I have quite a lot of treasures which Facebook does little justice to. So there we have it! This is the pilot annual and it has been a learning curve. Now I must dash back to my secret project which has a 6 month deadline. I can’t wait to share the news with you all!
Another icon by the initial of M is featuring on here today. I know some of you are fans of Marilyn Monroe so you will be pleased to know that Pretty Hagad from the Marilyn Monroe Collectionary contacted me to see if I’d post about their website. Well here it is, I hope you enjoy it! Click here for more information.
The Mitford Society is opening its doors to reviewing books. On an average week TMS receives about 2,500 visitors, that is 10,000 visits per month (insights available upon request) and this blog is beginning to gain its own momentum outside of the facebook page. If you would like your book reviewed please contact email@example.com. Biography, nostalgia and historical fiction (anything from the inter-war era) is preferred. However, TMS loves to promote its friends products, so please gets in touch.
Fellow writers: If you would also like to schedule an interview with TMS please let me know. Have a look at my previous interviews with Deanna Raybourn, Tessa Arlen, Judith Kinghorn and Christopher Warwick to get a sense of the format.
Here’s to exciting times!
The Mitford Society’s annual has been a whirlwind of preparation but in the space of a month all of the submissions are in! I can tell you now that you’re in for a treat, the annual is a combination of academic essays, fun reviews, personal stories, photographs, a re-cap of Mitfords Eve at Sutton House and of course, the Mitford murder mystery which opens the book. I wanted to channel something quite unique, though paying homage to Nancy Mitford’s The Water Beetle and A talent to Annoy, and also The Pursuit of Laughter, though with less restraint than Diana’s critical essays. It has turned from a magazine sized vision into a full scale book! I have included the table of contents below, I hope you all approve!
Murder in the Hons Cupboard:- Meredith Whitford & Lyndsy Spence
Stranger than dreams and far more disordered:- An extract from The Fertile Fact
The Most Charming Duchess:- Charles Twigger
Pamela’s Irish Castle:- Stephen Kennedy
Living in a Mitford House:- Debbie Catling
Nancy’s True Love: Versailles:- Rebecca McWattie
Nancy in Versailles:- Chiara Martinelli
Esmond Romilly:-Meredith Mitford
Diana Mosley :- David Platzer
Understanding Unity:- Meems Ellenberg
To the editor of the Daily Mail, a mock letter from Unity Mitford: – Emma Reilly
Muv’s American Adventure:- Lyndsy Spence
A Honnish Reunion:- Lyndsy Spence
Stargazing with the Mitfords:- Astrology Charts by Victor Olliver
From Countryside to Couture:- Natalie Tilbury
The Mitford Sisters & The Turbulent Thirties:- by Lyndsy Spence, printed in Vintage Life magazine.
The Photography Face:-Lyndsy Spence
Laying the Foundations of The Mitford Industry:- David Ronneburg
The Mitford Industry: An editor’s point of view:- An interview with Mark Beynon by Lyndsy Spence
Re-issuing Nancy Mitford:- Emma Howard Capuchin Classics, Series Editor
In Search of Nancy:- Barbara Cooke
Evelyn Waugh & The Mitfords:- Jeffrey Manley of the Evelyn Waugh Society
The American Way of Death & Pop Culture:- Terence Towles Canote
The Pursuit of Love: The perils of a would-be film:- Lyndsy Spence
Moths to the Flame: The Mitfords of Mull:- An extract of a play by Willie Orr
Mitfords Eve:- A Mitford themed event hosted by The Amy Grimehouse in association with The National Trust & the BFI.
The Mitfords & Modern Writers. Blog interviews with:
- Meredith Whitford
- Deanna Raybourn
– Tessa Arlen
– Judith Kinghorn
Extraorder Extras: Those Honnish by association:
- Joan Wyndham
– Diana Skeffington
– Mariga Guinness
Mitford sketches commissioned for The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life:- Tessa Simpson
‘I never dreamt of such happiness. I had never any idea of what it would be like — Now I hardly think of anything else…Sydney will make just such another mother as I had so he ought to be a very happy little boy.’ David Mitford in a letter to his mother.
At 6 o’clock, on the evening of the 28th November 1904, the baby was born. With her thick black hair, pale skin and grey green eyes (once she opened them!) Farve immediately decided the child should be named Ruby. ‘The baby is splendid 91/2 lbs at birth and the prettiest little child you could see…Our happiness is great..’ he wrote to his mother, Lady Redesdale.
One week later Sydney was well enough to take an interest in the baby and decided that the name Ruby would have to go. David put up little protest and on January 26 1905, the baby was christened Nancy Freeman-Mitford.
Nancy was a spoilt little girl and through such indulges she became a temperamental toddler prone to violent rages. ‘Nancy bellowing in her pram all the way to the park; Nancy on a pony screaming to be put down,’ Selina Hastings wrote in her biography, Nancy Mitford. ‘The houses are smiling at me,’ Nancy would say, suddenly grinning at Sydney from her pram, having roared all the way from Graham Street to Belgrave Square.
Despite her characteristic tantrums, predictable to her nanny, Ninny and her exasperated parents, Nancy’s entire childhood was dismantled at the age of three when Ninny guided her to the nursery to gaze at the new baby, Pamela. ‘Oh, Ninny, I WISH you could love me! WHY don’t you love me any more?’ Nancy implored. Sydney found the pleas to be pitiful and she dismissed poor Ninny. Nancy discovered her knack for teasing, transferring her rage on to gentle, unsuspecting Pam. Through such nursery pranks and cruelties Nancy honed her skills for teasing. And they would be refined through the years as Tom, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah were introduced to the family.
‘He was very agile, wonderful movement, wonderful timing, and the best voice any of us ever heard.’
‘Was he sex on legs?’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Was he sex on legs?’
‘I suppose he was…I suppose he was.’
- An exchange between a radio interviewer and Debo
Even though she lived through the 1950s when Elvis burst onto the music scene, Debo did not become an avid fan until the evening of her life. Had she been a fan during his prime she surely would have been arrested for stalking, her claim, not mine! In her own words Debo described her introduction to the King on an interview from BBC Woman’s Hour. ‘I switched on the television one day for no reason and there he was and I suddenly realised I was in the presence of a genius. Never having really noticed him when he was on the go. I just thought this was the most brilliant performer I have ever seen and that’s what I still think. In my long life I’ve seen many performances of many people but there’s nothing comes up to him. Nothing.’
Debo advanced from easy listening fan to avid collector. Her collection contains many pieces of rare memorabilia (a plank of wood said to be from the fence at Graceland) to mass produced souvenirs (tattoo transfers and postcards). ‘One thing leads to another and it became a sort of joke…’ Debo said. She, too, could see the irony in owning such a vast collection containing street signs, car registration numbers, sketches, books, CD’s, slippers and a telephone which played Jailhouse Rock. ‘People are surprised, but some people are easily surprised, aren’t they?’
And speaking of her pilgrimage to Graceland, Debo said: ‘It’s really very moving because you feel it was his real home and he really loved it but of course the other fascinating side, to me – I love seeing round strange places -was that it was probably the last really early ’50s interior which has been left intact. There is his amazing chairs and tables and the huge old televisions and the carpet on the ceilings as well as on the floor. It’s just extraordinary!’
Debo’s favourite trinkets from her collection are a few ‘roughly made museum pieces’ such as an Elvis themed cook book, Are You Hungry Tonight? Some of the recipes, mind you, were disgusting as Debo discovered, and some of them ‘might be’ delicious. ‘But it’s what he liked,’ she carefully added. ‘Fried peanut butter and banana…’ Some earrings made in Mexico from a Coca-Cola bottle top, ‘The trouble is, I can’t wear them because my ears aren’t pierced.’ And a black Elvis mug which says ‘Elvis Lives’ and when you put hot water in it a picture of Elvis manifests. ‘So Elvis does live. He really does,’ she said.
Debo scoured her fireplace at Chatsworth for some familiar Elvis photographs, ‘Oh, that’s my grandfather! That’s no good,’ she said as her eyes scanned the clutter. She spied a photograph of Elvis dancing with a teddy bear. Let’s not even mention the Elvis printed wallpaper in her lavatory.
Andrew was not an Elvis fan but he understood Debo’s infatuation with the king of rock ‘n roll, ‘He’s your hero!’ he caterwauled on the BBC programme Debutantes. ‘He’s your hero!’ he repeated just in case the enthusiasm was lost on Debo. I should add this was the result of an exchange between the Duke and Duchess on people who possess star quality (Debo nominated Lester Piggot, Rita Hayworth, Winston Churchill and the man himself, Elvis).
The greatest experience in this quest for Elvis was a touring concert which visited London. Elvis appeared onstage via hologram and was surrounded by his original band, ‘Some of them were grey…some of them were fat,’ Debo described the aging musicians. ‘But the atmosphere was incredible.’ Despite her love for his music, Debo had admitted that she cannot sing any of his songs, ‘No of course not!’ she protested when pressed to do so by an interviewer, ‘can you imagine! It’s an awful idea, no no.’ Debo, however, loved nothing more than to retire to her drawing room in the evening to blast Elvis music on her CD player, ‘Banging away,’ she referred to it.
Her Favourite song? Ain’t it funny how time slips away. It was symbolic, Debo thought, because he had become ‘such a travesty’ compared to what he was when young. ‘Very sad,’ she said.
You can read more about the Mitford girls and their love of fandom in my book The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life.
A lot can happen in a year! Thursday marked an entire year since The History Press accepted The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life for publication. And it was on Thursday that Helen from THP rang me to ask if I’d be interested in chatting to BBC Radio Sheffield about the Cavendish and Kennedy friendship. I said yes, absolutely. And then I thought, uh oh! The interview, I should mention, was over the telephone. It would also be live. I had 24 hrs to prepare.
Up until Friday I’d never spoken on the radio before so I had no idea what to expect. Luckily Alice (from the station) was very helpful and she told me a day in advance what subjects we’d chat about. I had some serious swotting up to do on the Kennedy family, on Kick Kennedy in particular. After a sleepless night I awoke early to prepare myself. I was so nervous and excited at the same time, I was speaking as The Mitford Society so the pressure was on to convey some interesting and accurate facts. I think I might have been more relaxed chatting about my book…it’s a subject I know inside out!
Anyhow, I was watching the clock, looking at my phone…waiting and waiting. And then the phone rang and I was told to listen to the show over the phone for a few minutes and then the host, Toby, would introduce me. At this point my head was spinning, my biggest fear was getting a question which I knew the answer to but being so nervous that I couldn’t convey what I meant. The minutes seemed to fly past, all the while I am in this aura of terror.
Now that it’s over and done with I can laugh at how scared I was..trembling actually…and if I should get invited to do anything on the radio again at least I will know what to expect. Hopefully this is a sign telling the media that The Mitford Society is open for business! (It’s not like I want to help with a Mitty documentary of anything…yes please!)