What can I say about Pamela Mitford AKA “Woman” without giving too much away? You see, Pamela features heavily in my book, she has her own section, and rightly so, “Housekeeping with Pamela”, “Helpful Hints & Tips” (who can forget her lecture on running the hot water as related in Letters Between Six Sisters), “Little Known Facts & Eccentricities” and “Pamela’s Pets.” I should say, Pamela is an example to us all. Calm and collected, nothing flustered her except two things: cruelty to animals and wasting natural resources. Pamela never ever allowed her daily worker to simply run the hot water until it hotted up, she always insisted on keeping a spare bucket on hand to catch the excess water and she would take it out to the vegetable patch “where it was always welcome.” She never allowed the daily worker to clean the bath, that would have been too extravagant with the hot water! Pamela was not poor yet she lived a spendthrift lifestyle, although she always indulged in good food and well made clothing. Everything else was consulted with a strict budget in mind.
However, enough has been written about Pamela’s domestic virtues. I am most drawn to her adventurous spirit. To misquote a section from my book: when her sisters were off causing scandalous headlines, Pamela could be found motoring around Europe single handedly in her Morris Minor, “The Stork”; she was a passenger on the second ever commercial flight to cross the Atlantic; she managed Bryan Guinness’s farm and in her later years she contemplated writing a cook book, but alas, had no time to complete the manuscript.
It has been said that Pamela was the “quiet” Mitford. True, her name remained out of the headlines, but she was far from a shrinking violet. Clever men fell in love with her, John Betjeman proposed twice and twice she rejected him, the brewery heir Olivier “Togo” Watney, of Watney’s Red Barrel Beer, proposed to her and she almost married him but he called off their engagement at the last minute. At the age of twenty-nine, she married Derek Jackson, a brilliant scientist who was prone to equally brilliant eccentricities. Life with Derek was never dull and she followed him to America on top secret scientific assignments, and when quizzed by inquiring journalists on why they were opting to fly home (commercial flying was in its infancy), Pamela told them they were most eager to make it home on time for their dog’s birthday. It seemed like an appropriate answer for a woman who spent years in Switzerland because her elderly dogs, she said, preferred the climate.
Those who knew Pamela speak of her remarkable beauty, and in candid photographs it is easy to see why. They say very beautiful people do not photograph well, some have said the same about Diana whose beauty I have been lucky to see in motion through Cimmie Mosley’s 1930s home movies. Pamela had huge cornflower blue eyes (she bought an aga to match) and according to Deborah, had stripy blonde hair, “The kind envied by many girls and achieved with difficulty by expensive hairdressers.” For my book I was fortunate to gather some information on her appearance first hand by a lady who knew her, she gave me an in depth description of Pamela and her “Veronica Lake” hair which often fell over one eye. She wore sensible clothing and flat shoes, always. I love the photograph of Pamela, standing in between Diana and Deborah, wearing her plaid skirt, heavy cardigan and trainers. Only Pamela could get away with that. What would Nancy have said, I wonder?
Pamela stayed married to Derek Jackson for fifteen years, they relocated to Ireland so he could focus his attentions on steeple chasing. But the quiet life in Ireland soon grew dull and he accepted a post at a Dublin laboratory. He had an affair, with the woman who would become his third wife, and together they had a daughter, his only child, Rose. Derek proclaimed to detest children, he often said, should he have a child it would be a disappointment, for it would be the wrong gender: female, or the wrong colour: dark like him. When Pamela was expecting their baby in the late 1930s, he loaded her into a car for a drive across the bumpy Norwegian roads to purposely induce a miscarriage. His stunt worked and she remained childless.
Following her divorce from Derek, Pamela left Ireland and relocated to Switzerland with her female companion, an Italian-Swiss horsewoman, Giuditta Tomassi. Pamela never remarried and she devoted much of her life to her dogs, her prize winning garden and her beautiful home in Gloucestershire. In their later years, she and Derek became good friends and Diana wondered, jokingly, if they would remarry. He left her a huge fortune in his will, and it “quite haunted” her that she would never get the chance to thank him.
Many have overlooked Pamela in the endless pages of Mitford folklore. She emerged as a star in the BBC programme, “Nancy Mitford: A Portrait By Her Sisters.” Anybody who has watched the programme will not forget the sight of Pamela letting her pony off for a run, or her animated tales of the Chub fuddler as she read from “The Pursuit of Love.” When she died, at the age of eighty-seven, Diana and Deborah mourned her deeply. She had become the mainstay in their lives, the one they called upon in a crisis and whose common sense they valued above all else. Deborah recalled, “Pamela was the only one of my sisters who went on telling me what to do when I was grown up.”