SCOOP REVISITED

The morning of June 21, 1955, kicked off with an incoming phone call at Piers Court. Could Miss Nancy Spain and Lord Noel-Buxton of the
Daily Express come to visit? Laura relayed the request to Evelyn, and brought back Evelyn's reply that his private home was not open to members of the Beaverbrook press. Let's refer to Nancy Spain's column two days later to see how the day progressed for all concerned...

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Before revealing more of the article itself, I should say that Evelyn's relationship with the
Daily Express went back a long way. In May 1927, he was taken on by the paper as a rookie reporter. He was given various stories to cover but nothing he wrote found its way into print and he was sacked after five weeks.

In
Vile Bodies, Lord Beaverbrook - the press baron who founded the Daily Express - appears as the pompous Lord Monomark. The character was referred to as 'Ottercreek' throughout most of the manuscript, so there's not much doubt who Waugh was thinking of as he wrote.

Despite this, in 1930, when Waugh went to Abysinnia to cover the coronation of Haile Selassie, he was accredited by the
Daily Express. And it was the Express who sent him the memorable cable: 'CORONATION CABLE HOPELESSLY LATE BEATEN EVERY PAPER LONDON'.

In 1934, Beaverbrook wrote admiringly to Waugh about
A Handful of Dust, but I'm pretty sure he didn't do the same when Scoop came out. Does it contain a much harsher (and funnier) portrait of Lord Beaverbrook than Vile Bodies? "Definitely, Lord Copper." Although on this occasion it was Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail that sent Waugh insulting telegrams, Waugh already knew which press baron he most disliked.

Actually, Lord Beaverbrook took Waugh's publisher to court over the cover of
Scoop, claiming that the masthead used for The Daily Beast would put any reasonable person in mind of The Daily Express. Well, would it? Let's see. First, the Daily Express from the thirties:

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And now the cover of the first edition of
Scoop.

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There is no question that the lettering on the masthead of the
Beast echoes that of the Express. So a second printing without it had to be arranged:

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Subsequently, Waugh felt that reviews of his books in the Beaverbrook press were poor. And by 1953, when three Beaverbrook papers published negative reviews of
Love Among the Ruins - full of personal jibes rather than literary criticism - Waugh felt that Beaverbrook may have been directing a campaign against him. Nancy Spain, chief literary critic of the Daily Express, began her review of Love Among the Ruins by telling the reader that she yawned her way through it in half an hour.

In August 1954, William Douglas Home made the trip from London for the
fete at Piers Court and reported facetiously on it in the next day's Sunday Express. And in May 1956, in the same paper, Robert Pitman wrote a 'colour piece' supposedly heralding the publication of Officers and Gentlemen. This was another veiled sneer, according to Martin Stannard, which included an explicit jibe at Waugh for making so much of his family crest and motto (as set into the frontage at Piers Court), Pitman claiming that Waugh's lineage was no longer than that of the average reader of the Sunday Express.

Did Nancy Spain really expect to be invited into PIers Court for a cosy chat with an author that she could then ridicule at her leisure for the entertainment of three million people? It has to be remembered that after the Second World War, the
Daily Express had the highest circulation of any newspaper in the world. Waugh was brave to have taken on Beaverbrook and he needed to stay smart in order not to be damaged by such a powerful enemy.

Let's start the day with Nancy Spain dressed in trousers, as was her custom, about to drive to work from her home in Clareville Grove, South Kensington. She had a squash racket in her hand just in case Evelyn insisted on a game before dinner.

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Nancy drove herself to work, arriving at 120 Fleet Street, which she described in the following terms in her 1956 book,
Why I am not a MIllionaire:

'The entrance to the Express was, and still is, marvellous. On my left there was a glass-covered counter - something like the departure platform in an Airways, where patient men cope with callers. On the right there was a massive great sculpting in bas-relief showing the Mother of Empire surrounded by her children. Right ahead there was a short flight of rubber-covered stairs and two lifts. At the bottom of the stairs, his generous mouth tightened as though he wanted to stop himself bursting out laughing, was the Epstein bust of Lord Beaverbrook. Why shouldn't he laugh if he wants to? This was the house that Beaverbrook built.'

Below is an image of the foyer grabber from the web. You can see how it relates to the above description, but wait until you read Evelyn Waugh's which is also coming up.

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The building was opened in 1932, too late to be mentioned in
Vile Bodies but not too late for Scoop:

'The Megalopolitan building, numbers 700-853 Fleet Street, was disconcerting...' This is effectively the point of view of William Boot, the protagonist whose acquaintance with offices was small and based on what Taunton had shown him. '...From these memories he had a confused expectation that was rudely shocked by the Byzantine vestibule and Sassanian lounge of Copper House. He thought at first that he must have arrived at some new and less exclusive rival of the R.A.C. Six lifts seemed to be in perpetual motion; with dazzling frequency their doors flew open to reveal, now left, now right, now two or three at a time, like driven game, a series of girls in Caucasian uniform. The sole stationary objects were a chryselephantine effigy of Lord Copper in coronation robes, rising above the throng, on a polygonal malachite pedestal, and a concierge, also more than life size, who sat in a plate glass enclosure, like a fish in an aquarium, and gazed at the agitated multitude with fishy, supercilious eyes.'

The same building seen through very different eyes.I don't mean those of the concierge. I mean those of loyal employee Nancy Spain and the ex-employee Evelyn Waugh.

In
Why I am not a MIllionaire, Nancy Spain introduces Lord Beaverbrook as follows:

'I adored Lord Beaverbrook on sight. His quickness, his humour, his generosity (particularly in praise) are so much greater than any other human being's that for days after one has left the charmed atmosphere around him everyone else seems exhausted and dull. Five minutes with the Lord and adrenalin courses through the veins. Fifteen and I can move mountains. Four hours, the length of a happy dinner-party, and I long somehow to mark the hours with a white stone or a little crock of gold.'

One can understand, when such sycophancy is put into print, that an individualist, such as Evelyn Waugh, responds with a different perspective:

'At the hub and still centre of all this animation, Lord Copper sat alone in splendid tranquility. His massive head, empty of thought, rested in sculptural fashion upon his left fist. He began to draw a little cow on his writing pad. Four legs with cloven feet, a ropy tail, swelling udder and modestly diminished teats, a chest and a head like an Elgin marble - all this was straightforward stuff. Then came the problem - which was the higher, horns or ears? He tried it one way, he tried it the other; both looked equally unconvincing; he tried different types of ear - tiny, feline triangles, asinine tufts of hair and gristle, even, in desperation, drooping flaps remembered from a guinea-pig in the backyard of his earliest home; he tried different types of horn - royals. the elegant antennae of the ibis, the vast armoury of moose and buffalo. Soon the paper before him was covered like the hall of a hunter with freakish heads. None looked right. He brooded over them and found no satisfaction.'

So which is the accurate portrait? The employees's or the freelance's? Inspiration or idiot - will the real Lord Beaverbrook please step forward?

While we're waiting for the real Beaverbrook to show himself, let's get back to the events of June 21, 1953. On this occasion, John Masefield, the elderly poet, was used as a means of getting at Waugh. Nancy Spain and Rufus - Lord - Noel-Buxton - who I'll introduce more fully soon - called on him at his Thames-side home in the morning. In Nancy Spain's piece, Masefield was called
'a darling man' to contrast with what was to come when they encountered Evelyn. Waugh's name came up during the conversation with the poet. Masefield asked where Waugh lived. Nancy Spain replied:

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I hope the novel they bought in Oxford was
Scoop. One of the cleverest things about it, I now realise, is the use of the Boot doppelganger motif. John Courteney Boot, the well-known man of letters, has written eight books by the beginning of Scoop, starting with a biography of Rimbaud (Waugh's first book was a biography about Rossetti) and finishing with Waste of Time, about some harrowing months among the Patagonian Indians (Waugh's seventh book was NInety-Two Days set in the Amazon Rainforest). John Boot is very matey with Mrs Algernon Stitch (based on Lady Diana Cooper). So by the end of the first chapter it is established in the knowledgeable reader that Evelyn Arthur Waugh = John Courteney Boot.

But the book's main protagonist is William Boot. He who writes a simple nature column for the
Daily Beast. He's been identified with William Deedes, who was a journalist that travelled to Abyssinia with Evelyn Waugh in 1935 and who, like William Boot, travelled with a lot of unnecessary clobber. But in a much more subtle and important way William Boot was based on Evelyn Waugh. In describing this innocent's response to, first, Fleet Street, then, Abyssinia and his fellow journalists, Waugh is drawing on his own early experiences of Fleet Street, where he was a dud, and in Africa, where he was out of his depth.

Waugh's two main characters in a pair of early stories were both based on himself. In 'The Balance', Waugh split himself between Adam Doure and Ernest Vaughan. While in the next story he wrote, 'A House of Gentlefolks', he moved himself into the characters Ernest Vaughan and George Theodore Verney.

In
Scoop, the smart metropolitan author has a much smaller role than the innocent abroad (and in the country) because William Boot can show up the megalomania of Lord Copper more effectively, and the cynical worldliness of the journalists that such press barons employ.

Oh, but I mustn't talk over Nancy. I'll let her brief Rufus Noel-Buxton as she continues to drive her car so far from where it began its day's journey:

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That's the foot of the column at the bottom of page six of the
Daily Express, but the article continues into a second column at the top of the page...

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I think it's time to introduce Rufus. He was a second-generation Labour peer. In other words, his father was knighted by the Labour Government in 1930.

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In 1953, when he was 36, he publicly waded across the River Thames to Westminster. Not to take up his seat in the Lords, exactly, but to demonstrate that the Romans had forded the river this way.

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Actually, the water was higher than expected and Rufus had to swim for much of the way. Four years later, he published a book describing the experience. I bought a copy recently in order to 'mug it up'.

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On the front flap of the jacket Lord Noel Buxton is described as a poet, a paddler, a politician, a visionary, a waterman, a bird-watcher and more. The book itself is a peculiar one. For a while I thought I would enjoy it, as it reminded me of contemporary art projects. But the author's twin obsessions: his place in the House of Lords and his desire for a simple pre-industrial life and landscape, is both self-indulgent and wearing on the reader. Rufus also tells us about a hundred times that he is 6 foot 3 inches tall.

Here is the frontispiece.

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In the space below the author's name, notwithstanding all the 6'3'' stuff, I readily imagine a line from the pen of Evelyn Waugh aka William Boot:

'Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.'

Anyway, back to Rufus and Nancy zeroing in on their blind date with destiny.

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It takes me back to my own first sight of Piers Court in January 2006. Kate and I were just as uninvited as Nancy and Rufus had been, and we made our way towards the house in some trepidation. Here is a picture that Kate took when I got to the front door. The house proved to be empty that day.

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Back to Rufus and Nancy in 1955. Nancy in particular:

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So ended Nancy Spain's attempt to gate-crash her favourite idol? I don't think so. In Waugh's diary entry for 21 June, he wrote: '
I sent them away and remained tremulous with rage all the evening.' His diary entry for 22 June reads simply: 'And all next day.'

On Thursday, June 23rd, the above piece appeared in print and on the breakfast tables of millions of homes around the country. Waugh had travelled up to London in the morning in order to inscribe copies of
Officers and Gentlemen to a few well-placed cultural friends such as John Betjeman, Ben Nicholson and Raymond Mortimer. From the premises of his publisher, Chapman and Hall, the director Jack MacDougall took Evelyn to lunch at Brooks's. And there he was shown Nancy Spain's piece in the Express. Waugh concluded that it lay her open to ridicule and he sent a message to Malcolm Muggeridge, the editor of Punch, asking whether he would publish a reply. Answer: yes.

Waugh was drinking at White's until 7, then dinner with Ann Fleming. Great exhaustion came on him early but he slept badly. Friday morning was spent drinking in White's. He lunched at Brooks's again, again with Jack MacDougall. Then back to White's for more drinking, this time with Randolph Churchill. Yet more drinking on the train back to Gloucestershire and when he got home it was to discover that Tom Driberg - ex-
Daily Express - wanted to come to see him the next day.

Evelyn had known Tom Driberg at Lancing and at Oxford, where he was a notoriously flirtatious homosexual. After Oxford he got a job on the
Daily Express and in 1933 he began the 'William Hickey' society column, which he continued to write until 1943. It can't be emphasised enough how important people like Nancy Spain and Tom Driberg were in those days. The Daily Express was perhaps ten pages long each day. It contained little in the way of general articles, mostly short news reports, ads and sport. The 'William Hickey' column was prominently placed in every day's paper. And a fair proportion of the population must have read it just because it was there.

After the war, Driberg was a Labour MP, but he also wrote books and in 1956 published a biography of Lord Beaverbrook. Surely that came up in conversation between Waugh and Driberg during the visit of Saturday, June 25, 1955. And surely the incident of a few days before involving a high-ranking current employee of the
Daily Express did too. But I don't know what they talked about. What I know was that Driberg was accompanied by photographers and that at least six photographs were taken of a no-doubt hungover Evelyn Waugh.

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2nd July 1955: English author Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966) at his home in Gloucestershire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7833 - Waugh On War - pub. 1955 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

As you'll have noticed, I've left the Getty branding on the above pic. This is because Getty, on its website, has an aggressive statement about its copyrights. On the other hand, another Getty website states: 'We inspire the world’s storytellers and we give them the tools to create inspiring work of their own. Pictures are the language of our generation - join us at the intersection of creativity and technology.' On balance, I choose to take encouragement from that statement rather than fright from the other. But, if asked to, I will take down the images and replace them with something else. I wonder if equivalent line drawings in the style of Waugh's own in Decline and Fall would work?

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2nd July 1955: English author Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966) at his home in Gloucestershire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7833 - Waugh On War - pub. 1955 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Driberg and the photographers came and went on Saturday 26 June, 1955. The next day Waugh wrote the essay on Lord Noel-Buxton for Punch. On Wednesday, Malcolm Muggeridge rejected the article as libellous. And on rereading it Waugh could see why. However, the same day he received a telegram from the proprietor of the Spectator asking for it.

On Thursday he was visited by an American television company. They arrived at 10am and left at 6.30pm. An excruciating day, according to Waugh's diary. The third invasion of his privacy by the media in ten days. The sort of experience that had given rise to the paranoia he'd suffered after visits from BBC Radio in summer/autumn 1953. And if it hadn't been for brooding about the Nancy Spain/Lord Noel-Buxton incident, perhaps he would have got out the manuscript of
The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold again. As it was, that remained at the back of a drawer for another year.

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2nd July 1955: English author Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966) at his home in Gloucestershire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7833 - Waugh On War - pub. 1955 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

On Friday, 1 July, 1955, Waugh rewrote his article on Noel-Buxton, 'greatly improving it'. By Tuesday July 5, he'd got the proofs from
The Spectator prompting him to further polish the article which was giving him more pleasure than anything he'd written for some time. Indeed, when the article appeared in the magazine, and Waugh read it on Saturday the 9th of July, it gave him 'keen pleasure still'. So what did Waugh write that had him purring so?

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2nd July 1955: English author Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966) at his home in Gloucestershire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7833 - Waugh On War - pub. 1955 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

The piece is called 'Awake my sou! It is a Lord'. It's first paragraph begins:

'"I'm not on business. I'm a member of the House of Lords." These moving and rather mysterious words were uttered on my doorstep the other evening and recorded by the leading literary critic of the Beaverbrook press. They have haunted me, waking and sleeping, ever since.'

That is a promising start. But of the two possible targets, Nancy Spain and Lord Noel-Buxton, Waugh goes for the latter. True, the article does suggest that the fifty or sixty thousand people in Britain who alone support the arts do not go to Lord Beaverbrook's critics for guidance. But that is gentle stuff compared to what comes Lord N-B's way.

Waugh tells us that his research has established that Lord Noel-Buxton was not on the pay-roll of the
Daily Express. Rather he was the second generation of one of Ramsay MacDonald's creation, and so represented a golden chance for Waugh to insult the Labour party. Waugh also tells us that Lord Noel-Buxton was not strong, 'poor fellow', in that he'd been invalided out of the Territorial Army at the beginning of the war, and that since then he'd spent much time paddling in rivers.

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2nd July 1955: English author Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966) at his home in Gloucestershire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7833 - Waugh On War - pub. 1955 (Photo by malcolm Dunbar/Picture Post/Getty Images)

The penultimate paragraph ridicules Noel-Buxton's suggestion that to be a member of the House of Lords means that one has no interest in business. Waugh's article ends by saying that there are many types of lord in this country, lords haughty, affable, lavish and leisurely, dead-broke, and hard working. '
In Lord Noel-Buxton we see the lord predatory. He appears to think that his barony gives him the right to a seat at the dinner table in any private house in the kingdom.'

Perhaps it's because Waugh's demolition of Salter the journalist (when he comes from Fleet Street to visit William Boot at Boot Magna Hall) is fresh in my mind that this article disappoints me somewhat. Lord Noel-Buxton was the easy target, Nancy Spain the true one, surely. Because through Nancy Spain Waugh could have got to Lord Beaverbrook, the truly predatory lord.

But let's not jump to conclusions. The article in the
Spectator prompted letters to the editor in each of the next three weekly issues. First to respond were Noel-Buxton himself and a friend of his, Anthony Carlisle, who wrote:

'SIR, I consider Mr. Evelyn Waugh's article in your issue of July 8 the worst example of ill-manners to be granted space in your columns since the Sitwell correspondence. I cannot let this extravaganza from a writer of fiction go unanswered. I regard the personal remarks about Lord Noel-Buxton as boorish and the assessment of his character as false. I have known Lord Noel-Buxton for over twenty years (rather than for a matter of moments) and always found him modest, scrupulous to a fault, and so kindly that he is completely abashed by unfriendliness. 'Predatory' is the last epithet that may be properly applied to him.'

That might have been an effective defence of Noel-Buxton's character. Alas, it appeared next to his own far less dignified words:

'SIR, I have met Nancy Spain several times. I am a long-standing friend of Mr. John Masefleld, the Poet Laureate. One of Miss Spain's ambitions had always been to meet Mr. Masefield and I duly arranged this. We had tea with Mr. Masefield and then went on west because I gathered that Miss Spain had some business with Mr. Evelyn Waugh. At Mr. Waugh's front door we had a brief conversation with Mrs. Waugh, who told us that we could not come in. During the quiet conversation there came from the room immediately on the right of the hall a cry : 'Tell them to get out.' So we turned away. As we did so, Mr. Waugh roared out and shut the door in our faces. He then came out of the house and barred the gates.

This incident was, a day or two later, inflated by Miss Spain into an article in the
Daily Express, which would certainly have angered me if I had been Mr. Waugh. It angered me in my own character because Miss Spain put into my mouth words which I certainly did not utter; namely : 'I am not here on business. I am a member of the House of Lords.' I should like here to point out categorically that there was no exchange of any kind between Mr. Waugh and myself. Mr. Waugh is entitled to be angry with Miss Spain; whether he is entitled to accept her version of my own part in the affair and to compose in consequence such an ill-mannered diatribe as you published in last week's issue is quite another matter. I admit that I am partly responsible for any misunderstanding that may have occurred in that I did not trouble to correct Miss Spain's falsifying of the incident—largely because it seemed to me that her piece, however irritating, was of no consequence whatever. As to Mr. Waugh's observations on my family, your readers will already, no doubt, have formed their own opinion.—Yours faithfully, NOEL-BUXTON

In Waugh's diary entry for Saturday July 16, he writes that at dinner with friends, including Anthony Powell, they talked of Lord Noel-Buxton who, in his letter to the
Spectator, had rounded on the lady he escorted to Piers Court and had publicly called her a liar. 'Has she no brother with a horsewhip?' In Waugh's letter printed in the following week's Spectator, he ends his opening salvo by turning this single question into two. 'Has Miss Spain no brother? Has the editor of the Daily Express no horse-whip?'

Waugh had also been discussing the incident via letter with Nancy Mitford, whose own contribution to the debate begins:

'SIR,—Mr. Carlisle says that 'Mr. Evelyn Waugh's article is the worst example of bad manners to be granted space in your columns since the Sitwell correspondence.' I do not recollect the subject of the Sitwell correspondence, but I would like to say here and now that it is no wonder if elderly writers become bad-tempered. Dogs which are constantly baited turn savage, and writers are supposed to be more highly strung than dogs.'

I'm not sure that Nancy Mitford's well-intentioned letter helped Evelyn much. Alongside these letters from Waugh and Mitford was one from the other Nancy:

'SIR, I have read in your magazine Mr. Evelyn Waugh's account of my visit to his house and now I have read Lord Noel-Buxton's account of the same thing. I would like to point out for what it is worth that the day after our visit Lord Noel-Buxton rang me up. I read out to him and actually explained the relevant passage in my piece. Not only did he raise no objection. He actually applauded me.' NANCY SPAIN, Daily Express, Fleet Street, London

Note that she says nothing to further annoy Waugh, rounding instead on Noel-Buxton, everybody's whipping boy. A theme underlined by yet another letter in that week's
Spectator:

SIR,—How enjoyable I am finding the revelations of character displayed in your correspondence columns. Just for the record, though, I did happen to be in the room when Nancy Spain read her piece over the telephone to Lord Noel-Buxton before taking it to her editor. And I could not fail to conclude from the mutual cooings that all was harmony. The splendid phrase 'I'm not on business, I'm a member of the House of Lords' which Mr. Waugh and Miss Spain both heard so clearly (and one does not gather they are collaborators) was heard equally clearly by me on that occasion and must also have been heard by the gentleman Nancy was then referring to as 'darling Rufus.' But that, of course, was long before the teasing began. The age of chivalry is indeed dead.—Yours faithfully, JOAN WERNER LAURIE Editor

What does
'did happen to be in the room when Nancy Spain read her piece over the telephone' actually mean? I think it helps to know that Nancy Spain and Joan Werner Laurie were living together as a couple. Therefore, the latter's opinion could certainly not be taken as independent. Indeed, it would be all too human for Nancy Spain to have asked her partner for this kind of support. But why does it matter whether or not Lord Noel Buxton actually said certain words? The second paragraph of Waugh's letter in that week's Spectator pinpoints the issue:

'If I accept the unchivalrous repudiation and believe that the words which have caused so much innocent fun during the last three weeks—'I am not on business. I am a member of the House of Lords'—were invented and put into Lord Noel-Buxton's mouth by Miss Spain, I may ask: if this is how she treats an old and valued friend, what would she have done to me? What monstrous infelicities would she have fathered on her reluctant host, if I had let her in to dinner?'

One wonders if the editor of the
Spectator communicated this paragraph to Nancy Spain and Joan Werner Laurie (the editor of She) so that he could juxtapose their responses in the same letters page.

In any case, the final letter was from Noel Buxton the following week. In it, he points out that neither Evelyn Waugh nor Nancy Spain in their letters suggest that he said the actual words that had been put into his mouth. He goes on to say that Nancy Spain did read the gist of a couple of paragraphs over the phone to him, but not the whole piece. He writes:
'I certainly did not applaud the phrases and suggestions that matter.'

On 29 July, 1955, Waugh wrote in his diary that
The Spectator had 'a dull letter from Lord Noel-Buxton closing the incident ingloriously'. A few days later Nancy Mitford wrote to Waugh saying: 'You must have been pleased at the high note of lunacy on which Ld N-Buxton concluded the correspondence. May all your enemies perish thus - darling Rufus is evidently a candidate for the bin.'

Yes, the correspondence was closed with a line from the editor saying so. But I'm left with a sentence from Waugh's letter in the previous week's issue resonating around my mind: '
What monstrous infelicities would she have fathered on her reluctant host, if I had let her in to dinner?'

Let's try and answer that oh-so-pertinent question. Here are the final paragraphs of the column that Nancy Spain might have written if she'd got into Piers Court on the evening of June 21, 1955...


‘Come in’


I rang the bell. Mrs. Waugh, a beautiful woman in a twin set and slacks answered immediately, sighed deeply and leaned against the door jamb.
I said who we were. She said she was afraid we could not stay, when I heard a voice calling: “Who is it? What is it?” Mrs. Waugh replied: “Lord Noel-Buxton and Miss Nancy Spain.”
“Tell them to come in,” said Mr. Waugh, jauntily.
Mrs. Waugh led us into the library on the left, where the much-loved author looked up from his work. Rufus stopped to admire the portrait of George the Third which Mr. Waugh faces when he writes.
“He looks a bit like me,” said Lord Noel-Buxton.
“You must be six-foot-three if you’re an inch,” said Mr. Waugh, lighting up a cigar.
As Lord Noel-Buxton and Mr. Waugh talked, first, about Buckingham Palace, and, second, about the House of Lords, I stole a look at the paper our loved one had been writing on before we came in. It was covered in inept drawings of dairy cows whose udders seemed close to bursting. On introducing the subject of cattle into the conversation, I was given to understand that Mrs. Waugh keeps a small herd of dairy cattle and I suddenly realised where the portrait of Lord Copper in ‘Scoop’ comes from. Mr. Waugh was talking about himself when he wrote about the massive skull, empty of thought, resting on his left fist. What a clever writer Mr. Waugh must have been back in 1938!

‘Dinner’


We sat with the family for dinner. Mr. Waugh had dressed for the occasion, and an application of lavender hair oil did much to mask the whiff of paraldehyde that had been so strong when one had stood close to him in the library. His oldest son, Bron, poured drinks, starting with a large one for his father, who, judging by his empurpled face, already had a good head start on the rest of us. When the innocent-looking boy got to me, he asked if I wanted water. My reply, “Well, actually I would sooner…” was silenced by a chilling cascade falling into the tumbler at my place setting.
This reminded me of the treatment Mr. Salter got when he turned up at Boot Magna Hall in ‘Scoop’. Truly, what a clever writer Mr. Waugh must have been when he was so much younger a man than he appears to be now.
As Mr. Waugh slurped his wine and gobbled his food in a fog of verbal silence, the children conspired to ridicule Lord Noel-Buxton, talking about him as if he wasn’t there.

“Lord Noel-Buxton’s luggage has ended up in the River Severn.”
“Lord Noel-Buxton would be foolish to go wading on a full stomach.”
“Lord Noel-Buxton will have none of his things for the night.”
“Father will lend him some.”
“Lord Noel-Buxton will not mind. He will understand.”
“But he is sorry to have lost his things.”
And again:

“Lord Noel-Buxton is having Annabel to sleep with him.”
“Lord Noel-Buxton is very fond of her.”
“He doesn't know her.”
“Lord Noel-Buxton is fond of all dogs.”

‘Tribute’

It was my intention to say a few words in tribute to my host, and so when we had eaten a three-course dinner, cooked by unseen but moderately skilled hands, I stood up and looked towards Mr. Waugh. I have to report that I encountered a smile so urbane, so patronising, so intolerably knowing that I hastily turned to my notes.
Flicking through them, I realised that the phrase ‘bright young thing’, cropping up as often as it did, might create a confusing, even jarring note. But, remembering I was an emissary from Lord Beaverbrook, he who can only be loved and obeyed, I ploughed on regardless. I was on my feet for thirty-eight minutes, the child Margaret later informed me.
Thirty-eight minutes well spent, for by the end of it I feel sure that the whole family were aware of how much respect I had for the author who had split himself into three Boots – smart John Courteney, innocent William and debauched old Uncle Theodore – in order to mock Lord Copper from pillar to post in ‘Scoop’. What a clever, clever young man Mr. Waugh must have been before the war! How right Lord Beaverbrook had been to send him a letter of congratulation on the appearance of ‘A Handful of Dust’ in 1934, now fully twenty-one years ago, since when Mr. Waugh would seem to have drunk his own considerable weight in wine many, many times over.
In the morning, we climbed into the car and started to drive away.
"Oh, Nancy," said Rufus, "Do stop. He's coming to give us a signed copy of 'Scoop'.
So I stopped. But not on your life! He had come out of the house merely to shut two wrought-iron gates and bolt them, too.
"So much for our literary pil-grimage," said Rufus, perhaps thinking about the repeated rebuffs he'd suffered over dinner whenever he'd tried to talk books.
And so ended our attempt to pay due homage to my favourite idol.

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Nancy Spain. Karsch/Camera Press

I hope you, dear reader, begin to see how right Evelyn Waugh had been to deny Nancy Spain an audience that June day in 1955. By so doing, he was only looking after the interests of himself and his family.

I've got one more picture left from Tom Driberg's visit to Piers Court a few days later. I must try and make fitting use of it. Here it is:

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2nd July 1955: English author Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966) at his home in Gloucestershire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7833 - Waugh On War - pub. 1955 (Photo by malcolm Dunbar/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Evelyn Waugh:
"My name is Nancy Spain and I work for a most wonderful lord in London. Can you tell me if 'Boot of the Beast' can be found at this address?"

Septimus Waugh (kicking his father playfully in the stomach):
"Boot... Boot... Boot."

Outside the grounds of Piers Court, owls hunted maternal rodents and their furry brood.







Notes
4.1.2015. I dedicate this piece to John Howard Wilson (1961-2014) who kindly read and generously commented on everything posted on this site up to December 2014. I will greatly miss him.