Kate and I are in lovely Appledore on the north coast of Devon for its book festival. Clear blue sky too, both today and forecast for the rest of the week. I wonder what the weather was like in September 1929, when a She-Evelynless Waugh came here to write the second half of
Vile Bodies.

Detail of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb, 1930, used by permission of the Estate of Henry Lamb.

There's one letter in
The Letters of Evelyn Waugh that was written from the Royal George, Appledore. It was to fellow writer, Henry Yorke, and starts like this:

'Dear Henry, I put off going abroad and came here to make a last effort at finishing my novel. It has been infinitely difficult and is certainly the last time I shall try to make a book about sophisticated people.'

Are Adam and Nina sophisticated, then? Possibly, but I think this may be a discreet compliment to Henry Yorke, who, as Henry Green, had a few months before published
Living, a novel which exposed both the speech patterns and inner lives of workers in heavy industry.

Back to Evelyn's letter and his book:

'It all seems to shrivel up and rot internally and I am relying on a sort of cumulative futility for any effect it may have. All the characters are gossip writers.'

After bumping into the gossip writer Tom Driberg on Bond Street on September 6th, Waugh would have read Driberg's Talk of London column in the
Daily Express the next day. This prominently mentioned Waugh's suit 'made of thick billiard-table-green tweed'. And one of the first things Waugh did on resuming his book from the half-way point was to appoint Adam as gossip writer for the Daily Excess and have him pretend that green bowler hats were the latest thing to be seen in about town. A chapter or so later, Nina and Ginger take over Adam's gossip column when Adam has to spend the day visiting his father-in-law, Colonel Blount. So it could indeed be claimed that at this stage in the novel 'all the characters are gossip writers'.

'As soon as I have enough pages covered to call it a book I shall join Bryan and Diana in Paris.'

The second half of
Vile Bodies is a curious mix of Waugh writing about almost random things that are fresh on his mind, like the road race he saw in Belfast in August, which gets a 30-page chapter to itself, and the dreadful thing that he can't stop thinking about: that his wife has left him for another man. Nina stands in for She-Evelyn, while Ginger corresponds to John Heygate, as Evelyn desperately tries to keep some kind of control of his material.

'I suppose it would be absurd to suggest you coming here for a weekend? It is a very long journey and not very comfortable when you get here but it is lonely and there is very interesting bathing if either of you like that, full of unexpected cross currents.'

Waugh is referring to the area centred on Appledore Pool, clearly visible from the Royal George (which I've marked with a cross on the map below), where the north-flowing River Torridge meets the RIver Taw as it flows down from the north. There is a huge tidal effect in this part of the world. I've already noticed water flowing up river when the tide is coming in, and flowing fast the other way a few hours later.


Note the huge distance between high tide and low tide, which are marked with blue lines. When it's high tide, the water is up to the flood wall on which the Royal George is built.

These days, the Royal George is for sale, but certain things haven't changed from Evelyn's days. People sit soaking up the autumn sun, trying to collect their thoughts as the tide comes in then goes out again.


There is a most interesting passage in chapter ten of
Vile Bodies which takes place the night before the road race. Adam and his party have been allowed into the Royal George even though it is full.

'Adam had secured one of the bedrooms. He awoke early to find rain beating on the window. He looked out and saw a grey sky, some kind of factory and the canal from whose shallow waters rose little islands of scrap iron and bottles; a derelict perambulator lay partially submerged under the opposite bank.'

Sounds as if Evelyn was looking out of the Royal George at low tide when he came up with this scenario. I know that's a boat and not a pram in the image below; I know it's a plastic container and not bottles, but Evelyn is a fiction writer for goodness sake, he is capable of covering his tracks!


The picture below shows the situation of the rooms at the Royal George. They face the sea and have a balcony. The main window section under the pub name (in blue letters) is part of the bar these days. This may or may not be an extension that's been added to the Royal George of Evelyn's day.


Waugh goes on to say what Adam finds in his room.
'There was also a rotund female bust covered in shiny red material, and chopped off short, as in primitive martyrdoms, at neck waist and elbows; a thing known as a dressmaker's "dummy".' Adam recalls how there had been one of these that had been called "Jemima" in his family home, and that one day he had stabbed Jemima with a chisel, scattering stuffing over the nursery floor, for which he was punished. The sentence that follows: 'A more enlightened age would have seen a complex in this action and worried accordingly', almost stops me from suggesting that here Waugh is revealing the anger he feels about She-Evelyn having left him for another man. It seems likely that rage was one of the emotions Evelyn was feeling towards his wife. The question is to what extent these emotions were under control when Evelyn sat down to write.

The passage ends.
'He got into bed again and found someone's handkerchief (presumably Mr Titchcock's) under the pillow'.

Adam has inherited a Mr Titchcock's bed. Does that mean he's displaced Titchcock, who he looks down on? Or is Adam the new Titchcock, displaced from his rightful bed by Ginger Littlejohn, Nina's new beau?

Detail of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb, 1930, used by permission of the Estate of Henry Lamb.

Much to muse on. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of the Royal George back in 1929 when Evelyn was going about his musing.

While we're hanging around the Royal George, I place a flyer advertising my Friday talk on the exterior of a window. As I'm doing so, I'm reminded of some of Adam's other observations about the room he's in at the Royal George.
'In his room stood a chest of drawers full of horrible fragments of stuff, a wash hand stand with a highly coloured basin, an empty jug and an old toothbrush.'


'Adam was very thirsty, but there was a light green moss in the bottom of the water bottle that repelled him.'

As I'm comparing the Royal George now with the Royal George of
Vile Bodies, a funny thing happens. A group of people come along the road from the direction of the Beaver Inn and stop outside the Royal George. David Carter is leading a walking tour of Irsha Street as part of the book festival. I listen to what he says about the various old pubs in the vicinity and then draw attention to my presence. David kindly allows me to mention my own talk this coming Friday. As the group moves off, one elderly gentleman, dressed in a white suit with a black vertical stripe in it, hangs back and approaches me. What he says is so interesting that I don't take it in properly. By the time he rejoins the party, all I know is that he's told me that both Evelyns used to frequent this pub, as they were friendly with local author Henry Williamson. And that one Evelyn would be inside the pub and would be warned when the other Evelyn was approaching.

It makes some kind of sense that Henry Williamson was involved, since Waugh's diary tells us that he visited the Evelyns at Canongate Square in November 1928. He spent an afternoon with them and left with a copy of
Decline and Fall. I recall that Evelyn described the author of Tarka the Otter as 'wholly without culture', adding that Henry was 'capable of fun'. But why would She-Evelyn have been at the Royal George? My understanding is that He-Evelyn came here for the first time after the split. Is that not right?

And I realise something exciting. That Kate and I are in Appledore in October 2015 not just to deliver a talk that's already done and dusted, but to further wrestle with what happened between Evelyn Waugh and his wife in 1929. Hoorah!



Last night I remembered something that the Waugh scholar Jeffrey Manley told me. That the Waughs and John Heygate are portrayed as characters in the 1963 book by Henry Williamson,
The Power of the Dead. I bought a copy of that novel a few months ago but haven't yet got round to reading it, other strands of Waugh research having got in the way.

I can look it up on Google though. What I mean is that there is a version of the book online that allows certain pages to be previewed:

Screen shot 2015-10-08 at 09.31.12

The Evelyns are fictionalised as Anthony and Virginia Cruft while John Heygate is Piers Tolfield. Piers takes Phillip Mannering (Henry Williamson) around to the Crufts' north London flat, clearly Canonbury Square. The meeting seems not inconsistent with how Waugh writes about it in his diary, but I'll check that out when I get back to my library.

Later in the story, Piers is living with Virginia and they're staying with Phillip in north Devon. They visit a lime-washed pub (clearly the Royal George) and this happens:

Screen shot 2015-10-08 at 09.27.49

The Power of the Dead is suggesting the possibility that She-Evelyn and Heygate were playing bar skittles in the very pub that He-Evelyn had come to finish Vile Bodies! I don't yet know what happens next in Williamson's book, as Google Preview won't let me see the subsequent page. That will have to wait until I get home. But I'm tantalised. Heygate has already taken Waugh's wife from him, not to mention 17a Canonbury Square where She-Evelyn and Heygate are now living. Is he now about to take away the one thing He-Evelyn has left - tranquility in which to finish his autobiographical novel?

I can imagine Heygate striding upstairs to Evelyn's bedroom, shoving his hand under the pillow and announcing. "Come and see, darling. Here's Tichcock's sordid handkerchief."

Actually, the last chapters of
Vile Bodies are full of inversions and invasions. Sometimes these are to Adam's advantage. In chapter 13, following Nina and Ginger's marriage, Ginger is called up by the army, so Adam pretends to be Nina's husband for the Christmas holiday spent at the house of Colonel Blount, her father. Perhaps this represents the two weeks in the summer of 1929 when John Heygate was out of the country and the Evelyns attempted a reconciliation, staying together at the Canonbury Square flat.

More pertinently, in the last chapter, 'Happy Ending', Nina and Ginger are living together while Adam is stranded on a battlefield, spending the final scene in the back seat of a Daimler, while - further along the same back seat - the drunk major - now a general - makes love to Chastity, who began the book as one of a troupe of angels but who ends it a prostitute. For sure that's an invasion of Adam's personal space, but it's not a takeover of his territory as the Daimler does not belong to him.

Neverthless, perhaps He-Evelyn found out about the invasion of his writing space at the Royal George by She-Evelyn and John Heygate. Perhaps his initial fantasy was for his wife and Heygate to be making love on the bar skittle table in the Royal George. But, of course, he had to amend the details to provide consistency to the plot and locations of his book. And, most of all, he had to exercise restraint.

I consider the possibilities of how real life led into fiction. And I will continue to do so until I get to see the subsequent page in
The Power of the Dead. But, in the meantime, the 2015 Appledore book festival goes on. Alison Hylett is hosting a Poetry Café in an upstairs room of the village library. The idea is that anyone who feels like it can make use of the typewriters provided to bang out a poem. So that's what I do, I bang out this:


Actually, I don't know if She-Evelyn typed the first half of the novel. Martin Stannard suggests that the manuscript batches were sent from He-Evelyn in the Abingdon Arms to her at Canongate Square, and she arranged for them to be typed up. But I do wonder about this. Weren't the Evelyns short of money? She-Evelyn was an aspiring journalist, was she not able to type?


The woman in shot is Pat Millner, co-chair of the Appledore Book Festival. She's told me that she thinks my informant of yesterday was Charles Churchill, who used to be a French teacher at a public school nearby, and that he may well turn up at my talk.

I blooming well hope he does. Meanwhile, I try and take advantage of my upbeat holiday mood:



I go over my 'Evelyn Waugh in Appledore' talk with Kate. She's not impressed. There aren't enough jokes and I don't use any readings from my book. She tells me there must be jokes and that I must foreground the fact that I have written
Evelyn!, a book that is for sale in the festival shop.

At our cottage, which is further along Irsha Street than the Royal George, I redraft my talk. The weather is so nice that I can do that in the courtyard to the rear of the cottage.


I re-jig things so that there are several readings from
Evelyn!, which Kate agrees to read. And one reading from Vile Bodies which we'll read together. Then I take a break by walking along Irsha Street to the Royal George. By my calculations it should be high tide.


I've been told that the Royal George has changed hands a few times in the last year or so. It has got a fabulous location but unfortunately the sea wall has been damaged. What seems to happen is that the new owners get a survey done, baulk at the cost of renovating the sea wall, and put it on the market again only for someone else to go through the same cycle of interest and disillusion.


Kate and I go through the talk together and I can't believe how hesitant my delivery is. The structures are not in place in my mind, so that as soon as I try and depart from the script I dry up. Kate is not impressed. She had been suggesting that today we go on a tour of the area in our hire car. Now she tells me I had better spend the time familiarising myself with my material.


I decide to clean the courtyard first. Talk about procrastination!

After going through the talk twice more, I feel I know it fairly well. So I return to the Royal George to hang out with Evelyn.

Detail of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb, 1930, used by permission of the Estate of Henry Lamb.

"What are you drinking?" asks my chum.

"I'm not drinking anything. Apart from a single pint on my birthday I haven't had a drink for two weeks."

"And how do you feel?"

"I keep hearing voices."

"That'll be Adam and Nina. I hear them as well. All the time."



Detail of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb, 1930, used by permission of the Estate of Henry Lamb.

"If you're not going to finish that pint, I could help you out."


"Evelyn, you won't be beastly about it, will you?"

"You want to finish my pint?"


"I don't believe it."

"Well, I do. That's all there is to it."

"You intend to drain my glass dry?"


"I see."


"I said, I see."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, that's all, Duncan."

"When shall I see you again?"

"I don't ever want to see you again."

"I see."


"I said I see."

"Well, goodbye."

"Good-bye....I'm sorry, Evelyn."


About thirty people turn up. The talk goes well. There is an easy rapport between Kate and me. Her readings are clear, even though she hasn't practised them. Particularly strong is our version of the short chapter 11 of
Vile Bodies, Kate delivering Nina's lines and me Adam's.

And I'm familiar enough with what I've got to say in between the book readings so that I don't have to read it all. I have to read some of it, but not it all.

When we're done, I sign a few books. It's what authors do, apparently. And I am one. Or so it seems.


I'm signing my nth book (
'To Felicity with best wishes from Duncan who would be lodging at the Royal George if only he could') when I realise that Charles Churchill hasn't turned up.

As soon as the book signing is finished, armed with an address provided by Pat, I make my way to Charles's abode. He lives on Irsha Street. Everyone who is anyone in Appledore lives on Irsha Street. Not only that, his house is on the right side of the street. In other words his house backs onto the sea wall.


It's the next day before Kate asks me how my chat with Charles went.

Well, no, she doesn't ask me. I have to say to her. "Do you want to know what I learnt from Charles?"


"What's his house like?"

"He has an old black labrador. The walls are covered with cricket and golf memoribilia."

"He lives alone?"

"I would say so. He invited me through to his living room at the coastal side of the house where he was finishing off his dinner with wine, cheese and biscuits."

"Did he offer you any?"

"I don't think that would have been appropriate. I'd already told him my business and was eager to have the discussion."

"What did you ask?"

"I asked him to repeat his story of the other day, adding as much detail as he could recall. He told me that he moved to Appledore in 1964. He mentioned 1969, I think as the year in which a particularly friendly landlord took over the Royal George. Charles used to drink there and so did Henry Williamson."

"Williamson must have been fairly old by then."

"He was born in 1895, so in 1969 he would have been 74, which may be how old Charles is now, which would have made him 28 back then."

"Go on."

"Henry Williamson told Charles the story of how he and Evelyn Waugh would be drinking in the Royal George and He-Evelyn would be alerted that She-Evelyn was coming along the road from the direction of the Beaver Arms. I asked Charles if She-Evelyn was coming from the Beaver Arms itself or from further along the road. He didn't know. He told me that when she got to the main door of the Royal George, Evelyn would exit the side door into Irsha Street and so avoid meeting her."

"Presumably She-Evelyn would go on at He-Evelyn about his drinking."

"I think most women who ever spent time with He-Evelyn would have gone on at him about his drinking."


"What else?"

"I asked Charles about the story implied by Williamson's book about She-Evelyn being in the Royal George with John Heygate after the Evelyns had split up, and her realising that He-Evelyn was about to enter the pub. Charles knew nothing about that story."

"So where does that leave you?"

"I believe that the Evelyns were here together before the split."

"What makes you so sure?"

"Apart from Charles's testimony, for one very good reason. John Heygate was extremely friendly with the Evelyns in 1928. They used to go round the country as a threesome drinking in working class pubs. But John Heygate was also
extremely friendly with Henry Williamson at that time. He even dedicated Decent Fellows - his first novel, published in 1930 - to Henry. It makes perfect sense that John drove the Evelyns to Devon to meet this great friend of his, some time after they'd already met that time in London."

Kate ponders this.


"What about the subsequent meeting? That sounds a bit coincidental."

"I need to dig a bit deeper into that, which I'll do as soon as I can access
The Power of the Dead."

"Great title."

"But on the face of it, why not? Henry and John remained great friends and in 1935 Henry returned the other's gesture and dedicated one of his books to John. Post-split, with She-Evelyn already knowing Henry from the earlier meetings, it seems very likely that John would drive her to see Henry once again in this lovely part of the world."

"None of them realising that He-Evelyn was holed up in the Royal George finishing
Vile Bodies."

"None of them realising that having had to abandon the Abingdon Arms half-way through the book, Evelyn would have wanted to find another isolated country pub in which he could make himself comfortable and concentrate on his work."

"You're going to be busy when we get home, aren't you?"

"As ever."

Kate starts to make an 'aw' sound. Which she sustains...


"What are you up to?"

Oh, I get it.


I'm not drinking and Kate's not smoking. One of these habits is proving a lot easier to break than the other.


1) The conclusion of this Royal George investigation will be posted
here, hopefully by 16th October 2015.

2) Thanks to Brenda Daly, director of the Appledore Book Festival for inviting me to be part of the 2015 festival.

3) Thanks to Jeremy Beale at Harbour Books for supporting my presence at the Appledore Book Festival.

4) Thanks to Henrietta Phipps and the Estate of Henry Lamb for permission to use a detail from Henry Lamb's painting
Evelyn Waugh (1930) on several occasions during this essay.