Let’s start with an image of Piers Court. The house was effectively a present from Evelyn Waugh’s wife’s mother on the occasion of their marriage in 1937. It’s where Evelyn and Laura were living when he finished his fifth novel, Scoop, in 1938.


They were still living there in 1955, the year we’re concerned with tonight. [This essay has been rewritten with a view to being presented at Chippng Campden Literary Festival, 2019, whose theme is NEWS.] And Evelyn was still writing books.

In June, 1955, his novel
Officers and Gentlemen was just about to be published. Which concerns Waugh’s experience of the Second World War. An exploration of the concept of male honour, you might say.

This is a picture taken of Evelyn in the mid-1950s. He was beginning to look like a country squire. Pity this picture isn’t in colour. I believe that the jacket was of a light brown check with a 3-inch check of bright red running through it.


I hope you can see what a cocky little guy he was. A fighting bantam cock.

I should introduce Laura Waugh as well. To begin with, Waugh called her ‘the white mouse’. Once they were married, his pet name for her was ‘Whiskers’. She kept her own counsel. One suspects she had to put up with a lot. Put it this way, she was married to an alcoholic Catholic (the two words are almost anagrams!) who fathered seven children through her, one dying shortly after birth.

waugh - Version 2

The morning of June 21, 1955, kicked off with an incoming phone call at Piers Court. Could Miss Nancy Spain 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.

Lord Beaverbrook was the founder of the Daily Express, among other titles. And 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 given the boot after five weeks. William Boot, Scoop's protagonist, might even owe his name to this experience, certainly Waugh was drawing from his own sense of inadequacy when he came up with the character.

In Waugh’s second novel,
Vile Bodies, Lord Beaverbrook appears as the pompous Lord Monomark. The character was referred to as 'Ottercove' throughout most of the manuscript, so there's not much doubt who Waugh was thinking of as he wrote. Beaver brook / Otter cove. Get it?

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'. Which compares with this in Scoop: CABLE FULLER OFTENER PROMPTLIER STOP YOUR SERVICE BADLY BEATEN ALROUND LACKING HUMAN INTEREST COLOUR DRAMA PERSONALITY INFORMATION ROMANCE VITALITY. Potential criticism I bore in mind when preparing this evening's text.

In 1934, Beaverbrook wrote admiringly to Waugh about his fourth novel, A Handful of Dust. This paved the way for two of Waugh's short stories to appear in the Express in 1936 when Mr Loveday's Little Outing came out. No doubt this arrangement suited both parties. Excellent publicity for Waugh's new book. And kudos for the Express. The title story appeared on page 4 of the Saturday edition above an advert for Selfridge's sale.

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But the relationship between the press baron and Evelyn Waugh cooled on the appearance of Waugh's fifth novel,
Scoop. Does it contain a much harsher (and funnier) portrait of Lord Beaverbrook than Vile Bodies? "Definitely, Lord Copper." Although when Waugh returned to Africa in 1935 to cover the Abyssinian war, it was Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail that sent Waugh insulting telegrams, Waugh already knew which press baron he most disliked.

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. So a second printing without it had to be arranged. In some ways it is an improvement, in that the new cover is convincing as a review. The original cover was not convincing as a front page of a popular paper:


Mustn't judge a book by its cover though, and this one - the book I'm holding up is a first edition that has lost its dust-jacket - has otherwise stood the test of time.
Scoop was included in The Observer's list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. While the Modern Library ranked Scoop at number 75 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

When, in a case of mistaken identity, William Boot is first called to London to be promoted to foreign correspondent, he thinks he's going to be sacked because in his latest column his sister had replaced every mention of 'badger' with 'great crested grebe'. The published piece claims that great crested grebes live in earthy homes and on occasion are known to attack young rabbits.

One of the cleverest things about it 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 and finishing with Waste of Time, about some harrowing months among the Patagonian Indians. While Waugh's first book was a biography about Rossetti and his seventh book was NInety-Two Days set in the Amazon Rainforest. John Boot is very matey with Mrs Algernon Stitch, clearly based on Waugh's close friend 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 that 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 poured himself into the characters Ernest Vaughan and George Theodore Verney.

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

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 1955, in the same paper, Robert Pitman wrote a 'colour piece' supposedly heralding the publication of Officers and Gentlemen. This was another veiled sneer, 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 Lord Beaverbrook and he needed to stay smart in order not to be damaged by such a powerful enemy.

What's more, the
Express had more or less admitted what they were up to. That is, bringing cultural icons down to earth. Here is how the paper put it earlier in that same June of 1955.

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'A Cool Look at the Loved Ones!' Not only is that a reference to one of Waugh's books, he is actually listed as one of the targets along with the Oliviers, Malcolm Sargent and J.B Priestley

OK: Tuesday June 21, 1955. 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 agreed to give her a game before the dinner that she was not invited to at Piers Court .


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 also to Evelyn Waugh's description which is coming up.


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 ambitious employee Nancy Spain and failed journalist cum successful novelist, Evelyn Waugh.

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 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, For the article itself which appeared in the paper two days later, you can consult my website. But tonight we have the services of two experienced and brilliant actors, so it's a no-brainer to give you Nancy Spain and Lord Noel Buxton live on stage.


NS (gesturing dramatically): "MY PILGRIMAGE TO SEE MR WAUGH'.

LN-B: "Great headline!"

NS: "Then I'll say it's my turn to contribute to the
Daily Express series 'A Cool Look at the Loved Ones'. I'll claim that I was asked to choose two writers, though poor old Masefield is only included so that I can say a few flattering words about one old writer before getting stuck into you-know-who."

LN-B: "So the article will start with some flannel about my old friend before getting to the point?"

NS: "I'll say Masefield is 'a darling man'. I'll say that we went on from his place to the heart of Gloucestershire where Waugh lives. I'll say we stopped in Oxford so that you could buy a copy of a novel so that you could mug it up."

LN-B: "

NS "Ha! Yes, I think I will have a scoop on my hands! If I can just get the smug little Tory to let us across the threshold. A few wines down his neck and he'll be putty in my hands."

LN-B: "Tell me more about him."

NS: "He used to be a bright young thing, who wrote bright young novels with names like
Vile Bodies and Black Mischief and we all loved them. He first married the Hon. Evelyn Gardner in 1927. The marriage was dissolved in 1930. In the same year he was received into the Church of Rome."

LN-B: "I remember the marriage bust up. Didn't she leave him for another man when Waugh was in the middle of writing one of those early novels? I expect you'll be making a lot of that."

NS: "Remember my brief, sweetie. I intend to build up the young Waugh so that there is a big old stiffie to topple over. As a reporter, he used to play terrible practical jokes; he once climbed a ladder 100ft for a bet and took off his tie in a restaurant and gave it to a lady who had admired it."

LN-B: "Have you just made that up?"

NS: "And he was supposed to have laughed quite loud when Lord Tenderden said that 'it was young Mrs Humphrey Waugh who wrote the novels'. And he had written a satire on Hollywood cemeteries called
The Loved One that had upset the morticians of America so much that they say they will not bury him if he should die over there."

LN-B: "Lor. He sounds rather fun."

NS: "We're here. Let me take a few mental pictures. Piers Court... A genteel residence indeed... The gravel sweep as dainty as anything... The lawns trim.... Beyond a battlement of urns the dim blue Severn can faintly be seen... And by a neat flower-bed stands a notice board."


NS: "I will ring the bell. Mrs Waugh a beautiful woman in a twin-set and slacks will immediately answer. She will sigh deeply and lean against the door jamb. I expect."

LN-B: "Anything I need to know about her?"

NS: “Yes, actually. Her uncle was the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon. The guy who didn’t just knock on the door of a great pyramid. He and Howard Carter crashed in there and discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb.”

LN-B: “Gosh. King Tut. I'm really keen on this now.”

NS: "I will say who we are. Full of woe, Laura will take the unwanted message to her horrible husband. Then we hope for the best."

LN-B: "Ring it, then."


NS: "You are a tall man. He is rather a short man. Stand your ground."


EW (offstage): "GO AWAY!"

NS: "He once held a commission in the Royal Marines. It was said that if his company ever went into battle he would be shot in the back by his own men - how they hated him!"

LN-B: "Let's go back to the car.... Oh, Nancy,
do stop. He's coming to apologise."

NS: "I suspect he has come out of the house merely to shut the wrought-iron gates... and bolt them too."

LN-B: "So much for our literary pilgrimage."

NS: "So ends our attempt to gate-crash my favourite idol."


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

On Thursday, June 23rd, Nancy Spain's piece 'My Pilgrimage to see Mr Waugh' appeared 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 took Evelyn to lunch at Brooks's. And there he was shown Nancy Spain's piece in the Daily 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 a friend. 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 the director of Chapman and Hall. 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, where they went to school, and at Oxford, where the latter 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 there the same day as a journalist from Picture Post, accompanied by two photographers, and that at least six photographs were taken of a no-doubt hungover Evelyn Waugh.

I say that, because Waugh had been drinking from morning until evening of both the Thursday and Friday, as was his habit every time he went up to London.

Driberg and the photographers came and went on Saturday 26 June, 1955. Waugh would write his piece for the
Spectator the next day, but before that he had some research on Nancy Spain's partner-in-crime to complete. Indeed, I think it's time for me to introduce Rufus Noel-Buxton. He was a second-generation Labour peer. In other words, his father was knighted by the Labour Government in 1930.


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 before writing this essay in order to 'mug it up'.


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 an unattainable pre-industrial life and landscape, is 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.


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.'

On Sunday, four days after the intrusion on his privacy, Waugh wrote 'Awake my soul! It is a Lord' 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 Ian Gilmour, the libertarian-minded proprietor of the Spectator, asking for it.

A few days later, Waugh 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.

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 'Awake my soul! It is a Lord.' 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?

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 had 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.

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 in
Scoop (when he comes from Fleet Street to visit William Boot at Boot Magna Hall) will always be fresh in my mind, that this article disappoints me. 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 more problematic 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 the next week's Spectator there were no less than five letters to the editor about Waugh's piece, including letters by Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Spain.

Waugh's letter points out that Lord Noel Buxton has turned against Mis Spain in an unchivalrous way. He asks:
'Has Miss Spain no brother? Has the editor of the Daily Express no horse-whip?'

Waugh had also been discussing the incident via letters 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 a fourth letter in that week's

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?'


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. Let us celebrate Evelyn's victory. Here, now, live, with our fine actors, borrowing from the scene near the end of
Scoop where Lord Copper's editor travelled to Boot Magna Hall. Salter felt he had to refuse the scheduled lift from a lorry full of slag, walked for miles cross-country, and arrived at the house so exhausted it was understood that he was drunk.

In our scene tonight, Nancy Spain and Lord Noel Buxton have been invited into dinner at Piers Court. But, like Salter in the final pages of
Scoop, they are reduced to a bewildered silence as the conversation goes on around them.


LW: "Lord Noel-Buxton is being offered only water to drink."

EW: "Lord Noel-Buxton prefers water to wine."

LW: "Lord Noel Buxton prefers our Severn water to water from the River Thames?"

EW: "Lord Noel-Buxton is fond of all water."


LW: “Lord Noel-Buxton’s luggage has ended up in the River Severn.”

EW: “Lord Noel-Buxton would be foolish to go wading on a full stomach.”

LW: “Lord Noel-Buxton will have none of his things for the night.”

EW: “I will lend him some."

LW: "Lord Noel Buxton is 6 foot 3 if he is an inch. While you are short of leg and measure 42 inches round the tummy. Your jim-jam bottoms will look ridiculous on Lord Noel-Buxton."

EW: "Lord Noel-Buxton will be a figure of fun to all who catch sight of him scurrying down the corridors and stairs between his attic bedroom and the guests' washroom."

LW: "Our children will laugh. The dogs will bark. The servants will laugh or bark according to their natures."

EW: “Lord Noel-Buxton will not mind. He is of the House of Lords. He will understand.”

LW: “But he is sorry to have lost his things.”


LW: “Lord Noel-Buxton is having Annabel to sleep with him.”

EW: “Lord Noel-Buxton is very fond of her.”

LW: “He doesn't know her.”

EW: “Lord Noel-Buxton is fond of all dogs.”

LW: "Have you told Lord Noel-Buxton that if Annabel barks during the night, it is best to feed her?"

EW: "It is no secret that there are tins of dog food in the cellar."

LW: "Have you advised Lord Noel-Buxton that it is dark down there?"

EW: "Lord Noel-Buxton is from the House of Lords. He does not need artificial light to see what is in front of his nose."

LW: "Lord Noel-Buxton will be hoping this is not one of Annabel's hungry nights."

EW: "All nights are hungry nights for Annabel."


LW: “Nancy Spain is writing a new book called
Why I’m Not a Millionaire.”

EW: “The title of Nancy Spain’s new book is something I need to know?”

LW: “Nancy Spain would like the cover of her new book to be a photo of you giving her a cuddle.”

EW: “The implication of the cover of Nancy Spain’s new book would then be that the reason she is not a millionaire is that I gave her a cuddle.”

LW: “Nancy Spain says that the reason she is not a millionaire is that she is a woman.”

EW: “A better title for Nancy Spain’s book might be
Why I’m Not a Writer.”


LW: “I am thinking of writing a book next year.”

EW: “Would this be a book about maintaining a small dairy herd in the Gloucestershire countryside?”

LW: “It would be called
Why I’m Not a Millionaire.”

EW: “I suppose it would feature a picture of me on the cover.”

LW: “It would indeed feature a picture of you on the cover.”

EW:“Flattering or unflattering?”

LW: “That would be for the reader to judge.”


If Rufus Noel-Buxton had been put in his place, how about Nancy Spain? It seems not. In July 1955, her book review looked like this:

Screen shot 2018-09-02 at 19.51.32

Not far into this piece she writes:
'Yes, I think pursuit of a celebrity is a disease... People pursue it to its lair with telephone calls hoping for "a quote". So do I. And then when the lion turns, roaring out some incoherent opinion, I like to write it down.'

That seems an extraordinary thing to say so soon after her altercation with Waugh.

In February, 1956, Waugh wrote another article for the
The Spectator, this time attempting to defend PG Wodehouse from the attacks of a young critic in The Sunday Times. Acknowledging some influence of The Observer and the Times over the reading public, Waugh added provocatively: 'The Beaverbrook press is no longer listed as having any influence at all.'

Nancy Spain must have read that. Because a month later she wrote:

Screen shot 2018-09-02 at 19.48.13

I don't know if you can read the above. Nancy starts by saying there is a war between Evelyn Waugh and herself. And then she claims that the sales of Evelyn's brother's books dwarf those of Evelyn himself. And that sales of 60,000 copies of Alec Waugh's
Islands in the Sun were directly down to her giving it a glowing write-up in the Daily Express.

Evelyn reckoned the bit about his own book sales being dwarfed by his brother's was a libel, and instructed his agent to take Nancy Spain's employer to court. Just as Beaverbrook had taken Waugh's publisher to court over the cover of
Scoop twenty years before.

Nancy Spain counter-sued over Waugh's statement that her reviews had no impact on an author's book sales. The cases were to be heard concurrently in February 1957, and in the meantime Nancy Spain's book
Why I'm Not A Millionaire appeared.


Is that Evelyn Waugh giving Nancy Spain a cuddle on the cover? You decide.

Come February 1957, his is how the Waugh versus
The Daily Express judgement was reported in that paper:

Screen shot 2018-09-02 at 19.53.24

£2,000 plus costs. That was what William Boot was offered by the
Daily Beast to keep writing for Lord Copper following his sensational scoop in the reporting of war in Ishmalia. The money going to debauched old Theodore Boot, as William returned to the countryside and to writing his 'Lush Places' column. Yes, back to the badgers and the great crested grebes, and all was well with his world.

By 1975 when I read
Scoop for the first time, £2,000 was worth £5,750. This is how my 17-year-old self recorded his reading of the novel in his diary.


This is the cover of the actual copy I read in 1975. I read it while lying on a brown bean-bag in my parents' front room in Hemel Hempstead, puzzling over - and rather bored by - the scenes set in Africa.


By 2006 when I first knocked on the door of Piers Court in the style of Nancy Spain, £2,000 was worth £36,250. Not a bad windfall, one begins to see.


I'm hoping to knock on the door again tomorrow. It's only an hour or so's drive from here. I will ask to speak to Evelyn Waugh, timeless author.

By 2015 when my Evelyn! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love was published, £2,000 was worth no less than 45,000 quid. Enough to keep Evelyn in cigars, champagne, jackets and port for a few months, one realises.

evelyn! final cover - Version 2

Is that Lord Noel-Buxton and Nancy Spain on the cover of my book? Or is it Evelyn and Laura Waugh? Why don't you take the opportunity presented by the impending book signing to find out?

What I ended up presenting at Chipping Camden Literary Festival in May 2019 was
something completely different.