Thursday, 29 July 2010

Joan Jackson, Steven Bach, Edward Woodward, Dilys Dimbleby

Joan Jackson, better known as ‘Joan Hunter Dunn’ passed away on 12 April 2008. She was the inspiration for John Betjeman’s most famous poem ‘A Subaltern’s Love Song’. She was born on 13 October 1915 – The daughter of a GP, George Hunter Dunn from Farnborough. Her grandfather Andrew Hunter Dunn was the bishop of Quebec from 1892 – 1919, whose brother Edward Dunn was bishop of British Honduras and Archbishop of the West Indies. Her great-great grandfather William Hunter (the grandfather of both her father’s parents) was Lord Mayor of London from 1851 – 1852. Her mother Mable Liddelow died in 1916. She was educated at Queen Anne’s School, Caversham from the age of 16 where she was head girl, captain of the lacrosse team and played tennis. She subsequently joined the catering department of London University. Betjeman recalled the story of their encounter on numerous occasions. When Peter Crookston asked if Betjeman would mind her being photographed from a Sunday Times article he was delighted and wrote back explaining how he came to write the poem:
At the beginning of the war I was employed in the films division in the Ministry of Information. The raid that went on then drew us together in the evenings. She was employed by London University. She was second-in-command of the catering department, under Mrs Bruce, and she wore a white coat and had a clean, clinical, motherly look, which excited hundreds of us. She had bright cheeks, clear sun-burned skin, darting brown eyes, a shock of curls and a happy smile. Her figure was a dream of strength and beauty. When the bombs fell, she bound up our wounds unperturbed. When they didn’t fall, which was most of the time, she raised our morales without ever lowering her morals. When I first saw her I said to my friends Osbert Lancaster and Reginald Ross-Williamson, ‘I bet that girl is a doctor’s daughter and comes from Aldershot’. When I got to know her I found I was right and it is my only experience of poetic prescience. I wrote the verses in the character of a subaltern in Aldershot, but they were really my own imaginings about her. When I showed her the poem, she told me she lived at Farnborough, Hampshire, but I considered that near enough to Aldershot to count. Her father was a very distinguished doctor and she had an uncle who was a bishop. Cyril Connolly kindly printer the poem in Horizon and I had to ask her permission for this to be done, which she agreed. Her name in the last line I had printer in capital letters in Cyril’s magazine, but when I had again to ask her to be allowed to print the verses in a book of my poems, she asked me not to have her name in capital letters. Of course I obeyed. She was one of the most cheerful, sweet and gentle girls I ever knew. I have not seen her from those days to this, though we have corresponded. You had better consult her about what I have written, if you think she might object. Oh Goodness, I wish you had seen her striding about the Ministry. The spirit of Surrey girlhood, and a pine-scented paradise.[1]  
Lord Snowdon who took the photos remembered her as ‘very jolly, handsome and still played tennis – I photographed her on the court in shorts …. She had a very good, strong, friendly and welcoming face’. Betjeman said that she was very different from the other ‘pale green intellectuals at the Ministry': 'I have fallen in love with a girl in the catering department here who is a doctor’s daughter from Aldershot.'[2]

Betjeman once heard that he was in the same building as her 'He had lost track of her. He was wildly excited – Only stayed with me a minute or so longer – raced off to see her.'[3]

On his visit to Belfast in 1942 he saw Miss Hunter Dunn at breakfast on his last day in England and wrote to Cyril Connolly that he thought about her a good bit in the warm aeroplane.[4]  When Betjeman left the Ministry, his secretary Hazel Sullivan wrote to him (on 19 July 1944) – ‘Since you have gone Miss J. H. D. no longer smiles at me …’[5] In a letter to Roland Pym, he wrote:
Miss Hunter Dunn (that was her name, she is now Mrs Wycliffe-Jackson and lives in Ashley Gardens and you ought to go and see her, she is a lovely sturdy creole type with curly hair and strong arms and strapping frame and jolly smile and soft laughing voice, a girl to lean against for life and die adoring). Well anyhow Joan Hunter Dunn lived with her sister Betty and younger brother (who went to Stowe) at The Red House, Farnborough (the Aldershot one, not this one), where her father practices as a doctor. I think you want to get a feeling of open-airness about the house – nothing Victorian – rather Letchworth and Welwyn, with toothbrushes airing at open bathroom windows and certainly rhododendrons and evergreens – and the wire netting of a tennis court enclosure. I have never seen the house. I have merely imagined it. I believe its date was 1910.[6]
Volume 2 of the Hillier biography also discusses other versions of the circumstances of their meeting and other aspects of their relationship[7]. At her funeral, John Heald of the Betjeman Society recited Betjerman's famous poem.


Marlene Dietrich’s biographer Steven Bach died from cancer on 25 March. He was born on 29 April 1938 and taught Film Studies at Bennington College and Columbia University. He also wrote the biography of Leni Riefenstahl Leni: The Life & Work of Leni Riefenstahl, (2007).


Edward Woodward passed away on 16 November. His most famous role was as Sergeant Howie in the cult classic The Wicker Man which is also one of my favourite films, made in 1973. He was born on 1 June 1930 and went on to have a distinguished career in theater, film and television, even appearing as Tommy Clifford in Eastenders in March 2007. Woodward’s first marriage was to the actress Venetia Barrett (born Venetia Mary Collett) in 1952, they divorced in 1986. She bore him 3 children: Tim Woodward (born 1953), Peter Woodward (1956) and a daughter Sarah Woodward (1963). Woodward had a relationship with Michele Dotrice who played the character Frank Spencer’s wife in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, they had a daughter (Emily) in 1983 and married in New York in January 1987. Woodward underwent triple bypass surgery in 1996, it was announced in February 2003 that he had prostate cancer; he died at the Royal Cornwall Hospital.


Dilys Dimbleby passed away on 18 November. She was born on 16 January 1913, the daughter of the barrister A. A. Thomas. She married Richard Dimbleby in 1937 and they had 3 sons David, Jonathan and Nicholas. After Richard’s death in 1965, she married Ron Travers. On her ninetieth birthday she danced until 3 o’clock in the morning. She lived in Dittisham village in Devon where her memorial service was held at the parish church on 15 December. She has 14 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

[1] Sir John Betjeman.  To Peter Crookston, 12 May 1965. Letters 2: 1951 – 1984. Edited by Candida Lycett Green. 
      (Methuen, 1995). 290, 291.
[2] Betjeman.  To Sidney Gilliat, 30 December 1940. Bevis Hillier. John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love. (John Murray, 
      2002). 178.
[3] Ibid. 202, 203.
[4] Betjeman.  To Cyril Connolly, 6 June 1942. Letters 1: 1926 - 1951. Edited by Candida Lycett Green. (Methuen, 1994). 
[5] Ibid. 326.
[6] Ibid. 440.
[7] Hillier, 180, 181.

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