Durrells everywhere

Last year when the Durrells first appeared on ITV I wrote a fairly critical piece about it in The Times – and then enjoyed the series. With all that sun, sea, landscape and good humour, what did it matter that the characters bore no relation to anyone who’d ever actually lived there? As I wrote, ‘The family must appeal to some fundamental need we all have for there to have been a time when Corfu was bathed in perpetual summer sunshine, the English were regarded by a benign peasantry as ‘little lords’ and eccentricity had free reign.’

But this time, the charm is waning. I suppose, weirdly, I feel most protective towards Larry, who after all was a man of iridescent charm and charisma, who cared passionately about literature and was endlessly cruel to his nearest and dearest. And who was above all wonderfully funny. Someone – Theodore? – described him as a small blond firework, but the TV Larry has as much literary fire in his belly as a dough ball.

So I’ve stopped watching. Which is a shame, as the actor who plays Gerry is terrific. And so is the pelican. But still …

Unknown

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Percy Fawcett and the Lost City of Z

MV5BODM2MDAxMDg0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ5MzU4MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The film the Lost City of Z tells the story of Major Percy Fawcett, an explorer whose life had a weird connection with Nancy’s. He had set out in 1925 with his son and a friend of his son’s to search for the ‘lost city’ and they vanished. Various expeditions were launched to try to find them, or to find out what happened to them, but none succeeded. In 1932 Peter Fleming, brother of James Bond creator, answered a newspaper advertisement for ‘two more guns’ to take part in a new quest to find out what had become of him. There were rumours he had been killed, but other rumours that he had gone native and founded a cult in the jungle. Fleming persuaded his friend Roger Pettigrew to go along with him and they were gone for four months.
The real Major Fawcett in pipe-smoking manly explorer pose:Unknown

But Nancy had been in love with Roger, though she never said it in so many words, and he had seemed to care for her – but when he came back after all his adventures he ignored her almost completely. And by then, in his absence, she had hooked up with a small, slightly lost-seeming young poet called Durrell.

What was heartbreak for her was a gift for travel writing: Fleming wrote Brazil Adventure, a brilliant, funny and infuriating account of their trip up and down the Amazon. They seem to have treated even life and death situations as a huge joke – that spirit of Boys Own Adventure that led to so many disasters and is now pretty much completely vanished.

John Hemming in the Spectator this week says the film, and the book it is based on, is a nonsense – and he should know. Far from being a hero, Fawcett was, apparently a nutter and a racist and totally incompetent. If you can divorce it from real life, the film is quite fun – and his side kick is brilliant (turns out it was Robert Pattison, who has been called ‘the sexiest man alive’ – not in this film, just a cracking good actor). But the ending annoyed me. Given that precisely what did happen to them has never been properly explained, a walking off into the unknown, three dots kind of ending (like that brilliant finale to Gods and Men) would have been much more satisfying rather than the obligatory Hollywood father-son schmalz ‘I love you Dad,’ – ‘I love you too, son,’ so now we can all die happy even though we are about to be slaughtered and probably eaten.

Also I would merrily have any script writer who lets a mysterious gypsy woman pronounce to our hero, ‘Eet ees your destineee!’ silenced with a poison dart immediately.

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Tracing Bee

Thanks to an email from Geoff Burrows in Australia, I now know much more about Nancy’s ‘great big blooming easy-going’ friend from her days at the Slade, Bee Falkiner. One reason it proved impossible to track her down was that Nancy, like most people, had misspelt her surname as ‘Falkener’ – though she was right about the location of their Surrey home, which was Reigate. It was a party at Bee’s home in Surrey that a car-owning Durrell was roped in to drive them all down to, right at the very beginning of their acquaintance. So, it turns out that Bee’s father Ralph was indeed very wealthy and did own vast tracts of Australia. And he was ‘large’ as well and had been nicknamed ‘Big Chief’ on account of his huge size.
And Bee’s later life was as colourful as Nancy would have anticipated and hoped. She ran a textile business for many years in South Yarra called ‘Falkiner Fabrics’ and her work is displayed in the National Gallery in Victoria. According to her nephew she apparently had ‘quite a lot of marriages’ which sounds as though the family rather lost count of them.
When quite elderly, and following the death of husband number ?, her first husband, whose surname Taplin she had kept, came to visit her in the South of France. He stayed, eventually discarded his current wife and they seem to have lived happily thereafter.
How Nancy would have loved to visit her there – charming.
Not only did Bee rediscover an early love, but at the age of 90 she started an art school in the south of France. She died in 2010 – so if she was older than Nancy, she must have been 100 or so. I’d love to have known her – and how tantalising that I easily have met her.
Thanks to Geoff B for this fitting another missing piece in the ongoing jigsaw.

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Pudding Times

The little book of handwritten limericks Larry produced in 1941 when he and Nancy were in Kalamata has come up for auction, triggering an extraordinarily prurient and silly article by someone called Jack Malvern in Saturday’s Times. I feel a moment of shock/horror coming on – not at the little poems, which are harmless, but at the po-faced Pudding Islandness of the article. 4 columns are devoted to the booklet, but of course, no quotes can be given because they are ‘too obscene to appear in a family newspaper’.

Oh, really?

The limerick which is illustrated also happens to be the one I quoted in my book:

There was a fair maid of Corfu

Who blocked up her joy-place with glue

With a certain mistrust

She was widely discussed

By the two or three people who knew.

The illustration is equally shocking (not).

Actually, as the book I have co-written with Alex and Marcus Lewis and which is published tomorrow (Tell Me Who I Am) is genuinely shocking, this kind of mimsy pretending to be shocked I find quite pathetic. The little book of limericks was handwritten and given to a friend, so entirely private. I hope Larry is chortling somewhere far from Pudding Island in another place, but my father Edward Hodgkin, one time Deputy Editor of The Times, must be turning in his grave at this Daily Mailish idiocy.

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Bee Falkener

Some serious sleuthing is going on in New South Wales. I was contacted a couple of days ago by someone who is reading Amateurs in Eden at the moment and noticed the Slade friend of Nancy’s whom I call Bee Falkener. I described her father as owning large tracts of NSW. Oz Sleuth suggested this might in fact be the Falkiner family, one branch of which lived near her when she was a child. In the next email Oz Supersleuth (upgraded) provided even more information:

Ralph Sadlier Falkiner (described as wealthy entrepreneur, inventor and manager of vast family estates) who lived at Colley Manor Reigate during the 1930s who had a daughter called Beatrice known as Bea. There is a tantalizing reference to ‘Bea’s’ Toorak studio being open in 1947 and lots of the Falkiners attending, but my research has been hampered by not being able to get on to Trove, the National Library of Australia’s website today. It seems RS loved machines, including a road train he imported and ran.

I had tried to find out what happened to BF, but was hampered, I now realise, by the wrong spelling. But it is lovely when these snippets of information wing their way in unbidden. Another little bit of jigsaw slides into place. Maybe some of her pictures are viewable online. We shall see.

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