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 eel and had been nicknamed ‘Big Chief’ on account of his huge sizel.
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.