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Dame Barbara Cartland

A novel dictation by Max Le Grand. crack

In 1922, a vivacious young London socialite was on the annual family summer break in Bredon. Sunday mornings were a bore. Barbara Cartland’s parents and her two brothers were either reading the newspapers or studying. The petulant blonde found a note book and pencil, and then feverishly started writing. Bertie her Father, asked Barbara what on earth she was up to. She loudly retorted, “I’ve started to write a novel”.

“Jigsaw” a romantic story about Dukes and Duchesses, was eventually published and earned the budding authoress £150 in royalty sales. Although ‘that sort of thing’ was limited to the occasional kiss. Reviewers wondered how a 22 year old girl could conjure such ‘fast’ inspiration. ‘Dotty Driven Cartland’ as detractors called her, wrote almost 1,000 books, which sold in 86 countries.

Over the years, the Cartland family had residences at Pershore, Red Marley d’Abitot and Tewkesbury. Her Mother Polly, would often take young Barbara to Cheltenham to shop for ‘pink un-mentionables’ at Cavendish House. Right until Polly died in 1976; mother and daughter always did the annual Christmas shopping in Cheltenham. During these sprees, the two women often met with Cheltenham’s Conservative MP Sir Charles Irvine, for afternoon tea at The Queen’s Hotel.

With the car boot crammed with presents, they would drive back to ‘Littlewood House’ in Poolbrook near Malvern, where Polly entertained the family for the festive season.

It was at the 1996 Cheltenham Literature Festival that I made Dame Barbara’s acquaintance. She was old enough to be my Grand Mother, but I could not resist the invitation to visit her, in residence at Camfield Place in Hertfordshire.

Even in her mid-ninety’s, Dame Barbara was an incorrigible flirt. If she fluttered her eye lashes, I was sure the breeze ruffled my fore lock. She used her failing eye sight as an excuse to sit close up beside me, as she turned the pages of her picture album.

I viewed numerous sepia photographs of tennis parties at Croome Court. Going to the Pershore races. There was Polly, floating along the Avon with Bertie, quaffing champagne, in a boat festooned with red cushions. One picture showed Bertie cycling around the country lanes of Little Commerton with Barbara standing on the back stays.

These enchanting interludes turned to sadness. Bertie was blown to smithereens under mortar fire, while guarding his platoon in Flanders during the 1914-18 war. Polly had a memorial erected by the main gate to Tewkesbury Abbey, dedicated to Bertram Cartland, Major of the Worcestershire Regiment.

Today, the aristocracy has moved south of Cheltenham.

We now hear of Tetbury, The Ampney’s, Barnsley and Westonbirt as being fashionable places to live in the Cotswolds. Dame Barbara reckoned that villages like Defford, Eckington and Bredon were popular then, because the ‘park gates’ as she referred to the old money, provided employment, in a part of The Shires in need.

She was convinced that when members of The Royal Family moved to South Gloucestershire, actors, singers and fashion models, thought it was the right place to be. In Dame Barbara’s youth, it was considered ‘non-u’ to park on the door step of royalty.

At three o’clock, the album was set aside. Dame Barbara rose and escorted me to her darkened study, where she would write another chapter for her latest book. ‘Write’ being the operative word. In fact she stretched upon a chaise lounge, closed her eyes, and then dictated the words to her secretary. She in turn would transcribe to sheets of A4 and add to the manuscript.

Four o’clock chimed, the cue for high tea with Dickie. We were half way through the tea and cream cake, when I commented to my illustrious hostess, that Dickie was running late. Oh no, he was with us, at her feet. A black Labrador, being fed creamy morsels from the table.

Over the umpteenth cup of tea, Dame Barbara divulged her love of Cheltenham. “Despite the drunkenness and debauchery, it’s a fun place amidst the Regency elegance”.

It was 5.30pm when we returned to the lounge where Dame Barbara perused the transcribed copy. After reading each page, she would hand over to me for approval. By today’s standards, the reading was ‘racy’ enough for her dedicated admirers in their twilight years. A time when her eulogies would rekindle memories of youthful romance. She was a unique woman by any standards. Hated by the ladies but adored by men. Right up until she died in May 2000, Dame Barbara Cartland held a candle for Cheltenham.