Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Farewell, Trumpers


"At my age, you can say exactly what you bloody well think."

She was once invited by a magazine editor to a lunch where Nicholas Soames praised Virginia Bottomley as being “one of the chaps” in parliament. The editor found this offensive and said that a woman cannot be a chap. Trumpers took the fag out of her mouth, put down her gin and simply said: "Balls!"
The world has lost another great raconteur, one of the last remaining masters of political repartee and old-school no-nonsense forthrightness - the redoubtable Baroness Trumpington, veteran of society balls and of code-breaking at Bletchley Park during WW2 alike, who has died aged 96. We're talking of a woman who dodged the groping hands of David Lloyd-George, was a secretary to Churchill's friend and colleague Duff Cooper, became a renowned New York socialite, married a man who became a master of Eton College, entertained members of the Royal Family and partied with the Astors, and (remarkably) sparred with, yet remained a trusted ally of, Margaret Thatcher; and was a stalwart member of the Lords and Commons Pipe and Cigar Smokers' Club. Phew!

And what better way to remember the lady, who is perhaps most remembered for her "two-fingered salute" to a fellow peer, than with a few extracts from her autobiography (a book she later claimed she "never read")?
...My mother’s idea of being poor was going to the Ritz on a bus...

...I attended Miss Vacani’s School of Dance, where I learned ballroom dancing and the correct way to curtsey when presented at court. Lessons took place in a big room on the first floor of a house in Knightsbridge with all the nannies sitting upright and silent in chairs around the edge of the room. Miss Vacani, who also gave private lessons to the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, was a tubby little person who wore the most impossibly high heels. Incredibly, after a year or two of Miss Vacani, my mother removed me and sent me to learn ballet with the Ballet Rambert. Goodness knows why my mother decided that this elephant she had given birth to was going to become a graceful ballet dancer but it did at least teach me rhythm...

...Whenever we could we rushed up to London and danced all night, then ate enormous breakfasts at a Lyons Corner House, with almost everything ersatz – fake scrambled eggs, fake everything. And then the chaps would see us to Euston Station and we would take the milk train and go straight back to work. I had one dress, from Fenwick, and a black fur coat which I had bought with money I’d been given for my sixteenth birthday. It cost £15 and it looked lovely but it was skunk and if it got wet, it smelt. But I wore it through thick and thin, so I guess I just smelt. I had several things made out of curtains, too, because curtain material wasn’t rationed...

...[one evening] my companion and I headed across Mayfair to the Café de Paris, on Coventry Street near Piccadilly. It was a high-class place and a lot of famous people and members of the royal family went there. During the Blitz people went there even more because the dance floor was in the basement and they felt safe from the bombs. What they didn’t realize was that it had a glass roof. That particular night, as we got near to the Café we were held behind a police cordon. The Café had received a direct hit: the young bandleader Snake Hips Johnson, and most of his West Indian Orchestra and a lot of the people dancing had been killed. I knew a beautiful woman who survived but she lost a leg. Imagine. If we had been half an hour earlier, we would have been there, so we were very lucky...

...[In the House of Lords] Lord King of Bridgwater commented that those people who had served in the Second World War were starting to look ‘pretty old’, it was a natural reaction to stick two fingers up at him. I had thought it was between him and me, but the camera was on me, so it was between him, me and everyone who had a television. At first I tried to say I had just been primping my hair but it was perfectly obvious what I was doing so I had to admit it.

That was probably what got me picked for Have I Got News for You. I rather think they saw me making that naughty gesture and thought I might be an amusing guest. I hope I was amusing. I started off on the programme before we’d even really got going by asking why, as a 90-year-old woman, I had been asked to fill in a health and safety form to say that I was not pregnant, and it went from there...
RIP Jean Alys Barker, Baroness Trumpington DCVO PC (née Campbell-Harris, 23rd October 1922 – 26th November 2018). We'll never see her like again.

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