Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney / Coco Chanel: an Intimate Life - Lisa

New Coco Chanel biography claims to have proof that fashion icon used drugs, had lesbian affairs and loved a Nazi spy
By Daisy Dumas
UPDATED: 08:21 GMT, 2 August 2011

Coco Chanel's perfectly set hair, manicured hands, plucked eyebrows and hard stare are as recognisable as some of her enduring designs.
Less well known are allegations of drug use, Nazi dealings and even homophobia - something that contradicts the widespread acceptance of her lesbian relationships.
Now, a new book claims to have concrete proof of the fashion icon's dalliances and vices.

Lisa Chaney's forthcoming biography, Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life, lays bare hard evidence of the fashion maven's use of opiates, as well as new insights into Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel's bisexuality, multiple affairs and love with a Nazi spy.

Penguin says: 'Drawing on newly discovered love letters and other records, Chaney's controversial book reveals the truth about Chanel's drug habit and lesbian affairs.
'And the question about Chanel's German lover during World War II (was he a spy for the Nazis?) is definitively answered.'

WWD goes one step further, saying the book is able to prove that the lover in question, Hans Günther von Dincklage, did indeed spy for the Nazis throughout the Second World War.
Quoting en email from Ms Chaney's Viking publicist, WWD cites: 'Whether Chanel was aware of this is unknown, but after that war she lived in neutral Switzerland for a while, to avoid any proceedings against her.'
In the book, due for release in November, Ms Chaney uses the newly discovered letters as well as documents from the Swiss Federal Archives to quell any doubt as to the truth of some of the less palatable aspects of Ms Chanel's colourful lifestyle.

Viking says of the 20th Century's most famous fashion designer: 'Her numerous liaisons, whose poignant and tragic details have eluded all previous biographers, were the very stuff of legend.
'Witty and mesmerizing, she became muse, patron, or mistress to the century's most celebrated artists, including Picasso, Dalí, and Stravinsky.'
Ms Chanel's infamous life has inspired many a graphic recounting of her rags-to-riches story.
The re-released biography, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie, which includes illustrations by Karl Lagerfeld, has drawn attention to Ms Chanel's reliance on opiates before, saying the designer saw morphine as a 'harmless sedative.'

Successful 2009 movie, Coco Before Chanel, drew criticism for playing down some of Ms Chanel's less savoury antics, while Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, also released in 2009, throws a spotlight onto the designer's love affair with the Russian composer.
Ms Chaney's version of a story oft misread is, no doubt, set to capture the attention of yet another generation of Chanel enthusiasts.

Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney – review
Lisa Chaney has done much original research for her biography of Coco Chanel but chooses to ignore unpalatable truths about her subjec

Rachel Cooke
Friday 23 September 2011 11.30 BST

I have a hunch that Lisa Chaney, Coco Chanel's latest biographer, must be suffering from an even greater dose than usual of pre-publication anxiety. Unfortunately for Chaney, her book stalks into the picture a mere eight weeks after Hal Vaughan's "controversial" Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War, which suggested that the designer, already known to have been a "horizontal collaborator" during the second world war, was also a German spy (Abwehr agent F-7124, codenamed "Westminster" after her former lover, Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster). Are Vaughan's claims credible? I think they are. Apart from anything, he has paperwork to back them. For Chaney, who does not go so far – Chanel, she theorises, was a supreme pragmatist, but not, in the end, a traitor – this must have come as something of a blow.

Still, she can at least console herself with her own discoveries (and it is a wonder, when some 60 books have already been written about Coco Chanel, that there is anything left to find out). Chaney has seen a previously unknown cache of letters from Arthur "Boy" Capel, the English businessman who was the love of Chanel's life, and she is the first biographer to have had access to the diaries of Dmitri Pavlovich, another lover. In combination, these documents suggest that Chanel was not always the cold-hearted prune she later became; that she had her vulnerabilities. She adored Boy, and must have been, for all her modern views, agonised by his dithering – the extent of which is now fully clear – over the matter of whether he would marry an aristocratic English rose called Diana Wyndham. Pavlovich, the exiled "heir" to the Russian throne, usually gets short shrift in Chanel biographies, largely because the designer herself characterised him as a spoony young man with whom she went to bed only as a favour. Chaney, though, makes it clear that she needed and enjoyed his companionship; in 1919, Boy had been killed in a car crash, a blow from which Chanel was struggling to recover. Worth noting, too, is Chaney's discovery that Bel Respiro, the French country house bought by Chanel in 1920, was the same property that Boy had purchased for his new wife. I have always wondered about her grief at Capel's loss: was it just more role-playing? But this suggests that it was both real and extremely painful (Chaney says that in the months Coco spent living in this shrine, she was "half-cracked").

Elsewhere, though, we are on familiar ground. Gabrielle Chanel – she took the nickname "Coco" as a young woman from a song she liked to sing in a cafe patronised by cavalry officers – was born in 1883, illegitimate and poor, in the Loire. Her father, absent, was a market trader. Her mother died when she was 11, at which point Chanel was placed in a convent in Aubazine, Corrèze, where the nuns taught her to sew. Chaney is good on the early years – though she makes no connection between the garb of the nuns, and Chanel's famous palette of beige, black and white. In particular, it had not occurred to me before that Chanel would have grown up speaking patois – a fact that reminds you all over again how daring it was of her to promote unloved fabrics such as jersey, and cheap fur such as rabbit: a less self‑confident woman, once funds were available, would have been in thrall to silk and mink.

Ah, yes. Those funds. Chanel was a good businesswoman and as she moved from making hats to couture and then, finally, to jewellery and perfume, she amassed a pile of money. But in the beginning, she made good use of other people's fortunes. In Vichy, where she headed after leaving the convent, she met an ex-officer, Étienne Balsan, who installed her in his chateau as his mistress. Balsan introduced her to Boy, who helped her to finance her first shops (her triumphantly successful Deauville boutique opened in 1913). When Boy died, and following affairs with Stravinsky and Pavlovich, she took up with the Duke of Westminster, known as Bend'Or to his friends, the richest man in Britain. This relationship clearly worries Chaney. She refuses to believe that Bend'Or was a boor and a thicko, asking: "Why would she have associated herself with someone who was utterly obnoxious?" (Answer: women sleep with obnoxious men all the time.) She also omits to mention his well-documented antisemitism.

The author is just a little timid, too, about the second war (during the first, Chanel had cashed in, her new "practical" designs suddenly appealing). Having shut up the House of Chanel – though she cannily kept the perfume business going – Coco moved in to the Ritz, and took up with a German intelligence officer, Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, a charmer who had presciently divorced his half-Jewish wife shortly before the passing of the Nuremberg laws. Chaney carefully puts Chanel's convenient new relationship in context. Thousands of Frenchwomen, she says, took up with German soldiers during this period; in wartime, a girl does what she has to do. I think this is – up to a point – a fair argument. The difficulty in the case of Chanel was that, first, she was rich and famous enough not to need the protection of a German lover, and second, that she continued the relationship in Lausanne after the war.

So where, among the rows of Chanel books, does this one fit? I'm not sure. There is no doubting Chaney's tenacity as a researcher, and her attitude to the work comes as a relief: she admires it without ever making it seem – as fashion writers are apt breathlessly to do – more revolutionary than it was. (She notes that it was Poiret, not Chanel, who first suggested women ditch their corsets, and she makes the very good point that, ironically, most women needed a corset more than ever before if they were to get away with wearing Chanel's narrow, less structured frocks.) But there is something desultory about her narrative, and she sometimes struggles to say what she means. She also – a classic error, I think – mistakes taste for intelligence. Chanel was exceptionally chic, and as wily as a fox. But she was not a thinker, for all that I agree with her about miniskirts (yuck). Perhaps this is one reason why her conscience seemed hardly ever to trouble her – though as Chaney also reminds us, at the end of her life (she died in 1971) her sleepwalking was so bad, her staff would tie her to her bed. "I am not a heroine," Chanel told Paul Morand, the author of her famous "memoir", and I believe that on this matter, if nothing else, she was speaking from the heart.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sleeping with the enemy by Hal Vaughan

"Fiercely anti-Semitic long before it became a question of pleasing the Germans, she became rich by catering to the very rich, and shared their dislike of Jews, trade unions, socialism, Freemasons, and communism."
Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War
By Hal Vaughn

Declassified, archival documents unearthed by Hal Vaughan reveal that the French Préfecture de Police had a document on Chanel in which she was described as "Couturier and perfumer. Pseudonym: Westminster. Agent reference: F 7124. Signalled as suspect in the file" (Pseudonyme: Westminster. Indicatif d'agent: F 7124. Signalée comme suspecte au fichier). For Vaughan, this was a piece of revelatory information linking Chanel to German intelligence operations. Anti-Nazi activist Serge Klarsfeld thus declared that "It is not because Chanel had a spy number that she was necessarily personally implicated. Some informers had numbers without being aware of it." ("Ce n'est pas parce Coco Chanel avait un numéro d'espion qu'elle était nécessairement impliquée personnellement. Certains indicateurs avaient des numéros sans le savoir").
Vaughan establishes that Chanel committed herself to the German cause as early as 1941 and worked for General Walter Schellenberg, chief of SS intelligence.[75] At the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 owing to incurable liver disease and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg's medical care and living expenses, financially supported his wife and family and paid for Schellenberg's funeral upon his death in 1952.
 Operation Modellhut
In 1943, Chanel traveled to Berlin with Dinklage to meet with SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to formulate strategy. In late 1943 or early 1944, Chanel and her SS master, Schellenberg, devised a plan to press England to end hostilities with Germany. When interrogated by British intelligence at war's end, Schellenberg maintained that Chanel was "a person who knew Churchill sufficiently to undertake political negotiations with him". For this mission, named Operation Modellhut ("Model Hat"), they recruited Vera Lombardi. Count Joseph von Ledebur-Wicheln, a Nazi agent who defected to the British Secret Service in 1944, recalled a meeting he had with Dinklage in early 1943. Dinklage proposed an inducement that would tantalize Chanel. He informed von Ledebur that Chanel's participation in the operation would be ensured if Lombardi was included: "The Abwehr had first to bring to France a young Italian woman [Lombardi] Coco Chanel was attached to because of her lesbian vices…" Unaware of the machinations of Schellenberg and her old friend Chanel, Lombardi played the part of their unwitting dupe, led to believe that the forthcoming journey to Spain would be a business trip exploring the possibilities of establishing the Chanel couture in Madrid. Lombardi's role was to act as intermediary, delivering a letter penned by Chanel to Winston Churchill, and forwarded to him via the British embassy in Madrid.Schellenberg's SS liaison officer, Captain Walter Kutchmann, acted as bagman, "told to deliver a large sum of money to Chanel in Madrid". Ultimately, the mission proved a failure. British intelligence files reveal that all collapsed, as Lombardi, on arrival, proceeded to denounce Chanel and others as Nazi spies.
 Protection from prosecution
In September 1944, Chanel was called in to be interrogated by the Free French Purge Committee, the épuration. The committee, which had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity, was obliged to release her. According to Chanel's grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home she said, "Churchill had me freed"
A previously unpublished interview exists dating from September, 1944 when Malcolm Muggeridge, then an intelligence agent with the British MI6, interviewed Chanel after her appearance before the Free French investigators. Muggeridge pointedly questions Chanel about her allegiances, and wartime activities. As to her feelings of being the subject of a recent investigation of collaborators, Chanel had this to say of her interrogators: "It is odd how my feelings have evolved. At first, their conduct incensed me. Now, I feel almost sorry for those ruffians. One should refrain from contempt for the baser specimens of humanity…"
The extent of Winston Churchill's intervention can only be speculated upon. However, Chanel's escape from prosecution certainly speaks of layers of conspiracy,[dubious – discuss] protection at the highest levels. It was feared that if Chanel were ever made to testify at trial, the pro-Nazi sympathies and activities of top-level British officials, members of the society elite and those of the royal family itself would be exposed. It is believed that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to "protect Chanel".
Finally induced to appear in Paris before investigators in 1949, Chanel left her retreat in Switzerland to confront testimony given against her at the war crime trial of Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor and highly placed German intelligence agent. Chanel denied all accusations brought against her. She offered the presiding judge, Leclercq, a character reference: "I could arrange for a declaration to come from Mr. Duff Cooper."
Chanel's friend and biographer Marcel Haedrich provided a telling estimation of her wartime interaction with the Nazi regime: "If one took seriously the few disclosures that Mademoiselle Chanel allowed herself to make about those black years of the occupation, one's teeth would be set on edge."
Vaughan's disclosure of the contents of recently de-classified military intelligence documents, and the subsequent controversy generated soon after the book's publication in August, 2011, prompted The House of Chanel to issue a statement, portions of which appeared in myriad media outlets. Chanel corporate "refuted the claim" (of espionage), while admitting that company officials had read only media excerpts of the book."
"What's certain is that she had a relationship with a German aristocrat during the War. Clearly it wasn't the best period to have a love story with a German even if Baron von Dincklage was English by his mother and she (Chanel) knew him before the War," the Chanel group said in a statement.[88] "The fashion house also disputed that the designer was anti-Semitic, saying Chanel would not have had Jewish friends or ties with the Rothschild family of financiers if she were."

In an interview given to the Associated Press, author Vaughan explains the trajectory of his research. "I was looking for something else and I come across this document saying 'Chanel is a Nazi agent…Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I come across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy." Vaughan also addressed the discomfort many felt with the revelations provided in his book: "A lot of people in this world don't want the iconic figure of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, one of France's great cultural idols, destroyed. This is definitely something that a lot of people would have preferred to put aside, to forget, to just go on selling Chanel scarves and jewelry."

Coco Chanel, high priestess of couture, created the look of the chic modern woman: her simple and elegant designs freed women from their corsets and inspired them to crop their hair. By the 1920s, Chanel employed more than two thousand people in her workrooms, and had amassed a personal fortune. But at the start of the Second World War, Chanel closed down her couture house and went to live quietly at the Ritz, moving to Switzerland after the war. For more than half a century, Chanel’s life from 1941 to 1954 has been shrouded in rumour. Neither Chanel nor her biographers have told the full story, until now.

In this explosive narrative Hal Vaughan pieces together Chanel’s hidden years, from the Nazi occupation of Paris to the aftermath of the Liberation. He uncovers the truth of Chanel’s anti-Semitism and long-whispered collaboration with Hitler’s officials. In particular, Chanel’s long relationship with ‘Spatz’, Baron von Dincklage, previously described as a tennis-playing playboy and German diplomat, and finally exposed here as a Nazi master spy and agent who ran an intelligence ring in the Mediterranean and reported directly to Joseph Goebbels.

Sleeping with the Enemy tells in detail how Chanel became a German intelligence operative, Abwehr agent F-7124; how she was enlisted in spy missions, and why she evaded arrest in France after the war. It reveals the role played by Winston Churchill in her escape from retribution; and how, after a nine-year exile in Switzerland with Dincklage, and despite French investigations into her espionage activities, Coco was able to return to Paris and triumphantly reinvent herself – and rebuild the House of Chanel.

As Hal Vaughan shows, far from being a heroine of France, Chanel was in fact one of its most surprising traitors.

Chanel No. F-7124
Agence France-Presse
Coco Chanel spied for the Nazis, according to a new book by U.S. author Hal Vaughan.

Henry Samuel, The Daily Telegraph · Aug. 17, 2011

Coco Chanel acted as a numbered Nazi agent during the Second World War, carrying out several spy and recruitment missions, a new biography claims.

Chanel was feted as a fashion pioneer who changed the way women dressed and thought about themselves. Her life has been the subject of countless biographies and films, which have charted her career but also her darker side as a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator.

But according to Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War, the creator of the famed little black dress was more than this: She was a numbered Nazi agent working for the Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence agency.

After sifting through European and U.S. archives, Hal Vaughan, a U.S. journalist based in Paris, found the designer had an Abwehr label: Agent F-7124, She also had the code name Westminster, after her former lover, the anti-Semitic second duke of Westminster.

Chanel spent most of the war staying at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, sharing close quarters with spies and senior Nazis, including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels.

It is well documented she took as a lover Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, an officer 13 years her junior. The liaison allowed her to pass freely in restricted areas.

When questioned on their relationship Chanel famously told the British photographer Cecil Beaton, "Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover."

Previous works have depicted Chanel more as an amoral opportunist and shrewd businesswoman than an active collaborator, while von Dincklage has come across as a handsome, but feckless mondain, more bent on enjoying the high life than recruiting spies.

But Mr. Vaughan's book claims not only was Chanel "fiercely anti-Semitic," she also carried out missions for the Abwehr in Madrid and Berlin with von Dincklage, who is described as a dangerous "Nazi spy master."

"While French Resistance fighters were shooting Germans in the summer of 1941, Chanel was recruited as an agent by the Abwehr," the book claims.

Chanel travelled to Spain with Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor whose job was to "identify men and women who could be recruited, or coerced, into spying for Nazi Germany."

Mr. Vaughan also cites a British secret intelligence report documenting what Count Joseph von Ledebur-Wicheln, an Abwehr agent and defector, told MI6 in 1944.

In the file, he discussed how Chanel and von Dincklage visited Berlin in 1943 to offer Chanel's services as an agent to Heinrich Himmler.

The book adds weight to reports Winston Churchill intervened to spare Chanel - a friend from before the war - from arrest and trial, despite the fact she was on French Resistance "death rosters" as a collaborator. She fled to Switzerland, only to return in 1954 to resurrect her reputation and reinvent the House of Chanel.

Chanel was never charged with any wrongdoing and died aged 87 in 1971.

She is one of numerous esteemed French artists who collaborated with the Nazis, including Maurice Chevalier, Jean Cocteau, Sacha Guitry and Edith Piaf.

Was Coco Chanel a Nazi Agent?

Gabrielle Chanel — better known as Coco — was a wretched human being. Anti-Semitic, homophobic, social climbing, opportunistic, ridiculously snobbish and given to sins of phrase-making like “If blonde, use blue perfume,” she was addicted to morphine and actively collaborated with the Germans during the Nazi occupation of Paris. And yet, her clean, modern, kinetic designs, which brought a high-society look to low-regarded fabrics, revolutionized women’s fashion, and to this day have kept her name synonymous with the most glorious notions of French taste and élan.
Exploring the contradictory complexities of this woman, at once so very awful and so very talented, should make for fascinating and enlightening reading. After all, Chanel’s life offers biographers a trove of juicy material. Chanel was a creative genius, her own expertly polished self-presentation perhaps the greatest triumph of her brilliantly inventive mind. She was born in 1883 in a hospice for the poor in the Loire Valley, to unwed parents of peasant stock and, upon her mother’s death, was placed at age 12 in a convent-orphanage to be raised by Roman Catholic nuns. This left her with a lifelong fear of losing everything. The point is nicely captured by Hal Vaughan in “Sleeping With the Enemy,” who quotes her as saying: “From my earliest childhood I’ve been certain that they have taken everything away from me, that I’m dead.”

She was put to work as a seamstress at age 20 and took the name Coco from a song she liked to sing in a rowdy cafe patronized by cavalry officers. One ex-­officer, the wealthy Étienne Balsan, installed her in his chateau, taught her to conduct herself with high style on horseback and, generally, gave her the skills she needed to make her way up through society. Balsan also introduced her to Arthur (Boy) Capel, a friend who soon became Chanel’s first great love, and who also, conveniently, set her up in a Paris apartment and helped her start her first business venture, designing sleekly simple women’s hats.

It wasn’t long before Chanel took Jazz Age Paris by storm, liberating women from their corsets, draping them in jersey and long strings of pearls and dousing them with the scent of modernity, Chanel No. 5. She caroused with Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso, designed costumes for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and amused herself with the cash-poor White Russian aristocracy. As her personal fortunes rose, she turned her attention to making serious inroads into British high society, befriending Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales and becoming, most notably, the mistress of the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor (known as Bendor), reputedly the wealthiest man in England.

Bendor’s — and Chanel’s — anti-­Semitism was vociferous and well documented; the pro-Nazi sensibilities of the Duke of Windsor and many in his circle have long been noted, too. All this, it appears, made the society of the British upper crust particularly appealing to Chanel. As Vaughan notes, after she was lured by a million-dollar fee to spend a few weeks in Hollywood in 1930 — Samuel Goldwyn, he writes, “did his best to keep Jews away from Chanel” — she found herself compelled to run straight back to England, so that she could wash away her brush with vulgarity in “a bath of nobility.”

It wasn’t much of a stretch, then, for Chanel, during wartime, to find herself the mistress of the German intelligence officer Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, a charming character who had spied on the French fleet in the late 1920s, and who found himself pleasingly single in occupied Paris, having presciently divorced his half-Jewish German wife just before the passage of the Nuremberg Laws. It wasn’t any particular betrayal of her values, or morals or ideals either, for Chanel to find herself traveling to Madrid and Berlin to engage in cloak-and-dagger machinations with her country’s occupier.

The story of how Coco became Chanel has been told many times before over the past half-century, most recently (and, sad to say, much more engagingly) in last year’s “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life,” by the British fashion columnist Justine Picardie. The story of how Chanel metamorphosed from a mere “horizontal collaborator” — the mistress of a Nazi — into an actual German secret agent has been less well known, though earlier writers have reported that she had worked for the Germans. It’s here that Vaughan makes his freshest contribution, using a wealth of materials gleaned from wartime police files and intelligence archives, some of which were only recently declassified by French and German authorities, to flesh out precisely how and why she became an agent, and how she sought to profit from her German connections during the war.

Vaughan ably charts Chanel’s clever opportunism as she works, first, to free her nephew André Palasse from a German prisoner-of-war camp, and later seeks to use the Nazis’ Aryanization of property laws to wrest control of her perfume empire away from the Jewish Wertheimer brothers. Yet his account of her one real mission for the Germans — a 1943 covert operation code-named Modellhut (“model hat”) in which she was meant to use her contacts to get a message to Winston Churchill from the SS stating that a number of leading Nazis wanted to break with Adolf Hitler and negotiate a separate peace with England — emerges neither clearly nor logically from his highly detailed telling. Too many diplomatic documents are reproduced at too much length. Contradictions are not clearly sorted out. Vaughan seems to have felt as though his rich source materials could speak for themselves, but they don’t — and he doesn’t succeed in lending authority to the accounts of contemporary witnesses who were, undoubtedly, unreliable.

Despite her indisputable collaborationist activities, and after a brief period of uncertainty during which she was questioned by a French judge, Chanel eventually got off pretty much scot-free after the war, once again using her wiles to protect herself most expertly. She tipped off the poet and anti-Nazi partisan Pierre Reverdy, a longtime occasional lover, so that he could arrange the arrest of her wartime partner in collaboration, Baron Louis de Vaufreland Piscatory; she paid off the family of the former Nazi chief of SS intelligence Gen. Walter Schellenberg when she heard that he was preparing to publish his memoirs. (It was Schellenberg who had given her the “model hat” assignment.) Vaughan could have done better in providing the context to the seemingly incomprehensible ease of Chanel’s reintegration into French fashion and society, telling more, for example, of the widespread desire for forgetting and moving forward that held sway in Charles de Gaulle's postwar France.

These weaknesses — of authorial voice and critical judgment — run through “Sleeping With the Enemy.” Vaughan, a retired diplomat who has made his home in Paris, has allowed his writing to become a bit too imbued with the reflexive verbal tics and general vive-la-séduction silliness of his adopted country. “Sometimes the kitten, sometimes the vamp, and often the vixen, . . . she must have melted Bendor’s knees” is how he captures Chanel in her 40s; “beautiful and sexy, her silhouette stunning,” he appraises her in her 50s. (Indeed, his English often sounds like French — the most cloying sort of breathy French — in translation.) Despite all he knows about Chanel, Vaughan often appears to be as beguiled, disarmed and charmed by Coco as were the men in her life — not to mention the countless women who have sought over the decades to cloak themselves in her image. And like them, he never gets beyond the self-protecting armor of her myth.

Judith Warner, a former special correspond­ent for Newsweek in Paris, is the author, most recently, of “We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.”

Phillips/Topical Press Agency — Hulton Archive — Getty Images
"A bath of nobility": Coco Chanel and the Duke of Westminster at the races in 1924.

 “Sleeping With the Enemy,” by Hal Vaughan

Salome danced. Scheherazade told tales. In the face of powerful, dangerous men, they used their skills differently. But both were beautiful, cunning, unafraid to employ sex for political ends. It’s a well-worn story, an archetype for the ages. But give that mythic siren a bit of documentary detail, ally her with Nazis, make her a spy and a Jew-hater, and the plot becomes startling. It shocks us all over again.

That is the crux of “Sleeping With the Enemy,” Hal Vaughan’s compelling chronicle of Coco Chanel, whose fame as the queen of couture made her a darling of princes and prime ministers. She was born on a hot afternoon in the Pays de la Loire, and she rose from poverty with little more than a dressmaker’s needle. But in Paris, by the eve of World War II, she was dressing the beautiful, perfuming the rich, drinking champagne with poets and impresarios. Sharp-tongued and funny, she became a friend to Winston Churchill, mistress to the Duke of Westminster, intimate of Picasso. When Hitler overran Paris, she didn’t hesitate to consort with the Gestapo, too.
Vaughan, a journalist, filmmaker and diplomat who has been “involved,” as his publisher coyly puts it, “in CIA operations,” offers us a different Chanel from any you’ll find at the company store. This is by no means the account of an emerging style — spare, easy, free of corsets and remarkably modern — but a tale of how a single-minded woman faced history, made hard choices, connived, lied, collaborated and used every imaginable wile to survive and see that the people she cared about survived with her. It’s not a pretty picture.

She was born Gabrielle Chasnel in a picturesque little town in western France. Her mother was a laundrywoman; her father, a street-hawker. Her parents didn’t marry until she was 12, but very soon after, her mother was dead, her brothers at work on a farm, and she and her sisters installed in a Cistercian orphanage in rural France. It was during those years in the nunnery that young Gabrielle acquired a skill and a doctrine that would guide her for the rest of her life: She learned to sew; and she learned to hate Jews. “Chanel’s anti-Semitism was not only verbal,” her friend, an editor of the magazine Marie Claire, avowed, “but passionate, demoded, and often embarrassing. Like all the children of her age she had studied the catechism: hadn’t the Jews crucified Jesus?”

At 18, she was striking: slim, dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a fresh, luminous complexion. She moved to a pension for girls in Moulins and found night work as a singer in a cabaret. By day, she worked as a seamstress. She took the name “Coco,” short for “coquette,” French for a kept woman — and, within a few years, she became exactly that: a demimondaine, living with her lover. He was Etienne Balsan, an ex-cavalry officer from a family of wealthy textile industrialists. Balsan brought her to his chateau, introduced her to his friends and taught her how to ride — a skill that would serve her royally.

Keen-eyed and discriminating, Chanel soon learned what it took to live well. She would remain grateful to Balsan for the rest of her life, but within two years, she was in love with someone else: Arthur “Boy” Capel, one of Balsan’s riding partners — a handsome English playboy with a large bank account and a web of connections. In 1908, he snatched her away, installed her in a Paris apartment and helped her launch a business making ladies’ hats. Boy Capel proved as generous with his wallet as he was fickle in love. When Chanel’s older sister committed suicide, he arranged for Chanel’s nephew, Andre Palasse (whom Chanel quickly adopted), to attend a boarding school in England. Capel would go on to finance her clothing boutiques in Paris, Deauville and Biarritz.

But Capel would take someone else as a wife. An upper-class Englishman could hardly marry a descendant of peasants — a courtesan. Nevertheless, Chanel remained his mistress until his death in a car accident 10 years later. She claimed she would never find happiness again. But at 35, she was rich, living in a glamorous apartment overlooking the Seine, poised to open the House of Chanel and acquire ever more wealth, lovers and notoriety. One world war had already come and gone, and it had not affected the gilded trajectory.

Never-ending stories: Is there anything left for biographers to reveal?
Gone are the days of respectful 'life-writings' and long gaps between comparative biographical studies. As yet another Coco Chanel exposé arrives, John Walsh asks, are there still any new facts for writers to uncover?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011 in The Independent

A hot news item from the 1940s was announced this week. On the Gawker website, in The Washington Post, in Agence France-Presse, the big revelation was splashed for all to see: Coco Chanel, the great fashion designer, clothes horse and begetter of the world's most famous perfume, spied for the Nazis during the Second World War.

Seventy years after the events, the news caused a stir. "Coco Chanel spent WWII collaborating with the Nazis, says a new book that outlines her life," reported the Daily Mail, going on to quote from the book Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent by Hal Vaughan, who claims that the grande dame of the little black dress was practically a Nazi herself: "Fiercely anti-Semitic long before it became a question of pleasing the Germans, she became rich by catering to the very rich and shared their dislike of Jews, trade unions, socialism, Freemasons and Communism."

The book also claims that "in 1940 Coco was recruited into the Abwehr and had a lover, Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, who was honoured by Hitler and Goebbels in the war".

One's first response is to wonder whether Ms Chanel ever linked up with Hugo Boss, who designed the Nazi uniform and whose career blithely survived the war despite the taint of fascism. One's second response is to say: I thought we knew this stuff about the Nazi lover already. And a third is to wonder: how much more information about Coco bloody Chanel do I need in my life?

It seems only yesterday that Justine Picardie's Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life was garnering enthusiastic reviews for cutting through "the accretions of lies and romance" that surround Chanel's reputation. It came out in 2009, the same year as The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo and Chesley McLaren, one of a number of self-help and picture-heavy tomes that accompanied the release of Anne Fontaine's movie Coco before Chanel starring the lovely Audrey Tautou (who, of course, also starred in the last big Chanel perfume television commercial) and, coincidentally, Jan Kounen's film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, which opened a few months later, starring Anna Mouglalis as the scissor-wielding horizontale.

Die-hard fans might already have been familiar with Chanel and Her World: Friends, Fashion and Fame by Edmonde Charles-Roux, published four years earlier, or indeed a full biography entitled Coco Chanel by Henry Gidel published in 2000 – or indeed they could have checked out a book called Chanel: A Woman of Her Own by Axel Madsen published by Bloomsbury as far back as 1991. It deals with her famous lovers (Cocteau, Stravinsky, Dali, the Duke of Westminster) and tells all about her German boyfriend, and her crackpot attempts to convey German peace proposals to Winston Churchill, whom she had met earlier through the Duke.

In other words, we knew most of the Nazi stuff 20 years ago. If we'd forgotten, the publication of the French historian Patrick Buisson's Erotic Years 1940-1945 in 2008 would have reminded us that Chanel spent most of the war in the Paris Ritz Hotel, that her boyfriend was the amusingly named Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, and that he was a military attaché with the German embassy and a famous spy. Half of Paris knew about her liaison at the time, and condemned her for it. She herself claimed she'd used her affair with Baron Von Dincklage in order to meet a high-up general, in order to broker a peace deal with the Allies.

Perhaps this is what Hal Vaughan, the author of the new biography, means when he accuses her of "dabbling in Nazi foreign policy". He also accuses her of being "fiercely anti-Semitic", in using anti-Jew laws to close down a company to which she'd sold perfume-making rights to Chanel No 5. But as Justine Picardie argued in her biography, this unpleasant episode reeks more of commercial ruthlessness than of race hatred. Coco was, from first to last, a hard-faced, hard-nosed businesswoman with a flair for self-promotion and self-preservation. She slept with people she fancied, whether they were Nazi spies or English aristocrats. She did whatever it took to survive. And she lied and lied about her life, from the date of her birth to her upbringing in an orphanage, to her years as a demi-mondaine, one rung up from a prostitute.

So now, we have Hal Vaughan's slightly vieux-chapeau revelations about wartime espionage (the only intriguing detail in his account is that Chanel was allegedly recruited to the Abwehr military intelligence organisation under the code name of Agent F-7124 – though she was later accused by the Nazis of being a British spy), and that will do for the moment, won't it?

Well, no, actually – amazingly, there's another work in the pipeline, Chanel: an Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney, to be published in November this year. Mercifully, it starts in 1945, when her wartime shenanigans were over, but it shockingly reveals that, at some point after the war, the designer had sex with a woman, and occasionally indulged in "opiates", as the blurb quaintly calls them. As revelations go, these inhabit the same space as the information that ursine quadrupeds relieve themselves in leafy environs. Whoever thought it was worth commissioning another Coco book on the strength of some teeny details of sex and drugs?

Which raises the crucial question: what does it take to justify a biography today? What makes a publisher think that a dead person's life is worth the general reader's attention again? What makes it worth joining a herd of other authors writing about the same life?

The unofficial rules of "life-writing" used to hold that to publish a biography of a canonical figure (ie, one safely dead and consigned to a generally agreed "place" in history) less than 30 years after the last attempt, is a waste of both time and academic energy. Once Boswell had "done" Johnson, it was tacitly agreed, there was no need of another "life of" for a generation or two. The latter half of the 20th century, however, rewrote the rules. A new frankness in discussing sexual matters, a fascination with the minutiae of famous lives. A prurient interest in what was once deemed shocking behaviour, a wholesale lack of interest in Victorian-style hagiography – these all changed the face of biography in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Suddenly, you didn't have to wait 20 or 30 years if you had some juicy new information or some shocking new theory about the lives of the famous. Five years would do – or less. Victoria Glendinning recalled how amazed she was, when embarking on a new life of Anthony Trollope, to discover that three other Trollope biographers were already hard at work. The life-writing genre was suddenly deafened by the noise of tightly shut closets being flung open. New caches of letters, diaries and previously unseen material easily justified new lives of Victorian authors, politicians and adventurers, of Edwardian suffragettes, Bloomsbury intellectuals, pre-war sportsmen, post-war entertainers.

Shocking material, hitherto unpublishable, was suddenly available to all. John Lahr's sprightly life of the Sixties playwright Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, with its frank account of gay high-jinks in public lavatories, could never have seen the light of publication before 1987. When Fiona MacCarthy brought out her life of Eric Gill, the sculptor and typographer, in 1989, she revealed to the world that he'd slept with every woman in his saintly Catholic commune in Wales, including maidservants, the wives of friends, his sisters, his two daughters – even the family dog. The facts had been available for years, explicitly laid out in Gill's self-accusing journals, but earlier biographers had been too cautious (or their publishers too shocked) to use it.

Some readers objected about what they regarded as a retrospective invasion of a subject's privacy, but their objections were brushed aside. "When you get the truth told without censure, then you realise how very various human nature is," Michael Holroyd, the doyen of biographers, told The Times. "The biographer's loyalty has to be the subject, and not what peripheral people are going to think about it."

Historical or literary figures about whose lives we'd speculated became fair game for several investigations. Hints of paedophilia or repressed sexuality became a focus of new biographies. Lewis Carroll's interest in, and photographs of, half-dressed little girls (and his artless letters to their parents) prompted a small industry of books. The lives of heroic figures with inscrutable emotional lives – Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, Sir Richard Burton, explorer and translator of the Kama Sutra – were inspected for signs of perversity. It was fantastic. Furtive sensation-seekers, too wary to look for sexually explicit material on bookshop shelves, could get their kicks in biographies – if they didn't mind ploughing their way through 500 pages of extraneous material.

Today, prurient browsers with a fascination for reading about physical or sexual abuse can easily find them in the pages of the popular "misery memoir". The biographies in the modern best-seller lists are mostly lives of living celebrities and entertainers, with their own protocols of revelation, modesty and nuance. For an author to justify writing the life of a canonical figure, however, the rules are different. The biography doesn't have to be about sexual revelation any more. It's more likely to be about truth and identity. "A good biography," says DJ Taylor, author of lives of Thackeray and George Orwell, "should be about what Anthony Powell calls 'the personal myth' – not about what the subject did, but about the image of themselves that they projected to the world. Who they thought they were, what they think happened to them – and what the truth actually was."

That's precisely the double-perspective that has informed several recent literary biographies: John Carey's life of William Golding, which incorporates a huge, self-flagellating, million-word diary kept by the author of Lord of the Flies; Gordon Bowker's life of James Joyce, which constantly asks the question of exactly how "Irish" the author of Ulysses was, and thought himself to be. And it can be applied in spades to Coco Chanel, a woman who was forever at pains to project an image of fairy-tale sophistication.

She faked so much of her long and phenomenally successful life, it's hardly surprising biographers have queued up to try their luck at disinterring the truth – and are still doing so. In penury and plenty, in peace and war, in bedroom and showroom, there's plenty of Chanel's life to go round for the truffle-hunting truth-hound. And she knew very well what she was doing. "Reality is sad," she once said when living in Switzerland after the war, "and that handsome parasite that is the imagination will always be preferred to it. May my legend gain ground; I wish it a long and happy life."

Friday, 2 December 2016

Andrew Sachs dies aged 86 / VIDEO below: Funny English Errors: Fawlty Towers' Top 10 Funniest Miscommunications

Andrew Sachs, the much loved Fawlty Towers actor, dies aged 86

Hannah Furness, arts correspondent
2 DECEMBER 2016 • 9:06AM

Andrew Sachs, the actor who rose to fame in Fawlty Towers has died at the age of 86 after a four year battle with dementia.

The actor, best known for playing hapless Spanish waiter Manuel in John Cleese's sitcom, passed away in a care home last week, his wife has revealed.

Melody Sachs, who cared for him in his final years, disclosed he had suffered vascular dementia, losing his capacity to speak and write in later life.
She said: "He had the best life, and the best death you could ever have."

Sachs won a place in the nation's hearts for his role in Fawlty Towers, where he played a clueless Spanish waiter who became the butt of John Cleese's jokes.

His catchphrase, "I know nothing", and Basil Fawlty's dismissive "He's from Barcelona" have gone down in British comedy history, with the 1970s sitcom regularly voted among the best-loved BBC programmes ever made.

Despite his stellar career, Sachs is remembered in recent years for being the innocent victim of a BBC furore in which presenters prank called him.

In 2008, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand made an obscene calls to him in which they joked about Brand sleeping with his granddaughter Georgina Baillie.

More than 500 people protested to the BBC, which was forced to apologise to Sachs for these "unacceptable and offensive" remarks.

In 2014, Sachs said he remained "disgusted" by the incident, with his wife telling the Daily Mail the episode had been "absolutely horrific".

The newspaper last night reported the actor had been battling dementia for the past four years and died in a care home last week.

"My heart has been broken every day for a long time," she said, adding that the actor had remained positive to the end.

"I never once heard him grumble. It wasn’t all doom and gloom; he still worked for two years.

"We were happy, we were always laughing, we never had a dull moment. He had dementia for four years and we didn’t really notice it at first until the memory started going.

"It didn’t get really bad until quite near the end. I nursed Andrew, I was there for every moment of it."

Mrs Sachs said her husband had been diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2012. The disease, the second most common form of Alzheimer's, in characterised by the often sudden loss of language, speech and memory, along with mood changes.

Mrs Sachs said the actor only lost his capacity to speak in the last few weeks, after suffering three bouts of pneumonia. He spent eight months in a care home, in which his family would read to him and enjoy summer in the garden.

"Don’t feel sorry for me because I had the best life with him," Mrs Sachs said last night. "I had the best husband and we really loved each other.

"One thing about Andrew is that I never once heard him grumble, I never found him once without a smile on his face.

"We’re both as daft as brushes, we were married for 57 years. We loved each other very deeply and it was a pleasure looking after him. I miss him terribly."

His co-star Cleese paid tribute to him on Thursday night, saying: "Just heard about Andy Sachs. Very sad.... I knew he was having problems with his memory as his wife Melody told me a couple of years ago and I heard very recently that he had been admitted to Denham Hall, but I had no idea that his life was in danger.

"A very sweet gentle and kind man and a truly great farceur. I first saw him in Habeas Corpus on stage in 1973. I could not have found a better Manuel. Inspired."

"If you meet Andrew you would call him almost retiring, very quiet, almost academic, studiously polite," he said. "Then suddenly he clips on his moustache and something else in his personality just slips in."

Cleese, 77, the co-creator of the 1970s sitcom, told Radio 4's Today programme on Friday he was in "a little bit of shock" by the news.

He said acting with Sachs was "like playing tennis with someone who is exactly as good as you are".

"Sometimes he wins and sometimes you win but somehow there's a rapport and it comes from the very deepest part of ourselves. You can work on it, but in our case we never had to work on it, it all happened so easily."

Cleese added that Sachs "turned into a completely different human being" when wearing his familiar Manuel moustache.

Asked of his favourite scene with Sachs in Fawlty Towers, Cleese told Today it had been The Kipper and the Corpse - episode four of the second series of the hit comedy.

"I think that was some of our very best physical comedy and working out all that stuff like getting the body into the basket and getting it out again I think that was so much fun.

"Occasionally you come across someone who loves physical comedy and although he was such a quiet demeanour, Andy absolutely loved it. "He was wonderful."

Cleese said he last saw Sachs "eight or nine months ago" when they were being photographed together.

He said he realised then he "wasn't totally present" but added the news of his death was "a little bit of a shock".

"Although I knew his memory was not so good, despite that he was very special."

Born in 1930 Germany, Sachs fled the Nazis with his family in 1938 and eventually settled in North London.

He married Melody, who starred in one episode of Fawlty Towers herself, in 1960, going on to have three children.

Beginning his acting career on BBC radio, he went on to appear in The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk and The History of Miss Polly, with guest appearance in Casualty and Doctor Who.

He worked into his 80s, when he appeared in a live tour of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

The actor died on November 23, the Daily Mail reported, with family and close friends commemorating him in North London yesterday.

Blackadder actor and comedian Sir Tony Robinson paid tribute to his "true friend".

He wrote on Twitter: "So sad that Andrew Sachs has died. A true friend and a kindred spirit. I still have the wonderful baby pictures he took of my children. RIP."

Samuel West, whose mother Prunella Scales starred alongside Sachs in Fawlty Towers, added: "Creator of one of our most beloved EU migrants. Such warmth and wit; impossible to think of him without smiling."

Comedy writer Edgar Wright said Sachs "spun comic gold as Manuel in Fawlty Towers".

Andrew Sachs discusses "Fawlty Towers"

Monday, 28 November 2016

Enid Blyton - keeping up appearances / VIDEO: Enid 2009 trailer

Enid is a 2009 British biographical television film first broadcast on 16 November on BBC Four. Directed by James Hawes it is based on the life of children's writer Enid Blyton, portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter. The film introduced the two main lovers of Blyton's life. Her first husband Hugh Pollock, who was also her publisher, was played by Matthew Macfadyen. Kenneth Darrell Waters, a London surgeon who became Blyton's second husband, was portrayed by Denis Lawson. The film explored how the orderly, reassuringly clear worlds Blyton created within her stories contrasted with the complexity of her own personal life.

Helena Bonham Carter on being Enid Blyton
"Appealing and appalling." Helena Bonham Carter talks about how she was drawn in by the writer’s creative fire – and her dark deeds.
By Serena Davies
4:06PM GMT 13 Nov 2009

There is a scene in Enid, the BBC’s new biopic of Enid Blyton, where the children’s author, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is asked by a radio journalist how she maintains the balance between work and motherhood.
“Of course children need their mothers,” she replies, before the camera cuts away to show her two neglected daughters at home, listening to the broadcast in a state of sombre bemusement. “Mothers are the heart of any household. I try to spend as much time with my children as I possibly can while also fulfilling my professional duties. It is tricky, but I think I manage it.”
Bonham Carter chuckles as she quotes these lines in our own interview in a London members’ club. She has something of an affinity for Blyton and thinks these words will do as her personal response to the same question. Although, she concedes, her six-year-old son Billy may beg to differ: “Bill threw my script to the opposite end of the room just before I started filming, saying, ‘I like you but I don’t like what you do ’cos it takes such a very long time.’”
It’s a coup, of course, that the BBC has persuaded a film star of Bonham Carter’s standing to appear in a low-budget biopic. “I did it for the money,” she says with a grin, in a jest that is almost cruel. The frenetic 15-day shoot suggests otherwise. The 43-year-old actress, a one-time Oscar nominee for The Wings of a Dove, is more used these days to working in the lavish Hollywood productions of her partner, director Tim Burton. She has recently finished work on his Alice in Wonderland adaptation, due for release in the spring, in which she will play the Red Queen.
Bonham Carter is perhaps the biggest name so far to join the honourable list of actors who have starred in these TV one-offs. Ken Stott, David Walliams and Anne Reid are among those that went before her. And coming after Enid, completing a trio of films on idolised British women, will be Jane Horrocks playing Gracie Fields and Anne-Marie Duff as Margot Fonteyn. The salient feature of all these pieces – and the real draw for such quality casts – has been the writing. “It’s sort of ironic,” says Bonham Carter, “but I always find the better the script the less money you have to do it and the less time.”
Blyton’s is a corker of a story, and this is the first time it’s been turned into a straight drama, after a drama documentary in the early 1990s. The film’s director, James Hawes, is adamant that his feature is, “Neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job”, although the woman that scriptwriter Lindsay Shapero has created here would strike most as first and foremost a vindictive egotist.
Early and sudden fame in the 1920s (“She was the JK Rowling of her day – and then some,” says Hawes) went quickly to Blyton’s head and she soon lost interest in her downtrodden publisher husband, Hugh Pollock (played here by Matthew Macfadyen). She struggled to bond with her younger daughter, Imogen, whomshe left to scream in her cot. “She put the baby in a cupboard and carried on writing and it all fell apart,” as Bonham Carter neatly summarises.
Although both parties were adulterous Blyton persuaded Pollock to take the rap when they divorced, on the promise he would have unlimited access to the children – then refused to let him see them again, telling everyone her second husband, surgeon Kenneth Waters, was their father. She then contacted the major London publishers and used her literary clout to get Pollock blacklisted, so destroying his career. She also pretended her mother was dead because she hated her so much. There’s more, but too much will spoil the story.
The film was made in consultation with Blyton’s main biographer Barbara Stoney and Imogen, the surviving daughter, and the essential facts are easy to corroborate. It doesn’t even venture into the terrain of her possible lesbian affair, which received press attention a few years ago when Pollock’s second wife Ida went public with her own version of why Blyton’s first marriage collapsed.
But just as over the decades public opinion of the literary skills of the creator of Noddy, the Famous Five and around 750 further titles has yo-yoed, so Blyton can’t be painted only as unpleasant. The biopic encourages our sympathy through its depiction of Blyton’s difficult childhood: her father, a cutlery salesman, abandoned the family when she was 13. Her uterus stopped growing at the same age and, at the time, it was thought that this could prevent her having children. The parental trauma is a key reason why Bonham Carter herself finds the author “appealing as well as appalling”.
“Her writing was possibly a response to her father leaving her,” she explains. “That sort of painful encounter with reality meant that she wrote a world that was much more comfortable. My father fell really chronically ill when I was 13 and that’s when I phoned up an agent and started to act. So I had a very similar response and have always had great comfort from living imaginatively.”
But surely all Blyton’s deceits regarding her own family – she once pretended her dog was still alive when it wasn’t; she eulogised her womanising father – they’re not living imaginatively, they’re pathological fantasy? “Yes, her fantasy was so divorced from reality she was virtually insane,” says Bonham Carter. “It is very hard to have that creative force married to a totally sane brain.”
Bonham Carter couldn’t be more different from Blyton in real life. Demonstrating her customary disregard for fashion, the flouncy, lacy, multilayered get-up she wears for the interview includes bloomers, while her hair is a bird’s nest of a quality that any member of the Famous Five would be proud to discover. She looks about 25 and engages with candour with nearly every subject thrown at her. She says she only read a little Blyton growing up “but I’m reading Noddy to Billy now whether he likes it or not,” she laughs (she has another child, Nell, but she’s too young even for Blyton).
“And he does like it,” she adds. “All the things people criticise her for, such as repetitive language, he loves it, it makes it really easy to read.” She points out that all the racism that so bothered detractors during Blyton’s critical nadir in the Seventies has been taken out these days, and the sexism doesn’t seem too bad.
“When you write for very young children what they want is something familiar and safe and stereotyped. They want to know where they are… Lots of subtle and very intelligent friends of mine say, ‘Thank God for Blyton, she brought me up.’”
Blyton, whose books still sell around 8 million a year, is having a resurgence generally at the moment. Last year a survey found her Britain’s most popular author. The ex-Children’s Laureate Anne Fine recently made a Radio 4 programme in her defence. So she’s not the hate figure she once was. Enid comes out at an apposite time then, although, despite Bonham Carter’s defence of her, the film is unlikely to further endear the author to the nation.

 New TV drama reveals Enid Blyton as a barking-mad adulterous bully …
by Lisa Sewards for Mailonline
13 November 2009

On paper, the world of Enid Blyton was one populated by happy, carefree children whose idea of bliss at the end of an adventure-filled day was a slice of plum cake washed down by lashings of ginger beer.
The setting was an idyllic Britain, one of thatched cottages and lych gates, a fairytale time, in an age of innocence.
But the creator of Noddy, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and Malory Towers was in truth a cold-hearted mother and a vindictive adultress who set out to destroy her former husband.

Barking mad: Enid Blyton will be played by Helena Bonham Carter (right) in a new television drama
The darker revelations, which will dissolve the image of Blyton conveyed by her 753 much-loved books, are part of a brilliant new television biopic, starring Helena Bonham Carter as the author.
At first glance, Blyton's life seems unlikely material for gripping drama, as much of it consisted of her sitting at a desk, knocking off 10,000 words a day. Her books sold 600million copies around the world and made her extremely rich and famous. Her works still sell eight million copies a year.
But Blyton's home life at her cottage, Old Thatch, near the Thames at Bourne End, then at Green Hedges, a mock-Tudor house in Beaconsfield, was nothing like as idyllic as the picture she tried to create.
In spite of the children's nursery, crumpets for tea, Bimbo the cat and Topsy the dog, all foisted on the public in convenient photocalls to project the Blyton brand, the truth was more conflicted.
Enid Blyton pays a visit to Victoria Palace in 1958 to meet some of the young artists who will portray her characters in Noddy In Toyland
Fairytale time: The author pays a visit to Victoria Palace in 1958 to meet some of the young artists who will portray her characters in Noddy In Toyland

Children's favourite: Blyton's Famous Five books are still delighting young readers across the world
'Enid's self-awareness was brilliant and she was incredibly controlling, too,' explains Bonham Carter. 'I was attracted to the role because she was bonkers. She was an emotional mess and quite barking mad.
'What I found extraordinary, bordering on insane, was the way that Enid reinvented her own life. She was allergic to reality - if there was something she didn't like then she either ignored it or re-wrote her life.
'She didn't like her mother, so let her colleagues assume she was dead. When her mother died, she refused to attend the funeral. Then the first husband didn't work out, so she scrubbed him out.
'There's also a scene in the film where her dog dies, but she carries on pretending he's still alive because she can't bear the truth.'
Emotionally, Blyton remained a little girl, stuck in a world of picnics, secret-society codes and midnight feasts. It acted as a huge comfort blanket.
Many of Blyton's obsessions can be traced to her father, who left her mother when Enid was 12. She then seized up emotionally and physically.
'It was my job to understand how she became like this in the first place, not to judge her,' explains Bonham Carter.
'When Enid consulted a gynaecologist about her failure to conceive, she was diagnosed as having an immature uterus and had to have surgery and hormone treatment before she could have children.'

Cold-hearted mother: Blyton with her daughters Gillian and Imogen
The irony was that when she finally did have two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, with her first husband, Hugh Pollock, she was unable to relate to them as a normal mother.
She loved signing thousands of letters to her 'friends' the fans, encouraging them to collect milk bottle tops for Great Ormond Street Hospital to help the war effort, and even ran a competition to name her house, Green Hedges.
But her neighbours said Blyton used to complain about the fearful racket made by children playing.
She was distant and unkind to her younger daughter Imogen and there was clear favouritism in the way she privileged her elder daughter Gillian, who died two years ago aged 75.

Imogen Smallwood, 74, says: 'My mother was arrogant, insecure and without a trace of maternal instinct. Her approach to life was childlike, and she could be spiteful, like a teenager.'
Although Imogen prefers to remain private, she did visit the set to advise Bonham Carter. 'We had email correspondence before Imogen visited the set. We agreed that I wasn't going to try to impersonate her mother because this is a drama,' says Helena.
'Imogen is sensitive, but was very supportive and gave me a few tips, such as how her mother did everything at immense speed because she was ruled by the watch. Enid's domestic life was seen as an interruption to her writing, which was her escapism.'
There is a poignant scene in the film where Blyton holds a tea party at home for her fans, or 'friends' as she preferred to call them. But her daughters are banished to the nursery.
'Enid is one of the kids at the Famous Five tea parties - the jelly and ice-cream are as much for her as they are for her fans,' explains Helena.
'It's also significant that when her daughters go to school, a large mannequin of Noddy - her new child - arrives in the hall to take the place of the children.'
Blyton's first husband, Hugh, called her 'Little Bunny' and adored her. He helped launch her career after they met when he was her editor at Newnes, the publisher.
Blyton's first book, Child Whispers, a collection of poems, was published in 1922. She wrote in her diary soon after meeting him: 'I want him for mine.'
They were married for 19 years, but as Enid's career took off in the Thirties, Hugh grew depressed and took to nightly drinking sessions in the cellar while Enid managed to fit affairs in between writing.
The marriage deteriorated and Hugh moved out. She mocked him in later adventure stories, such as The Mystery Of The Burnt Cottage, as the clueless cop, PC Theophilus Goon.
After a bitter divorce, she married surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters, with whom she had a fulfilling sex life.

Although the drama shows Blyton's flirtatiousness - she entertained servicemen to dinner at the house while her husband was away at war and found them and their attention attractive - directors chose to omit some aspects of Blyton's apparently sensual side, such as visitors arriving to find her playing tennis naked and suggestions of a lesbian affair with her children's nanny, Dorothy Richards.
But the drama, which has been given the thumbs-up by the Enid Blyton Society, does highlight the author's cruel streak. When Hugh remarried, as she had done, Blyton was so furious that she banned her daughters from seeing their father.
According to Ida Crowe, who later married Hugh, Blyton's revenge was to stop him from seeing Gillian and Imogen, and to prevent him from finding work in publishing. He went bankrupt and sank into depression and drinking.
Ms Crowe, 101, is using her memoir, Starlight, published this month, to break her silence on her feelings towards Blyton, whom she portrays as cold, distant and malevolent. Ms Crowe confirms that during her first marriage, Blyton embarked on a string of affairs, including a suspected relationship with nanny Richards.
Yet Blyton could never forgive Hugh for finding happiness of his own when their marriage ended.
Rosemary Pollock, 66, daughter of Ida and Hugh, says: 'My father. was an honourable man - not the flawed, inconsequential one which was the deliberate misconception perpetuated by Enid.'
Ida and Hugh met when she was 21 and he was 50. In her memoirs, she describes him as 'shatteringly handsome' - tall and slim with golden hair and blue eyes.
After Ida narrowly escaped death in an air raid, she says, Hugh asked for a divorce and Enid agreed. The memoirs claim, however, that Hugh agreed to be identified as the 'guilty' party in the divorce in return for an amicable separation and access to their daughters.
But Rosemary says: 'This agreement was a sham because Enid had no intention of allowing him any kind of contact with either of the girls. She even told Benenden, the girls' boarding school, that on no account was their father, who was paying the bills, to be allowed near them.'
Ida and Hugh married within days of the divorce being granted in October 1943. Gillian and Imogen were 12 and eight. Rosemary got in touch with her half-sisters after Enid's death in 1968, at the age of 71.

Rosemary says: 'Gillian said the last time she saw her father was when they were walking to Beaconsfield station and she had this awful feeling she was not going to see him again.
'She said that on her wedding day, she looked around the church and hoped her father would turn up. My father said he was devastated not to have been invited to Gillian's wedding.'
Rosemary has also accused Enid of wrecking Hugh's literary career. 'Enid was capable of many vindictive things and she didn't want her former husband occupying a prominent position in London publishing, a world she dominated.
'My father had to file for bankruptcy in 1950 because he couldn't find work. She also put out a story that he was a drunk and an adulterer, and that he had made her life a misery.
'Incredibly, Enid even wrote to my mother three years after they had both remarried, saying: "I hope he doesn't ruin your life as he did mine."
'My father did drink, but it was in order to numb the pain. I never heard him criticise Enid. He would praise her remarkable talents.'
Certainly, Blyton is enjoying a renaissance. Disney UK is planning a new, animated feature called Famous 5: On The Case, in which the children of the original Five, and a dog, enjoy some new adventures.
She was also named Britain's best-loved author in a poll last month.
Imogen attributes her mother's success to the fact she 'wrote as a child with an adult's writing skills'.
Despite her private life, no amount of detraction will diminish Blyton as one of Britain's great writers who shaped millions of childhood imaginations. Although it may be harder for the adults they grew into to imagine what the creator of Noddy got up to in real life.

On 28 August 1924 Blyton married Major Hugh Alexander Pollock, DSO (1888–1971) at Bromley Register Office, without inviting her family. Pollock was editor of the book department in the publishing firm of George Newnes, which became her regular publisher. It was he who requested that Blyton write a book about animals, The Zoo Book, which was completed in the month before they married. They initially lived in a flat in Chelsea before moving to Elfin Cottage in Beckenham in 1926, and then to Old Thatch in Bourne End (called Peterswood in her books) in 1929.

Blyton's first daughter Gillian, was born on 15 July 1931, and after a miscarriage in 1934, she gave birth to a second daughter, Imogen, on 27 October 1935. In 1938 Blyton and her family moved to a house in Beaconsfield, which was named Green Hedges by Blyton's readers following a competition in her magazine. By the mid-1930s, Pollock – possibly due to the trauma he had suffered during the First World War being revived through his meetings as a publisher with Winston Churchill – withdrew increasingly from public life and became a secret alcoholic. With the outbreak of the Second World War, he became involved in the Home Guard. Pollock entered into a relationship with a budding young writer, Ida Crowe, and arranged for her to join him at his posting to a Home Guard training centre at Denbies, a Gothic mansion in Surrey belonging to Lord Ashcombe, and work there as his secretary. Blyton's marriage to Pollock became troubled, and according to Crowe's memoir, Blyton began a series of affairs, including a lesbian relationship with one of the children's nannies. In 1941 Blyton met Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters, a London surgeon with whom she began an affair. Pollock discovered the liaison, and threatened to initiate divorce proceedings against Blyton. Fearing that exposure of her adultery would ruin her public image, it was ultimately agreed that Blyton would instead file for divorce against Pollock. According to Crowe's memoir, Blyton promised that if he admitted to infidelity she would allow him parental access to their daughters; but after the divorce he was forbidden to contact them, and Blyton ensured he was subsequently unable to find work in publishing. Pollock, having married Crowe on 26 October 1943, eventually resumed his heavy drinking and was forced to petition for bankruptcy in 1950.

Blyton and Darrell Waters married at the City of Westminster Register Office on 20 October 1943. She changed the surname of her daughters to Darrell Waters and publicly embraced her new role as a happily married and devoted doctor's wife. After discovering she was pregnant in the spring of 1945, Blyton miscarried five months later, following a fall from a ladder. The baby would have been Darrell Waters's first child and it would also have been the son for which both of them longed.

Her love of tennis included playing naked, with nude tennis "a common practice in those days among the more louche members of the middle classes".

Blyton's health began to deteriorate in 1957, when during a round of golf she started to complain of feeling faint and breathless, and by 1960 she was displaying signs of dementia. Her agent George Greenfield recalled that it was "unthinkable" for the "most famous and successful of children's authors with her enormous energy and computer-like memory" to be losing her mind and suffering from what is now known as Alzheimer's disease in her mid-sixties. Blyton's situation was worsened by her husband's declining health throughout the 1960s; he suffered from severe arthritis in his neck and hips, deafness, and became increasingly ill-tempered and erratic until his death on 15 September 1967.

The story of Blyton's life was dramatised in a BBC film entitled Enid, which aired in the United Kingdom on BBC Four on 16 November 2009. Helena Bonham Carter, who played the title role, described Blyton as "a complete workaholic, an achievement junkie and an extremely canny businesswoman" who "knew how to brand herself, right down to the famous signature".