Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A GRAND OLD DAME


As well as cleaning up after 25 years of sewing and crafting, I also had the task of dusting and re-arranging Mum's books with the option of throwing out any I didn't think she'd read again except her collection of Barbara Cartland Regency Romances. Then she thought I'd better keep the other BC's just in case. I hope when I get old, I'll be rich enough to have a photographer back light and air brush my wrinkles as the Dame has had done here. It must have been those hundreds of vitamins she took each day that gave her the strength to keep her eyes open with the weight of those false eyelashes she wore to the day she died. I've always had a hankering for the ultramarines around her neck as well.
After reading the second part of her autobiography, my first thought was about how much she could blow her own trumpet but on further thought, she was also an 'I can do' and she let nothing stand in her way. She was both a snob and egalitarian but not racist. Rumour has it that she would have snared Earl Mountbatten had he not been blown away. She would have been invited to the Palace more often but rumour again has it that the Queen did not like to mix kisses and exchange germs with anyone but family and Dame B was a kisser.

I found her books in the late 1970's after Mum had her heart attack. She was battling the depression that is part and parcel of that illness and found it hard to concentrate on reading until I brought home a second hand copy of "A Hazard of Hearts" which she loved and read straight through. I was sent off to the book exchange and as luck sometimes happens, a lady had just brought in a huge cardboard box of Barbara's books. I bought every one and any other I could find. Her modern day romances were still a cut above Mills and Boon, interesting for her take on people but she came into her own with the historical romances, especially the Regency period. Tastes change and young women wanted more so the 'Bodice Ripper' sexplot books became the next best thing. Mum read a couple by Laurie McBaine but they didn't interest her.

Mum just wanted the pure romance. There were other authors of Regency Romances, Joan Aiken Hodge, Patricia Ormsby and the earlier queen of Regency, Georgette Heyer with her wonderful sharp and witty exchanges. But none of them seemed to have the delicate touch that Babs brought to her particular style of writing. I find it difficult to put into words how different it was. When she described a dress of tulle and sequins of a certain colour, it formed in your mind, well perhaps that was just Mum and me because of our interest in fabric and lace.

Her good writing only lasted maybe 10 years, after that they were little more than short stories in cardboard covers. I remember her indignation when a library refused her latest offering as not worthy of shelf space. I read it and they were right, total trash, not even worthy to be toilet paper. The good ones were good and well researched. Mum would often read a story then become interested in the history and follow it up. I bought a book on Regency fashions and she became as familiar with the fabrics and trims as she was with 20th C fabrics.

Dame Barbara always dictated her books to a secretary. She would recline comfortably on a couch with the inevitable Pekinese, full make-up plus eye lashes. She pinched ideas from everyone, she had a least 7 versions, in different eras, of "The Sheik". She used Georgette Heyer and portraits of society people she'd known in the 1920's and constantly re-set her own plots but she became repetitious. So much so that I used to think of her spinning a giant wheel, throwing the Peke on and wherever it landed making that the plot du jour.


Lord Lew Grade begain making the better books into lavishly costumed movies, the first being my mother's favourite, "A Hazard of Hearts". We couldn't wait for it to be released only to be disappointed in the heroine. Instead of the gentle but gutsy ringletted fair maid, there was Helena Bonham Carter. She spoke the lines like an automaton instead of acting and clumped through the movie like a milkman's carthorse. She was no match for the glorious Diana Rigg chewing up the scenery as the evil mother. In a cameo part as the father was the still handsome Stewart Granger who stole every scene he was in. The perfect Cartland hero was Marcus Gilbert who also starred in the next film.

"A Ghost in Monte Carlo" had the perfect heroine in Lisette Anthony, red-gold hair and beautiful eyes. The villians chewing up the scenery this time were Sarah Miles and the marvellous Oliver Reed. Three more movies were made before Lord Grade's death and his plans for a series were dropped. He'd have made a fortune for the studio had he continued with these instead of filming the turkey "Raising the Titanic" which almost sent him bankrupt.

I still curl up on a Saturday night with these videos when I need a comfort check. There have been times when I've stayed awake all night listening to Mum struggling to breathe and my stay awake books are always Cartlands. I was never interested in Barbara Taylor Bradford or Danielle Steele and my first loyalty is to Georgette Heyer but only one of her books was made into a movie, "The Reluctant Widow" starring Jean Kent and Guy Rolfe. Faithful to the book, the ABC often shows it on their late night movies and it's stood the test of time. But I have to hand it to the Dame whose art was in conjuring up an age that existed but didn't.

Ps. Mum is good. No chemo, no radiotherapy only pills for an unspecified time.

8 comments:

Blue said...

BC was my romance of choice as a kid (circa 10-14) a girlfriend and I used to read them aloud to each other on long car trips - including punctuation - became farcical towards the end.

I dot dot dot love dot dot dot you dot dot dot :-)

GH is still my favourite though.

Brownie said...

glad to hear your Mum's Health Ocean is becalmed. That's what I came over to find out.

I love Miss Cartland. Decades ago, she bulldozed politicians to allow gypsy children to attend school, and did other 'Good Works'.
and the frocks! what a woman.
I have a small unread collection of her books for the wonderful Francis Mitchell covers.
Did Liz Hurley meet hugh Grant filming a cartland story? She has said he looked to delicious in white breeches that it was instant love.
I have read that more than 20 Australian writers are Romance Millionaires.

JahTeh said...

Thank you Ladies, I thought I might get beaten up Dan Brownwise for writing this. Favourite GH is toss-up between The Reluctant Widow and The Talisman Ring. Hugh Grant starred in the last film, The Highwayman and the Lady (?) with Lisette Anthony (ageing) and Michael York as King Charles 11. Grant was wishy-washy. Babs kept all her frocks so I'm surprised they haven't set up a museum a la Diana to show them off.

Andrew said...

An image preserved. We don't want to see our heroes/heroines grow old and wrinkly. If they won't die young and beautiful, then at least they can preserve themsleves.

Good news re your Ma.

Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

This is great news about your mum!

Gerry said...

Yeah, glad to hear the good news about your mum. See, witchcraft works! ;-)

Gerry said...

Yeah, glad to hear the good news about your mum. See, witchcraft works! ;-)

JahTeh said...

I really don't know how she kept her eyes open. Even when I was young and fit I would have to put on false eyelashes 4 hours before I went out to get my lids off my cheekbones. She didn't believe in dieting either, she always said the older you get the more soft the edges should be.

Old and wrinkly is all in the mind, Andrew, I personally see Grace Kelly with red hair when I look in my mirror.
(Any comments about delusions will be deleted.)