Carl Giles | Friendship in a Time of War | @lesleyblanch @davidmarkcain

In these unsettled, divided times in which segregation and racism are making an unwelcome comeback, positive historical reminders of tolerance and kindness are to be celebrated and shared.

The exhibition, Giles: Friendship in a time of war, curated by social historian David Cain, tells of the British cartoonist’s all-but-forgotten friendship with two African-American GIs, Butch and Ike, based near his Suffolk home during World War Two.

In the early 1940s, Giles lived with his wife, Joan, in Badger’s Cottage in Tuddenham St. Martin. He befriended several men serving with 923rd Engineer Aviation Regiment based at nearby RAF Debach. He often welcomed Butch and  Ike at his home for drinks. Giles loved Jazz and their musical evenings frequently spilled over into the local village pub.

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Lesley Blanch | Panto, December 1943

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and wrote about anything but fashion.

It’s always On the Road to the Middle of Next Week: unless it’s Nowhere in Particular, with Past Events casting their Shadows before. It’s the Enchanted Cavern, the Flying Palace, the Wicked Wood, the Widow Twankey’s Kitchen, or the Fairies’ Home in the Heart of the Rose . . . It’s the Pork-Butcher’s Shop, It’s the Magic Transformation Scene, It’s the Harlequinade — in short, it’s the Christmas Pantomime.

And how we dote on every frantic antic; every time-honoured traditional rumbustious caper. This is our show, as national as a Union Jack. What do we care for progress or probability? We have always liked to see the broker’s men smashing up the Throne Room of the Golden Palace. We still like to see Dame Suet, in elastic-sided boots, at the Ball. Or the Widow Twankey, in emeralds and ermine, (after her boy Aladdin struck it lucky), yet still washing out his pants with maternal zeal and mountains of soap suds. We shall always want our Principal Boy to be a buxom blonde with plenty to her. We don’t care if she and her hips are forty, and look it. She’s Prince Charming to us. We love the pneumatic glossy curves of her tights. We wait for the moment when she’s slain the Dragon of Wantage, armed only with ostrich plumes and a top B flat, and comes downstage to give us a fruity rendering of “Half a Pint of Mild and Bitter”.

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Lesley Blanch | Patchouli

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and wrote about anything but fashion.

It was the best of perfumes, it was the worst; it was the trademark of the grande cocotte, it was worn by the femme du monde. It was the heaviest of scents, it was the lightest. It was the worst of taste, it was the height of fashion. It drove men mad, it tamed the beasts of the jungle. It was an aphrodisiac, it was an emetic. It came from India — from Haiti. It smelled of newly sharpened pencils; of Victorian boudoirs. It preserved furs from moth; it was something to eat. It was divine; it stank.

These were some of the ways patchouli was described to me when I set out to discover what precisely was the nature and history of this long-forgotten perfume which reached its apogee of popularity about a century ago — and which, suddenly, is in demand once more. Patchouli — pucha-pat to the India of its origin — belongs, in Europe, essentially to the mid-nineteenth century; it is the essence of its age, as frangipani evokes the eighteenth and musk and ambergris belong to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of perfumed gloves — and poisoned ones too. Each age has its characteristic expression, found as much in some minor aspect as in a heroic gesture, or great personality. A tune, a colour, a manner of speaking, like a way of moving, or standing, or a particular piece of clothing is as telling as a line of thought or a code of conduct. And nothing is more memorable than a perfume.
Patchouli was the quintessential nineteenth-century perfume, as the shawl was its quintessential garment. The two are indissolubly linked, for patchouli first came out of India because of and with the cashmere shawls which were then the cornerstone of every woman’s wardrobe.

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Lesley Blanch | Ack-Ack A.T.S. and others, January 1942

As features editor for British Vogue during World War Two, Lesley Blanch as on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

The scene is a wild stretch of coast. There are mountains inland, glimpsed nebulously through the icy, blanketing mists which lie low over the ragged, sodden fields. The cold appals. The most leathery-looking sergeant shudders. I am huddled inside a wigwam of topcoats. Stamping and shuffling in their battledress, the A.T.S. are blowing on their hands, waiting for the command to take over the gunsites.

This is one of the big practice camps where the Mixed A.A. Batteries, or gun teams, receive their final training before being sent to man the many defence posts. On the edge of the cliffs stand the great guns. Low overhead a practice or target plane rolls, swoops and spins with show-off brilliance. In the lee of a little glass-walled lean to hut where some remotely, beautifully academic-looking kine-theodolite girls are at work recording and checking the gunfire, a group of gunnery officers argue a point of tactics. Their scarlet capbands are sharp against the prevailing khaki of place and personnel.

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Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction

When Lesley Blanch wrote that “Journey into the Mind’s Eye is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category . . .” the label narrative non-fiction did not yet exist. Her autobiography about the early part of her life was published in 1968. She was ahead of her time. Like Rebecca West and Truman Capote, Lesley Blanch was experimenting with different forms and techniques to tell a damn good ‘true’ story.

Lesley Blanch claimed she could not invent, hence choosing biography rather than fiction, although her storytelling was underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research. The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus took six years to complete and required thorough investigation in Russia and Turkey.

Narrative non-fiction is not just a convenient label used by publishers to help booksellers categorise their titles and display them, or a new genre fresh out of American writing schools for literary critics to argue about. It is favoured by clever young editors like Leo Hollis at Verso, or Richard Milner at Quercus, as a way to get across difficult, or dry, ideas in an engaging manner. People are most interested in other people and their experiences, not the dusty archives of research. To take the reader on a scientific, or philosophical, or historical journey of discovery by means of a series of a well-written scenes knitted together to form a compelling whole, as opposed to recounting how A then B then C happened in a cut-and-dried linear fashion, makes for a more exciting read and a saleable book.

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Lesley Blanch | W.R.N.S. on the job, November 1941

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

It is an indisputable fact that occupations and professions breed their own particular type. There are occupational faces, as there are occupational diseases, except in the case of the bored, spoiled, overfed idler, now fortunately rarely seen, save at luxurious hotels in ‘safe’ areas, where the face, and its accompanying malaise, might be described as non-occupational.

The ostler cannot be mistaken for the chauffeur, though doctors and lawyers, like poets and scientists, often pair indistinguishably. But the soldier, the sailor, and the airman are each distinct and apart front each other.

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