Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 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 documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

This is the story of The Women ― today, as Clare Boothe Luce never imagined them yesterday. An all-star, all-women cast, it’s true, but there the resemblance ceases. These women are playing their parts in a world drama, but they remain limelight dodgers. And the scene is no demi-paradise of beauty parlours but the wild hills and lochs of Western Scotland.

Here, in pitching little boats, cutting through the mists and gales, on the big depot ship, swarming up and down plunging rope ladders, balanced, cat-like, to walk along the perilous jutting booms, picked Wrens undergo their boats-crew training. Or work as visual signallers, or service the torpedoes and depth charges aboard the motor torpedo boats and corvettes in the clanging uproar and grime of the Naval bases. One and all disprove the old wives’ or rather the old-fashioned husbands’ tale that woman’s place is the home, that women can’t get on together.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 1943

Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) influenced and inspired generations of writers, readers and critics. Her lifelong passion was for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. At heart a nomad, she spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly.
She left England in 1946, never to return, except as a visitor. Her marriage to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, afforded her many years of happy wanderings. After their divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.
Her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life are published by Virago, Little Brown.

Where would you like to live?
It must be a warm country. If I really want to be coldly factual I must try to live where I can be looked after, but that’s a very dull answer only come on me now when I’m approaching one hundred. I should like to live in the Levant, somewhere in a Moslem country; the Moslems respect age. I loved Afghanistan passionately, but not the way it is now. I read, over and over again, the place names, just to get back there.

What is your idea of happiness on earth?
I want a garden and animal companionship and music.

What faults do you find most forgivable?
Temper. Rudeness. I forgive them very quickly. I don’t bear much malice because I’m too bored with it. Continue reading Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

BookBlasts™ from the Past | Empire Windrush

BookBlast™ was founded in 1997 to give voice to new or neglected writers, and to showcase world writing. The agency was one of the first in the UK to adopt online technology — the company website went live in 2000. It was selected by the curators of Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, as being of lasting research value and worthy of permanent preservation in the Web Archive of the Bodleian Libraries in March 2015.

At a young age, I was introduced to writers, stories and imaginary worlds from many lands.   To cross cultural boundaries and explore alternate ways of seeing and being is a great gift to give a child.

Sorting through the BookBlast agency archive has thrown up happy and sad memories, not only in terms of the projects and writers I have been lucky enough to collaborate with, but also the visionary commissioning editors who backed untried-and-tested writers and projects.

Continue reading BookBlasts™ from the Past | Empire Windrush

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”.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch | Panto, December 1943

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.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch | Patchouli

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.

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

Lesley Blanch | Amazons

Terrible and wonderful, the steely Amazons went to battle against Bellerophon, and Homer sang them to eternal fame. Boadicea led her woad-dyed hordes upon the unwary Romans at Londinium. Jeanne d’Arc stormed Orleans, a valorous mystic. Christian Davies of the Scots Greys, swaggered her way through the battle of Ramilies. Brandishing her cutlass, Mary Read joined Captain Rackham’s pirate crew. Théroigné de Méricourt led the pike-bearing furies on Versailles . . . their grandchildren, the Communards, rallied round Louise Michel, “the Red Virgin of Montmartre,” while all the bravura of the Polish Amazons was pitted against Tzarist-Russian oppression.

In the American Civil War, Mme. Velasquez posed as Capt. Harry Burford, with mock-moustachios to aid her alibi. At the battle of Mentana, Mme. Blavatsky abandoned astral preoccupations to fight for Garibaldi. In the October Revolution, the Women’s Battalion held the Winter Palace for Kerensky. Only yesterday, in Spain and China, thousands of unknown women fought bravely, bloodily . . . Terrible and wonderful, the Amazonian spirit lives on, manifest alike through ages of troubadours, whalebone or machinery; the clash of spears and sabres merge into the thunders of modern bombardment.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch | Amazons

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.

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