BOOK REVIEW / Rich pals and poor syntax: 'Jennifer's Memoirs: Eighty-Five Years of Fun and Functions' - Betty Kenward: HarperCollins, 17.50

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The Independent Culture
THOSE LISTS of titles and chinless surnames] Those broken-backed paragraphs] And all those exclamation marks] How, I wondered when I sub-edited her copy long ago, could Betty Kenward have reached pensionable age without picking up the rudiments of written English? Before I was born she had been churning out her 'Jennifer's Diary' column first in Tatler, then in Queen (where I was her grammatical minder) and finally in Harper's & Queen. And still the basics of sentence construction escaped her.

Having read her Jennifer's Memoirs, I am amazed that the poor woman even managed to pick up the alphabet. She was, as it were, privately un-educated. Not only was she denied schooling after the age of 16, but she didn't have much before then either. Her governess happily let her bunk off on her pony and her finishing-school in Brussels specialised in deportment.

In fact, the first three chapters (better written than her column) show that Mrs Kenward's early years were far more interesting than the society occasions she chronicled later in life. Her 'immoral' mother kept her out of sight, preferably at a different address. Still, 'Lord and Lady Willoughby de Broke were angelic to me', and the Duke of York came round one day to buy a horse.

At 16, Betty ran away from home to work in a hat shop. She gave that up to go riding every morning on Windsor racecourse and dancing every night in the West End. Her brother George was also busy, playing for 'the late Lord Tennyson's cricket eleven'.

Then it was 1926: 'A most exciting week for me was the General Strike.' As you might guess, she was not marching on the miners' side, but running errands as a Scab By Royal Appointment. After marriage to Peter Kenward of the 14th/20th Hussars, 'I lived quietly in Kent.' Unfortunately the dashing officer, by then working in the family brewery, turned out to be an alcoholic; with her young son she ran away twice, the first time taking the nanny, the second time his army revolver.

Divorced, she landed a job on the De Havilland production line night shift (the chairman was a pal) and then switched to looking after the pantry at Eton. Having written an account of a children's party for Vogue, she started her social diary for the Tatler. The remaining 12 chapters have all the fascination of watching paint dry on the Britannia's quarterdeck.

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