How We Met: Lord and Lady Longford

Frank Pakenham, 89, seventh Earl of Longford, has had many careers: as writer and politician, and as publisher, banker, and Oxford lecturer. He is best known for his campaigns for penal reform and against pornography. Avowed Intent, his volume of memoirs, has just been published.

Elizabeth Pakenham, 88, Countess of Longford, gave up a career in politics to look after her large family. She subsequently became an acclaimed historical biographer. Married in 1931, the Longfords have seven surviving children, 26 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

LADY LONGFORD: I saw Frank during Commemoration Week at my first Oxford Ball. It was 1927. I was walking with friends when I saw this figure asleep on a couch. He was dressed in the Bullingdon Club uniform, a blue coat with white facings. I was puzzled to see this staggeringly handsome young man with lots of brown curls, curled up. I wondered who his partner was and how she had allowed him to fall asleep like that.

Shortly afterwards, Hugh Gaitskell was my partner at the New College Ball. He and Frank shared digs, but, because of the Ball, Hugh had hired a room in college for the night. Once again, the handsome man with the brown curls was fast asleep on a sofa. I went up to him, bent over and kissed him on the forehead. He opened his eyes and said, 'I'd like to kiss you but I can't'

I was in my first year at Oxford; Frank and Hugh were in their final year. Both of them got Firsts. To celebrate, Frank gave a party at the Cafe Royal, to which I was invited. He got terribly drunk. Some of us were supposed to go to the theatre afterwards but he couldn't possibly join us in that state and had to be taken home.

Both of us were totally absorbed in our separate lives, Frank's in London and mine in Oxford. Although we didn't see each other, I used to think about Frank a great deal, and decided that I would like to invite him for a cup of tea at my college, Lady Margaret Hall. In those days, even something as innocent as afternoon tea meant that I had to ask a don and other people to be present. After endless arrangements, Frank arrived for tea, but I thought that he seemed rather taken with one of my friends.

At Oxford, nearly all of my male friends were gay, but of course we didn't have a word for it then. I was surrounded by a group of exciting men friends but it was a very cerebral life. Gradually, I came to realise that the old Oxford world was coming to an end. In my last year, things began to change very quickly. There was the slump - we didn't use words like recession - and many people were starving. There was no welfare state and it was all very shocking. This was the first time that party politics had ever entered my Oxford world.

Frank never wrote or telephoned, but one day, unannounced, he turned up in Oxford at the house of my tutor and his family, where I was living. The first I knew of his arrival was seeing a taxi stop outside. Frank got out and walked up the garden path. He explained that he had come to invite me to stay with his family in Ireland for a week.

Ireland was extraordinary, and I was captivated. I loved the family and their rather eccentric life. I thought Frank's sisters were absolutely wonderful and hoped that they liked me. There were terrific house-parties, where we sang and played charades. Intellectually, it was exciting because so many interesting people came to stay, including, on one occasion, the cast from the Gate Theatre.

Frank was a tutor for the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) and suggested that it would be a good idea if I taught English Literature at the WEA summer school in Balliol. The WEA changed my life. At the classes I started meeting real people who had suffered. I felt myself being swept along on a tide and became passionately interested in politics. Frank saw all the suffering too, of course, but politically we were on opposite sides. Later on, we had a double conversion. I made him change his politics to Labour, and, through Frank, I became a Catholic.

After Oxford, I joined Frank as a teacher for the WEA in Stoke-on-Trent. We used to come back to London on Friday evenings. For a year, during the week, we lived in the same house. Today, nobody would think anything of the arrangement but in 1930 things were different. Naturally, there was never any sex between us.

One Friday, on the 1.15am train back to London, I accepted Frank's proposal of marriage. My parents were delighted and longing to have Frank as a son-in-law, but he suddenly changed. He said he felt trapped and nervous. Frank was lacking in confidence that he would make a good husband, so we agreed to postpone everything for a year.

It was during this time that a third Oxford Ball affected our lives. We went to the Balliol Ball with David Cecil and other friends. As usual, Frank felt the need to fall asleep so at midnight we found an empty bed. There was no hanky panky - both of us just fell asleep - but one of the scouts found us and turned us out. That really was the turning-point. Our engagement was announced in the newspaper and arrangements were made for our wedding.

LORD LONGFORD: During my time at Oxford, I never met a female undergraduate until the Commemoration Ball at New College in 1927. I shared digs in Isis Street with Hugh Gaitskell, but for the night of the ball he had taken rooms in the Great Quad, where I fell asleep on a couch. At about 3am, I felt someone kiss me gently on the forehead. I woke to find a beautiful vision bending over me. Sixty-five years later, I can fairly call it love at first sight.

I couldn't possibly kiss her back. I'd never kissed a girl in my life who was outside the family. I was terribly timid about sex. However, as a member of the Bullingdon Club, I did get rather drunk. Our motto was 'I like the sound of breaking glass', but we always paid for any breakages. Elizabeth refers to that period of my life as 'those old unregenerate days'.

After leaving university, I was totally absorbed in my London life, which was glamorous socially, although - compared with today's standards - very virginal. Sex was never involved. In 1929, I was appointed a WEA tutor, which I was later able to combine with a post in the Conservative Research Department. I didn't see Elizabeth during these years, apart from one crucial event, the one which was to determine my future: a visit to Oxford in the summer of 1930. I stayed with my great friends the Birkenhead family. I didn't go there with the intention of calling on her, but that night I saw Elizabeth in my dream. I don't think it was a dream associated with God, but it was very powerful, like one of the dreams in the New Testament, where Joseph is told to 'take your wife and young child into Egypt.' My dream said, 'Call on Elizabeth at 10 Chadlington Road, Oxford.' I don't quite understand how I knew where she was living.

Over tea at Chadlington Road I asked Elizabeth if she would come to Ireland for a week to meet my family, and she accepted my invitation. She loved the life in Ireland. Intellectually, it was always exciting because many of our friends were invited to Pakenham Hall, among them Evelyn Waugh, David Cecil, John Betjeman, Maurice Bowra and Anthony Powell. It was as if life in Oxford had been temporarily moved to Ireland.

Elizabeth's interest in politics grew, while my Conservatism was beginning to look rather suspect. Today I'd be considered a wet. In those days I had a more academic way of looking at politics, but from the moment we became engaged my Conservatism was doomed. If Elizabeth had stayed in politics she would have had a big career, but she wouldn't have been able to write her books. Although we were on different sides, I always supported her political activities. She stood for Parliament 10 years before I did.

Our relationship developed while we were both teaching for the WEA, in the Potteries, returning to London on Friday evening. Each week I wooed her in the waiting-room of the old North Staffordshire Hotel. One evening the manager was obviously embarrassed and pounced on me saying, 'Look here, Pakenham, I can't have this kind of thing going on in a respectable hotel.' We were barely holding hands, but even so we were ejected and forced to go to the station waiting-room, which was unbelievably dowdy. I've been back recently and I'm pleased to say it's been smartened up. It was there that I asked Elizabeth to marry me. On the train, she accepted.

I was nervous. It was generally assumed that I'd never make enough money to marry, and suddenly the whole prospect of marriage seemed rather beyond me. I thought I was too poor and never expected to have a large family. Eventually, my confidence came back, and we announced our engagement in 1931, after the Balliol Ball. We planned to get married on 27 October, but there was a general election so it had to be postponed for a week. It was a very posh wedding at St Margaret's, Westminster.

If you choose the right woman, marriage is very easy. Elizabeth is such a happy person, I couldn't fail to gain so much happiness in life. I'd have collapsed without her.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride