Du Maurier film upsets family and friends

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The Independent Online
A TELEVISION documentary which will claim tonight that Daphne du Maurier, the author, had a lesbian affair with the 1940s actress Gertrude Lawrence has provoked theatrical squabbling involving one of Britain's most aristocratic literary families.

Presented by Margaret Forster, the authorised biographer of Du Maurier, the documentary has upset several members of Du Maurier's family, a long standing friend of the author, and even Ms Forster herself, who conducted all the interviews.

Ms Forster, whose biography Daphne du Maurier was published last month, told the Independent on Sunday she was angry at the programme makers' decision to drop interviews with the author's daughters, Lady Tessa Montgomery and Flavia Leng.

'This is Granada's film, they controlled it. I approached a great many people, family friends, servants, got their total trust and co-operation, and then they were all cut out. It is appalling. The daughters Tessa and Flavia are upset. How can the documentary have any thrust if the daughters are not in it? I will be trembling, watching the programme in fear today. I'm dreading it.'

Her comments follow a letter to the Times by Du Maurier's close former friend, the writer Michael Thornton. He said the producers had used his interview to support claims about her relationship with Gertrude Lawrence.

Mr Thornton said he had been told he would be asked about how the author's discovery of letters by her husband's former fiancee had inspired her novel Rebecca, a 'study in jealousy', but was instead asked about her 'mannish appearance' and attitude towards homosexuals. After the interview, in which he said he told the interviewer he believed Du Maurier was a fantasist, but not a lesbian, he wrote to the programme producer, William Burdett-Coutts, and asked unsuccessfully for his interview to be dropped from the documentary.

Mr Burdett-Coutts said last night that Mr Thornton had been fully briefed on questions to be asked and had given permission for the interview to be used. 'The biography is an incredibly dense book. The programme is entirely based on her biography and inevitably you have to cut things out.'

Ms Forster told the Independent on Sunday she believes Mr Thornton, like herself, is dreading the film's broadcast because during his interview he told her he 'would not be surprised if Du Maurier and Lawrence were more than good friends'.

Mr Thornton said his first concern was to protect Du Maurier's memory: 'To Daphne, Gerty was an exotic orchid, the most flamboyant and extravagant actress of the century.

'She was also the most man-orientated actress, verging on nymphomania. To say she was a lesbian is laughable.'

(Photograph omitted)