M-J Lancaster: Outspoken writer and editor who became a prototype of the modern career woman

It was not surprising that Miss Hope-Nicholson shortened her first name to M-J, christened as she was, Marie-Jaqueline, Dorothea, Beatrice, Alexina, Romaine, Adriana. Her decision reflected the future editor's outspoken, forthright manner, possibly a reaction against her deeply eccentric family. Her father, Hedley Hope-Nicholson, was heir to a raincoat fortune and head of the Carolean Society; he was obsessed with Charles I and kept a relic from the King's coffin – and a piece of the shirt he wore on the scaffold – in a box in the consecrated chapel in their London family at More House in Tite Street.

M-J's grandmother was Laura Troubridge, married to Adrian Hope, one of the founders of the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, and together they were the guardians to Cyril and Vivian Holland, Oscar Wilde's children. Her aunt was Una Troubridge, who ran off with the famous lesbian Radclyffe Hall. And her mother, Jaqueline, was obsessed with doll's houses – which also lived in the More House chapel along with the relics – to such an extent that she even wrote the diaries of the inhabitants.

M-J's brother, Felix, spent his entire life in the house where they were all born and, initially, educated. He continued the tradition his mother had started of having paying guests to finance the running of the huge house. An endless stream of fascinating people – from Lord Lambton and Julian Maclaren Ross to Lucien Freud – all lodged there at one time or another.

M-J's first job was in the war office at Wormwood Scrubs, progressing to Blenheim, Birmingham and Wands-worth. She was obviously extremely efficient because when she returned to work in Birmingham after 12 days' sick leave, her boss announced: "The war can proceed now Miss Hope-Nicholson is back."

The notorious spy, Anthony Blunt worked in the same office and she always wondered why he worked so late and was so punctilious in locking up his filing cabinets at night. After work she would take a train from Birmingham to London and spend evenings at the Ritz bar, going on afterwards to one of her favourite Soho haunts, like the Conga, the Stafford, the Suisse, the French Club, the Boeuf, the Music Box, the Panama, the Cuba, the Nuthouse, the Cafe Royal, the Jamboree or the racy Gargoyle Club – where, with Lucien Freud, she was once turned away because he was wearing his sailor's uniform. Among her friends then were Norman Douglas, Augustus John, Michael Arlen, Harold Acton, John Banting, Stephen Tennant and Cyril Connolly, and, of course, Dylan Thomas, who once licked the pencilled lines she'd drawn on the backs of her legs to give the impression that she was wearing stockings. However, she didn't have to resort to these tricks for long because she was brought a pair of silk stockings from Washington by another spy, Guy Burgess.

In 1945 she married Maurice Lancaster, who was 17 years her senior, then a war correspondent working for Britain and the US who was also involved in making films for The March of Time all over the world. Later he became general manager of Harpers Bazaar while M-J worked as press officer for the Council of Industrial Design. He cut an elegant figure with immaculately cut clothes, a velvet-collared overcoat and a silver-topped cane, rather reminiscent, according to a friend, of Diaghilev.

Although she always wanted to work in films, she never got the chance, and when ill-health forced Maurice's retirement she became the main breadwinner, becoming one of the earliest career women, not an easy feat in those pre-feminist times. Determined and ambitious, she edited House Beautiful, then Trio, the first in-house magazine of Sainsbury's, and eventually edited a series of part-works for BPC such as the Cordon Bleu Cookery Course and a gardening course called Green Fingers, a publication she particularly loathed, being more interested in their series on the British Empire. She was straight-talking and considered formidable by those she worked with, being famously intolerant of weak writing and missed deadlines; she was especially fastidious when it came to the index.

Her and Maurice's parties were notorious, her houses and flats always impeccably decorated and very avant-garde. Even in the Fifties she would decorate rooms in black and gold, with Roman and Greek motifs and Fornasetti plates on the walls.

Later in her life she edited a series of charming letters written by her ancestors, Life Amongst the Troubridges: Journals of a Young Victorian, 1873-84, and Letters of Engagement 1884-1888: The Love Letters of Adrian Hope and Laura Troubridge. She also wrote a definitive biography of her friend, the poet and Brideshead aesthete Brian Howard, called Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure.

Marie-Jaqueline Hope-Nicholson, writer and editor: born London 9 August 1922; married 1945 Maurice Lancaster (two daughters); died 17 May 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas