Obituary: Air Commandant Dame Jean Conan Doyle

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The Independent Online
Lena Annette Jean Conan Doyle, air force officer: born Crowborough, Sussex 21 December 1912; OBE 1948, DBE 1963; AE 1949; Deputy Director, Women's Royal Air Force 1952-54, 1960-62, Director 1963-66; Inspector of the Women's Royal Air Force 1954-56; OC, RAF Hawkinge 1956-59; Honorary ADC to the Queen 1963-66; married 1965 Air Vice-Marshal Sir Geoffrey Bromet (died 1983); died London 18 November 1997.

The last direct link with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, has been severed with the death of his younger daughter, Jean Conan Doyle.

She was born in 1912 and spent her youth in Crowborough, Sussex, and in the New Forest. Her character was fixed from an early age. "Something very strong and forceful seems to be at the back of that wee body. Her will is tremendous," her father wrote of her when she was five.

"As a rule she sits quiet, aloof, affable, keenly alive to all that passes and yet taking no part in it save for some subtle smile or glance. And then suddenly the wonderful grey-blue eyes under the long black lashes will gleam like coy diamonds, and such a hearty little chuckle will come from her that everyone else is bound to laugh out of sympathy."

The ringing laugh, the smiling eyes, the good nature, charm, and humour were essential elements of her character, but it was tempered by a strong and narrow moral code and in later years by a steely determination to pro- tect the reputation of her father from real and imagined slights.

Jean, or "Billy" as she was known when young, was educated at Granville House, Eastbourne, and her first 17 years were happy ones (despite trouble with her eyesight). She accompanied her father on his spiritualist tours to Australia (1920-21) America (1922, 1923) and South Africa (1928-29), and was devoted to him.

After his death in 1930 she remained at home with her mother until 1938 when she joined the Auxiliary Service of the RAF. Two years later she was commissioned into the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (the predecessor of the Women's Royal Air Force), and saw wartime service at Hawkinge, at HQ Fighter Command, HQ No 9 Group at Preston and in Northern Ireland.

After the war she served in Germany with the British Air Forces of Occupation (for which she was appointed OBE), and then moved to the Technical Training Command. She served as Commanding Officer of RAF Hawkinge from 1956 to 1959, and on 1 April 1963 became the head of the Women's Royal Air Force (the first Director to have risen through the ranks). She was created DBE in 1963 and was an Honorary ADC to the Queen from 1963 until her retirement in 1966.

"Tidiness" and "Order" were her catchwords and she was known for her hard work and commitment to the job in hand. For many years this stood in the way of close emotional attachments, but in 1965 she married Air Vice-Marshal Sir Geoffrey Bromet, who was 20 years her senior, and they had a happy life together until his death in 1983.

The running of her father's literary estate was left to her brothers, who handled it badly. Denis, the eldest, who married "Princess" Nina Mdivani and spent the war years in America, ran up large debts and was close to bankruptcy by the time of his death in 1955 - with litigation pending over unpaid American tax.

Adrian, who was dis- missed from the Royal Navy for insubordination and who thereafter devoted all his energy to the memory of his father, caused Jean great personal hurt in 1969, a year before his death, when a newspaper revealed that he was planning to sell the arch- ives of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Foundation in Switzerland.

Throughout this period there was continuing and often acrimonious litigation within the family over the copyright of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works and over the ownership and rights to his papers. This continued after the expiry of the copyright in 1980 and was only resolved in 1996.

Jean Bromet (as she remained to her friends after her husband's death) had a close involvement with two Service charities, the Royal Star and Garter Home (of which she was a governor for 14 years, until 1982), and the "Not Forgotten Association" (for which she served as a committee member from 1975 and as President from 1981 to 1991), but it was as her father's daughter that she was most widely known during her later years and in this capacity she reverted to being Dame Jean Conan Doyle.

An attempt to authorise (and on occasion to ban) pastiches of the Sherlock Holmes stories in America was partly successful despite the uncertainties over her copyright claims, and a great deal of her time was devoted to answering inquiries and writing about her father.

A simple gravestone in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, near the cross which marks the site where her mother and father have lain since their re-interment in 1955, already bears her name with that of her hus- band. She had no children and the Conan Doyle line dies with her.

- Richard Lancelyn Green