Obituary: Maureen, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava

HER somehow 18th-century rococo title, her flamboyant image and penchant for practical jokes and occasional litigation made Maureen, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava the stuff of more than 70 years' worth of high society gossip columns.

Granddaughter of the first Earl of Iveagh and daughter of Ernest Guinness, Maureen was already appearing in those columns in January 1924, when it was noted that she and her two sisters, Oonagh and Aileen, "vivacious young daughters of Ernest Guinness", had left "Socialist Britain" to join their father's yacht Fantome II on its leisurely world cruise. As one of the Bright Young Things, all blonde bob and blue eyes, she provided a focus for a media age which fed on such celebrities.

As Andrew Barrow's 1978 book Gossip proves, Maureen Guinness's every move was noted: when she stayed at Longleat for Henry Bath's coming of age party in July 1926, it was worthy of remark that her current nickname was "Teapot". Her peer group included Evelyn Waugh, Harold Acton, Bryan Guinness and his fiancee, Diana Mitford; her best friend was Teresa ("Baby") Jungman, and Maureen swelled the ranks of that "adoring group of Guinness girls" whom Cecil Beaton so envied.

On 3 July 1930, she mamed her cousin Basil Hamilton- Temple-Blackwood, styled Earl of Ava, son and heir to the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, at St Margaret's Westminster. "The best brain of my generation", according to James Lees-Milne, he became Parliamentary Under- Secretary to the Colonies and a Government Whip in the Lords; when Maureen gave birth to their son, Sheridan, in 1938, it was noted that she was wife to one of the youngest members of the Government.

The family lived at Clandeboye, a 3,000-acre estate in County Down, but Maureen continued to play her role in London society, her forthright manner not always admired. She told Hugo Vickers how, in 1935, Beaton introduced her at a dinner party: "Do you realise that you have here, in Maureen Dufferin, the biggest bitch in London!" Their friendship was severed for some years.

Clandeboye became dilapidated during the Second World War and required substantial injections of cash to keep it up. When the marquess was killed in action in Burma in 1945, Maureen discovered the house had been heavily mortgaged to meet gambling debts. Three years later she married Major Desmond Buchanan, retaining her title "out of deference to the wishes of her first husband". She was given away by her 10-year-old son, Sheridan. The marriage lasted just six years; in 1955 she married as her third husband Judge John Maude (he died in 1986).

In 1949 she became a director of the family business, the Guinness brewery. "It's hard to say what my duties will be," she told the press, who believed the marchioness to be a teetotaller, "but I think I shall go into the office every day." Beyond her society profile and her homes in London, Kent and Sardinia, Maureen Dufferin found time for charitable works, from the faintly ridiculous - in 1954 she played a ladies' lavatory attendant in Princess Margaret's charity amateur production of The Frog at the Scala Theatre - to the more substantial founding of a holiday home for arthritics in Lamberhurst, Kent.

Throughout the Fifties and Sixties she played her role as part of the international set who moved restlessly around the world. In 1961 she visited Noel Coward and the Flemings in Jamaica, and in 1965 was "the rehearsal" for Coward's famous lunch party for the Queen Mother. In the meantime, her progeny distinguished themselves, not least in their marriages. The outspoken and talented author Caroline Blackwood (who said she found her childhood too painful to speak about) married, in succession, Lucian Freud, Israel Citkovitz and Robert Lowell, while in 1964 the flamboyant and basically homosexual Sheridan married Lindy Guinness, daughter of Loel Guinness.

Family feuding broke out in the long-running legal battle of the 1990s, when Maureen Dufferin's daughters and daughter-in-law brought a lawsuit challenging her right to transfer the benefits of a trust fund to her granddaughters Evgenia and Ivana. The dispute was settled in Maureen's favour in 1995 (her somewhat inexplicable concerns over money having already surfaced in 1980 in an acrimonious legal dispute with a butler accused of stealing crab apples and tea towels).

Despite such shortcomings, Maureen Dufferin was remarkably attractive, animated, personable, and possessed of a forthright manner. She appeared to relish her part in the BBC2 "expose" film by Philippa Walker, Guinnesty, in which she was interviewed at length and spoke with candour about her relations. Even in her nineties she was still throwing lively annual dinner parties for the Queen Mother at her home in Knightsbridge, at which the likes of Sir Alec Guinness and Barry Humphries could be found. Indeed, in later life the marchioness - the model for Osbert Lanchester's Maudie Littlehampton - appeared also to have inspired Dame Edna.

She was truly a survivor from another era. When I met her at a book launch in 1996, she was wearing an exaggerated black oilskin sou'wester (it had been raining heavily), a 1940s-style fur coat with padded shoulders, platform shoes and pale blue and multicoloured rhinestone spectacles. When I was introduced as Noel Coward's biographer, she remarked, "What a pity they didn't have sperm banks in those days" - the word "sperm" rang out loud and clear through the reverent hush of Hatchards: "we could do with more Noel Cowards." Some might think we could do with more Maureen Dufferins, too.

Maureen Constance Guinness: born 31 January 1907; married 1930 Basil, Earl of Ava (succeeded 1930 as fourth Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, died 1945; one daughter, and one son and one daughter deceased), 1948 Major Desmond Buchanan (marriage dissolved 1954), 1955 Judge John Maude (died 1986); died London 3 May 1998.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing