Renata Clewes: Second World War Resistance fighter and wife of Howard Clewes

Renata Clewes played an indispensable role in the working life of her husband, the novelist, screenwriter and president of the Screenwriters’ Guild Howard Clewes: first, because she remained close at hand while he was writing; and second, because his manuscripts were not finished until they had been checked and approved by her.



This was less to do with her good command of English (she also spoke French, Spanish and flawless German, in addition to her native Italian) than to her being extremely exacting in everything she did. She had a draughtsman’s eye for detail, which his 20 action novels published between 1938 and 1979 demanded. When he wrote screenplays – for example, Mutiny on the Bounty, which starred Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando (although he took his name out of the credits) – she scrutinised them in the same way.

In assisting him, this self-effacing and conspicuously beautiful woman was getting exactly what she needed, namely thrills, adventure and a scintilla of glamour. It was a precedent she had set for herself as a spy and Resistance worker for the Allies in Italy throughout the Second World War.

Clewes saw nothing unusual in this achievement, and certainly no necessity to talk about it. She refused the offer of medals by the Americans once the war was over, and later rejected the approaches of a Swiss television station wanting her to recount some of her more dangerous exploits. These derived from inveigling her way into the Nazi headquarters in her native Milan, seizing every judicious moment to photograph whatever documents or plans she could and passing information to the Allies. She kept a printing press hidden behind curtains in her mother’s dressing room, meticulously creating false identity papers. She guided small units of Allied soldiers or civilians over the Alps, then skied them safely into Switzerland.

This was not as romantic as it sounded.

The downside of being tall, blonde and beautiful was highlighted when she was once kidnapped on her return journey by an over-watchful group of Resistance fighters, starved of the company of women. For two weeks she deflected their advances by talking to them about their families (but never about their wives) and of recipes (she was a very good cook), until one of them, a British army deserter, let her escape.

Clewes resumed her operations undaunted, but before the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943, she was woken at home in Milan’s Via Goldoni by secret police officers at the foot of her bed. She was taken to San Vittore prison, together with her mother, who had no knowledge of the printing press she herself was concealing – a fact which assisted in her mother’s early release.

Before that, however, while together in the exercise yard, Clewes informed her of what lay hidden in the dressing room in order that she burn all incriminating evidence on the terrace.

During the weeks that she remained in San Vittore, Clewes’ sole comforts were her toothbrush and a single volume by Voltaire – that enlightened revolutionary and defender of civil liberties – and she was scheduled to go to Auschwitz. A lesser personality might have been defeated, but she found a weak link in the chain that guarded her and bribed her way to escape, but not before giving the inspiring work by Voltaire to her cell mate. Thereafter, she continued her Resistance work, but evaded further capture.

She was born Renata Faccincani della Torre in April 1921 into a historically warlike Milanese aristocracy. Her ancestors were driven out by the Visconti and were confined to a tower outside Como, where their eyes were pecked out by birds. Her great-grandfather ran away from home at 16 to join Garibaldi in his unification of Italy. The family’s affluence in recent years was founded more sedately on her father being one of the first people in Italy to introduce frozen food. When all his farmlands were lost after the war, her formidable mother, Ida, garnered a German cosmetics concession, which she ran till the day she died.

Clewes and her brother, who was killed during the war, were brought up with a strong awareness of Fascism being an unacceptable ill; as it started to assert itself in Europe, her response was forthright. To her, something that was unacceptable was not only wrong, it required that you did not accept it.

Thus began her Resistance work.

She married Howard Clewes in 1946, and although they started off living in remote Italy, his work increasingly required them to be more at hand. They moved to London, settling comfortably into a historic, leafed-in farmhouse in the north-west corner of Hampstead Heath. In addition to playing hostess to her husband’s burgeoning film career, Renata worked as a model, and a teacher of Italian literature at London University and of language at the London Opera Centre. Always sartorially elegant, her interests were philosophy, history and politics, and she engaged in them passionately and enduringly, and it might gloriously be said of Renata Clewes that there was never anything “sweet old lady” about her.

Julian Machin

Renata Clewes, Resistance fighter and teacher: born Milan 3 April 1921; married 1946 Howard Clewes (one daughter); died 11 June 2009.

News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
i100
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

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

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?