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.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial