Zita Jungman

Archetypal Bright Young Thing


Zita Mary Jungman: born 13 September 1903; married 1929 Arthur James (died 1981; marriage dissolved 1932); died Leixlip, Co Kildare 18 February 2006.

Zita Jungman was an integral player in the between-the-wars party whose participants were known, generically, as the Bright Young People. With her curly blonde bob and movie-starlet looks - and a wealthy father-in-law by the name of Richard Guinness - she was a vivid archetype of the playful Twenties.

Yet, like a character out of a novel by Evelyn Waugh (a writer himself obsessively in love with her younger sister, Teresa "Baby" Jungman), Zita lurched from the Cecil Beaton-photographed fripperies of the 1920s into the present danger of the 1940s when, as an ambulance driver in France, she was very nearly captured by the Nazis.

Zita, born in 1903, and Teresa, born in 1908, were the daughters of Nico Jungman, an impoverished Dutch artist, and his wife, Beatrice. But their circumstances changed drastically when their parents divorced in 1918 and their mother then married Richard Guinness. Suddenly rich, the two young women, emerging as debutantes into the heady post-First World War world, relished the freedom that being young, beautiful, and rich in London had to offer.

Together with Eleanor Smith, daughter of the Earl of Birkenhead, and Elizabeth Ponsonby, daughter of the future Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, they started the fashion for treasure hunts and masquerades that defined high society in the 1920s. In her book Cocktails and Laughter (1983), Loelia, Duchess of Westminster recalls Zita as "a master of unusual ideas", persuading the Hovis factory to bake clues into loaves like Chinese fortune cookies. She even got Lord Beaverbrook to print a special edition of the Evening Standard, complete with mocked-up headlines and more clues.

"We were all so over-excited," Zita said later. "We were all talking about ourselves always" - adding that her diaries of the time were filled with references to everyone "screaming with joy". Incarnate in the deluxe gloss and sleek reflection of Beaton's photographs, the sisters entertained on a lavish scale - funded by Guinness money - at their stepfather's house at 19 Great Cumberland Place, where they were at the heart of a newly liberated set which mixed middle-class newcomers such as Cecil Beaton with aristocratic aesthetes such as Stephen Tennant.

Indeed, it was at the Tennants' Wiltshire manor, Wilsford, that Zita and "Baby" Jungman indulged in their young host's mania for dressing-up. Edith Olivier, the Wiltshire writer with an older eye on the proceedings, recorded events; at the same time, noting Zita's own slight distance from the evening's partying as the guests waited - and waited - for their host to appear:

Baby Jungman in silver trousers and tunic. Zita wouldn't dress (tho' terrified at not having) . . . At 9.30 Osbert and Sachie [Sitwell], Siegfried Sassoon [Tennant's lover] and Willie [William] Walton led the fainting guests to the hall . . . Stephen at last came in a white Russian suit with silver train and a bandeau round his head.

Then they all played hide and seek in the dark. The next morning, "Zita & Baby very fleet & agile", Beaton composed a human sandwich of Stephen's glamorous guests, piling them one on top of the other and covering them with a leopardskin rug.

On a subsequent and even more extravagant weekend, Tennant had Zita and Baby, and the rest of his guests, don specially made 18th-century costumes and parade on the bridge over the river that ran through the estate, provoking one of the most extraordinary, and perhaps decadent, images of inter-war high society. On his arrival at Wilsford - finding the proceedings being filmed by a tall young footman in dark glasses - Lytton Strachey declared them all "strange creatures - with just a few feathers where brains should be".

Bright Young antics got quite extreme. At another house party, the notorious Brian Howard launched a characteristic practical joke. "The other night I with Eleanor Smith burgled the Jungmans in the middle of the night" - climbing in their window and stealing one of the girls' pearl necklaces - "and they aren't quite sure whether it was, or wasn't burglars even now!" crowed Howard.

Sensing a more serious spirit, Olivier became a close friend of Zita's, a confidante while Waugh and others pursued her sister Baby. (On his death, Waugh's prayerbook was found to contain a pressed orchid labelled "19 January 1930" - the night he met Baby.) Zita, for her part, was romantically pursued by Sacheverell Sitwell, but was said to favour his brother Osbert (who was anyhow homosexual). He remained inured to her charms, however, and Zita wrote mournfully in her diary that he was much more interested in Christabel Aberconway: "the two are to be found lolling in each other's arms spiritually if not entirely physically at any hour".

None the less, she found her own match in the shape of Arthur James, a grandson of the Duke of Wellington, whom she married in 1929. "She did as I asked," wrote Olivier,

and walked up the aisle alone, with a very long train, an exquisite dress, very deep yellowish white, a Russian crown of orange blossom . . . Two tiny bridesmaids after another long gap.

The marriage did not last, however, and in 1932 Arthur James remarried. Zita never did.

Zita Jungman's great consolation was her Roman Catholicism - and her sense of duty and caritas was put to the test during the Second World War. In 1939, she began driving an ambulance in London, and, in April 1940, joined a Canadian Polish ambulance unit in France. She dined with Edith Olivier on the eve of her departure. "We talked much of religion and she is less bigotted [sic]," concluded Olivier. "I am sure that this war must draw all us Christians together." In the blackout, they left the Etoile restaurant, walking through a darkened city. "The houses shut out the sky," Olivier wrote.

Months later, Jungman experienced the most frightening episode of her life. As the German invasion of France began, her unit was trapped in a remote corner of Brittany. Despite her warning her superiors of the imminent danger, it was only at the last moment that she and her fellow drivers were given the order to retreat - only then to find half the population of Brittany trying to cross the Loire. Desperate, they made plans to tear off their uniforms and, in mufti, pose as Americans should they be captured. They reached La Rochelle - only to find that the last Royal Navy ship had left. But, by luck, they were found by two British officers sent to rescue people left behind.

The experience marked Jungman indelibly. Back in England, she met Olivier:

She couldn't tell all . . . but I see the result is to make her suspect 5th Column everywhere. She has no confidence even in England. Thinks the Foreign Office is full of Quislings! . . . Wants the 6,000 Poles who have landed to go to Ireland. Says they are the only people who will never give in to the Germans . . . Her line is that of Elijah, "And I only am left."

Even two years later, she was still talking "in a Defeatist way which always surprises me as she works more than anyone for the War", wrote Olivier:

She has been like this ever since France and I think the shock of seeing a whole nation give in, was too much for her.

Zita Jungman's life thereafter was a quiet one of retirement, living with her sister in Ireland. When I wrote a piece for The Independent on Sunday to coincide with the release of Stephen Fry's 2003 film Bright Young Things (in researching for which, Fry had spoken to both Jungmans), the newspaper received a letter from Desmond Guinness, reminding it, and me, that Zita Jungman had achieved rather more in her life than party-going; and, as Edith Olivier noted, her friend "never moved with the herd".

Nevertheless, it will be the image of Zita, and her sister, perched in full rococo costume on a wooden bridge over the Avon, that will remain as an evocative emblem of a strangely innocent age.

Philip Hoare

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
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: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us