Obituary: Bryan Guinness
Saturday 11 July 1992
Heywood Hill, of bookshop fame, had written to Lord Moyne to ask if he would give me some material for my biography of Brian Howard, that seminal figure of the 1920s and 1930s, who had been a friend of Bryan Guinness - as he then was - at Eton, and more particularly at Oxford. A year later, having got no reaction, Heywood was on the point of 'stirring him up' when to my embarrassment a pre-publication piece appeared in the Observer claiming that Lord Moyne (amongst others) had contributed an essay on Brian at Eton. I hastily wrote to apologise but, far from being huffed by this premature assumption, Lord Moyne promptly invited me and my husband, sight unseen, to spend the next weekend, Whitsun 1966, at Biddesden.
And so it was that we found ourselves bowling down the drive, by diminutive Palomino foals (bred by Lady Moyne), that led to that most enchanting place, portrayed so well in Reynolds Stone's woodcut. The weekend was magical for me as Jonathan Guinness came over on the Sunday and the non-stop talk of Brian Howard at Eton, at Oxford, at bay between the wars, and during his comical Second World War career veering from sinister contact man at MI5 ('I think I smell a Fascist]') to irrepressible AC2 in the RAF, was hilarious. Best of all, I was left alone and uninterrupted far into the night in the library to copy out extracts from the fascinating collection of letters from my Brian to Bryan G. in the late 1920s. The two friends used to write to each other as 'I' and 'Y' (Brian Howard and Bryan Guinness). It was a case of attraction of opposites: Bryan G. the serious, gentle dreamer, and Brian H. the dynamic but doomed wrecker of lives, mostly his own.
It is amusing to see how Brian H. saw his namesake in one of his Oxford Portraits of 1925-6 in the Manner of Miss Gertrude Stein after Stein had been introduced to Oxford by Edith Sitwell. This parody, which appeared in a current Cherwell, shows more foresight of his subject's character than would have been credited at the time:
It is extremely remote to think that good is not good because it may produce an impression of remoteness. Because shy is not spry it is not therefore fly a lack of loudness or rather quietness does not mean no sound but generally something louder in a better way than just loudness and because industry is courteous and because industry does not hiccup that does not say that it means nothing because it is so courteous it is curious that so many people insist on the hiccup but the fact remains that industry is courteous.
While at Biddesden I was also given free run of a cache of contemporary photographs and newspaper cuttings about the famous 'Bruno Hat' hoax that had taken place at Bryan and Diana Guinness's London home in 1929. Diana - Lady Mosley - had already written to me in detail about this episode. They had talked it over for days, she said, and the more they talked the less enthusiastic Bryan G. had become. Brian H. had painted the pictures in John Banting's studio, on cork mats framed with white rope. On the day, the newspapers sent not only their art critics - which Bryan G. was prepared for - but their gossip-writers and photographers (for which he was not). Bryan G. was tormented, said Lady Mosley, by the thought that they might make fools of themselves and get the sack.
During the following months, Lord Moyne and I exchanged a volley of letters, for his invaluable contribution to my biography had arrived at an unfortunately late stage and I was immensely grateful for the speed with which he read and corrected - or censored - my instant retypes. He was kind and encouraging, and professional to his fingertips.
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