Obituary: David Herbert

David Alexander Reginald Herbert, writer and raconteur: born 3 October 1908; died Tangier 3 April 1995.

The death of David Herbert will leave the expatriate community in Tangier bereft of the focus of their lives, and visitors from Britain to the Sin City of North Africa without an almost compulsory port of call.

To go on holiday to Tangier and not to be invited to luncheon at least eight times a week by David Herbert was regarded by many as social death. Money, breeding and temperament all combined to equip him with a penchant for entertaining, and apart from producing, in 1972, a lightweight volume of reminiscences called Second Son, and in 1990 an equally lightweight sequel of recollections, Engaging Eccentrics, he never did anything else.

The Hon David Herbert was born in 1908, second son of the 15th Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, and was brought up at Wilton House, the beautiful Pembroke seat near Salisbury. But for nearly half a century he made his home on the Mountain in Tangier, first visiting the place in 1933 with Poppet John, a daughter of Augustus. There he was able to sustain a standard of living which would have been quite beyond his means had he remained in England. The garden, where English spring bulbs were in full flower in February, teemed with exotic birds unmolested by the cats: Essex, Dudley and Lady Jane Grey. There were two cottages, in which lived a cook and his wife, who cleaned the house, two gardeners, and a perfect Moroccan manservant who answered the door, poured the drinks, waited at table and drove the car.

The house was a seemingly endless succession of small but exquisitely furnished sitting-rooms leading off from one another, 18th-century china, chairs and family portraits reminding him, and his more plebeian guests, of his stately origins. Photographs of the royal family, too, preserved a homely touch. Herbert's brother served as equerry to the late Duke of Kent and his sister-in-law as a Lady-in-Waiting to the Duchess. His sister Patricia, the late Dowager Viscountess Hambleden, was a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen Mother for 57 years. His anecdotes about the Queen and the Queen Mother were part of the repertoire to which new visitors, upon whose eager ears he fastened, were invariably subjected. They were very well told, and very funny, even the second time round.

Beautiful in his pampered youth and distinguished-looking in his unwrinkled old age, David Herbert was content that his life should revolve around the arranging of a lunch- or dinner- party every day, or else he was out to lunch or dinner. Apart from the time it took to take a siesta he seemed quite unable to endure his own company, and the result was not unlike an imported version of Tilling. As in the novels of E.F. Benson, those who lived in Tangier met and re-met one another on the terrace of Herbert's house day in and day out, so that new faces from England were welcomed by many pairs of open arms. Plates, cutlery and glasses engraved with the Pembroke crest adorned the table, whether meals were taken indoors or out, and the food, first the meat, then the vegetables, was passed precariously round and round the table by the one servant. Decanters of wine were thoughtfully placed in the centre of the table and guests were invited to serve themselves drinks, which helped to pass the time while waiting for the food.

Herbert was the most attentive of hosts but essentially an indolent man, and he was never known to open a door, carve a piece of meat or pour a drink himself. His bte noire was people who rearranged the furniture, fixed as it was in permanent position, much as furniture seems to be in any royal residence, and Herbert's establishment was nothing if not a court in exile. After one lunch-party he commented, to a departing guest from England, on the reprehensible conduct of a neighbour: ``My dear, did you see the way that man moved his chair after lunch? Then he threw the cushion off it. And finally he disarranged the rug. He simply isn't house-trained!''

During the war Herbert served as a lieutenant in the RNVR, but his pleasure ever after was in making the acquaintance of writers and in swapping literary and social gossip. Paul Bowles, Nancy Mitford, Harold Nicolson, Cyril Connolly, Robin Maugham, Hector Bolitho, Sybil Thorndike, Diana Cooper were all his friends. Immaculate in green cravat, his fingers heavy with rings, David Herbert viewed the world through narrowly focused eyes, absorbing and enjoying the quirks of human conduct, but behind the wealth and wit there lay an essential emptiness. It was as though he knew and accepted the intellectual limitations the regal role imposes upon modern monarchy, a role he played out in the stiflingly Bensonian atmosphere of Tangier to perfection. Many aspire to emulate his performance, but there is no natural successor.

He had great charm, but he was, alas, much maligned by many to whom, over countless years, he extended unstinting hospitality. This he knew, and to his credit he did not care a jot.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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 People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past