Obituary: Frances Donaldson

AS A WRITER, Frankie Donaldson spent her life as an explorer of a world which was never quite her own; she always felt that she and her husband, Jack, occupied a sort of 'no man's land between the smart and the intellectual', writes Lord Healey. She had the combination of a warm heart and a cold eye which is ideal for a biographer.

The first half of her life was often lonely and difficult. As a child in digs when her father Freddy Lonsdale was making his way as a writer of plays and musical comedies during the First World War, she had only two friends of her own age - Daphne Du Maurier and Leonora (stepdaughter of PG) Wodehouse. She was always her father's favourite daughter; but it was a bitter- sweet relationship. Once when she was chatting to him as he shaved he said: 'Don't keep finishing your sentences - I'm not a bloody fool.'

When her father first struck oil with his play Aren't We All, he made her his companion as he pursued his rake's progress through the social whirl of Noel Coward and Mr Cochrane's Young Ladies.

Then her mother manoeuvred her into a loveless marriage with a rich man 20 years her senior who did not like women. She left him after four empty years and married Jack Donaldson. Four fulfilling years with him were followed by six years' separation as he served abroad right through the war.

Similar experiences scarred, and ultimately wrecked, the lives of her two sisters. They led Frankie to start a new creative life as a farmer and writer. The difficulties of her early life had given her intelligence a hard and penetrating edge as well as a gem-like radiance. Yet she also had a depth of human understanding which rejected any temptation to make moral judgements either of her subjects such as Edward VIII and PG Wodehouse or of her friends such as Evelyn Waugh and Tony Crosland. The same toughness led her to drive herself and Jack in summer weekends some 70 miles each way to their house in Sussex when she was over 80 and suffering from cancer. Her humanity and understanding made it a profound pleasure to be her friend.

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