MARGARET GUTHRIE's first job was with Express Newspapers and she became one of Lord Beaverbrook's personal secretaries. She never worked for anyone else, and not until she was 90 did a murmur concerning Beaverbrook pass her lips for possible publication.
When she was in her mid-twenties he deputed her to act as secretary to his wife Gladys - partly to watch over or spy on her. But Margaret respected Gladys. Beaverbrook, incomprehensibly, wished to limit his wife's expenditure, though she was not extravagant: it fell to Margaret Guthrie to get her bills paid with as little attention drawn to them as possible. One of Beaverbrook's more curious characteristics was that (even in his eighties) he could not bear any of his lady friends to take the limelight and overshadow him. Thus, in the recent Beaverbrook - a Life by Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie there is a remarkable description by Margaret Guthrie of what happened after Gladys gave a speech:
. . . they were clapping and cheering and standing on tables; she was so marvellous. He didn't like that at all, and ordered the car and sent her home. He sent her back to Cherkley alone. Miss Evans, the housekeeper, who was devoted to her, rang me up and said, 'What's he doing to her now? I think it's driving her to drink.'
Gladys Beaverbrook, acknowledged to be one of the most 'understanding', beautiful, and noble women to have endured a difficult marriage to a wayward genius, died in 1927, and Margaret Guthrie later related that Beaverbrook was 'devastated', as well he might be having treated her so badly, and 'for the moment, he was a broken man'.
Margaret married Cedric Blundell-Ince, a journalist; a daughter was born in 1930 (Angela Ince, for a dozen years a well-known columnist on the London Evening News). The family lived briefly in South Africa before returning to England in 1939, whereupon Margaret worked again for Beaverbrook, for 25 years, during the Second World War and afterwards until his death in 1964.
In the Express building George Millar, Beaverbrook's right-hand man for 50 years, passed through the hall with hardly anyone knowing who he was. So did Margaret, who for the rest of her time at the Express was called Mrs Ince. In an unpretentious office they sat at desks side by side. Millar dealt with Beaverbrook's personal life (the family, money, women, personal staff, problems, etc) and Margaret dealt with the rest - books sent in bulk to libraries in Canada, and, her most admirable achievement, choosing pictures for a Beaverbrook pet project, his art gallery at Fredericton, New Brunswick. She became something of an art expert.
Two days after Millar had engaged me to work for Beaverbrook I telephoned him. A man of few words, he handed me over to Margaret Ince. 'Please forgive me if this is an idiotic question,' I said, 'but what do I call him? My lord?' 'Oh no,' she said, 'you call him sir. I think 'my lord' is only for domestic servants.'
Three years later I was to glance in my driving mirror and see behind me Margaret Ince and John Gordon (Editor of the Sunday Express) in a Rolls Royce: she waved at me vigorously to get a move on - to Beaverbrook's funeral, whither the mourners were to speed through unfamiliar Surrey lanes at 40mph. She was 65 at the time, though one would not have thought it. At 73 she married Gordon, was widowed for a second time, and at 93 was still game for a gin and it over lunch in a Cambridgeshire pub.