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The Astrologer's Newsletter - November/December 2008

David Fisher's Data Corner

The five Mitford sisters with their brother Tom
The lives of the six Mitford sisters spanned much of the 20th century and they were rarely out of the news, albeit for different reasons.

The eldest was Nancy. Although she was married to Peter Rodd from 1933 to 1958, during World War II she fell in love with Free French officer Gaston Palewski, moved to Paris in 1946 and remained in France for the rest of her life. Fame came to her after the war with her witty novels and historical biographies. She is particularly remembered for her notorious article on 'U and Non-U' (upper- and non-upper-class) usage. She had no children.

Pamela was the "quiet one", the most down-to-earth of the sisters and at her happiest in the kitchen - she was an excellent cook - and walking her dogs in the countryside. She was the favourite Mitford sister of poet John Betjeman who proposed marriage to her twice - unsuccessfully.

Diana was regarded as the most beautiful of the sisters. Her first husband was Bryan Guinness, heir to the famous brewery. In 1936 she married the fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, having already acquired a lifelong admiration for Adolf Hitler, and the couple were imprisoned in 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B. Diana had two sons from each of the marriages and she spent the rest of her life living between Ireland and France, before finally settling in Paris in 1963.

Unity was the artistic and rebellious one. Like Diana she espoused the Nazi cause in 1933 after attending a Nuremberg rally. She was a close friend of Hitler until war broke out, when she attempted suicide. She lived on as an invalid until her death at only 33.

Jessica, or Decca as she was always known, became a socialist in her teens and, politically, was the total opposite of Diana and Unity. She moved to the USA in 1941 and her second husband was an attorney. She was a member of the American Communist Party, 1944-58. Her autobiography Hons and Rebels (1960) was a huge success,revealing much about the Mitford family, but she made her name through investigative journalism with books such as The American Way of Death (1963) and The Trial of Dr Spock (1969)

The only surviving sister is Deborah, always known as Debo. In 1941 she married Lord Andrew Cavendish who, in 1950, succeeded his father as 11th Duke of Devonshire. Unlike her sisters she has remained apolitical all her life. She was largely responsible for putting Chatsworth, the Devonshire family home, on a sound financial footing. She has written many books, mostly about Chatsworth and its surroundings.

There was only one Mitford son, Tom, born in 1909; he died on 30 March 1945 from wounds received while fighting the Japanese in Burma. It was said that none of his six sisters ever got over his death.

I only have times of birth for Nancy and Jessica, Dates for the other four are taken from The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family by Mary S Lovell (Little, Brown & Co., 2001; Abacus reprint 2008).

NANCY FREEMAN MITFORD: 28 November 1904; London (51N30 0W10); 6:00 pm (18:00) GMT. (d. 30 June 1973). Source; biography Nancy Mitford by Selina Hastings.

PAMELA MITFORD: b. 25 November 1907; d. 12 April 1994.

DIANA MITFORD: b. 17 June 1910; d. 11 August 2003.

UNITY VALKYRIE MITFORD: b. 8 August 1914; d. 28 May 1948.

JESSICA LUCY FREEMAN ("DECCA") MITFORD: 11 September 1917;Gloucester (51N53 2W14); 4:30 am BST (03:30 GMT), (d. 23 July 1996). Source: Joan McEvers quotes Peggy Storey, data from Mitford at a lecture in 1981.

DEBORAH FREEMAN ("DEBO") MITFORD: b. 31 March 1920.

 

Nellie Wallace
One of the most popular music-hall artistes was Nellie Wallace, born the same year as that other great star, Marie Lloyd. But whereas Marie traded on the joy of sex, Nellie made a feature of her lack of success and plain looks.

Daughter of a professional singer, Francis George Tayler, Nellie became a "grotesque comedienne", the type who poked fun at her inability to catch a man. She first appeared on the stage aged 12 as a clog dancer in Birmingham, the family having recently left Scotland. She then joined forces with her two older sisters Fanny and Emma to form the Sisters Wallace. After that Nellie joined a drama company but she only succeeded in attracting laughter in all the wrong places.

By 1902 or 1903 she had switched to eccentric comedy and in 1910 she appeared in the first show to be staged at the new London Palladium. Her greatest success came in revues, the best of which was The Whirl of the World at the London Palladium, which ran for 627 performances in 1924/25.

Nellie could be quite risque at times and got into trouble with the prudish BBC. In 1948 she joined a company of veterans, Thanks For The Memory, which toured Britain to great acclaim. But during the course of its run, her widowed daughter Nora died after a short illness and Nellie lost the will to live. Her final appearance was in the Royal Variety Performance; as she left the stage she collapsed and died three weeks later on 24 November 1948. She left 8,439 in her will. Between the wars she made several commercial recordings of her best comic songs.

NELLIE WALLACE (real name Eleanor Jane Tayler); 18 March 1870; Glasgow (55N53 4W15); 12:30 pm GMT. Caroline Gerard from birth records. She states, "she was registered as Eleanor Jane Taylor".