Anglea Huth, the broadcaster and author of some 18 books, has now written her memoirs, Not the Whole Story. And though it may not be the whole story, what a story it is.
Huth is the daughter of the actor Harold Huth and the flighty Bridget Nickols, who had an amitié amoureuse with the King of Portugal and several affairs. Huth’s enjoyably monstrous grandmother, with a penchant for couture, a private account at the Bank of England and the world’s most valuable pearl, is vividly described. Once, in the V&A, she
found a magnificent collection of... dozens of pieces in all, hand-cut glass that slightly pricks your fingers. Each piece was engraved with a VR; it had been made to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee. ‘I’ll take all that,’ said my grandmother, presumably thinking she was in a large department store.
Huth is marvellously gossipy: we learn that Princess Margaret had a phobia of dolls and mannequins and that John Betjeman found the notion of a ‘cocktail dress’ exquisitely funny. But she manages never to be bitchy and not a mean word is said about anyone. Nor does she ever show off. Film stars ‘happen’ to come to dinner; Huth just ‘comes across’ famous writers. We meet Marlene Dietrich and Britt Ekland, Sofia Loren and Rex Harrison, Keith Richards and Iris Murdoch, Liberace and the Queen Mother. It could all be a bit Jilly Cooper, what with the debutantes and the dances, the country weekends and courting. Everything is frightfully good fun. But Huth is too funny and modest to let her memoirs slip into caricature.
Her best chapters are about her school days, and the sort of education that doesn’t exist any more: plenty of dancing and picnicking and reciting poetry. Once, at her secondary school in Malvern, there was no geography teacher for an entire year: no one saw fit to complain.
In 1956, she came out as a deb, and her chapter about the season is sweetly nostalgic, tinged with irreverence about that maddest of English traditions. She spent a few years at art schools in Paris and Florence — grim and inspiring respectively — and travelled round America at a time when the presence of a black girl at the same table as a southern belle was enough to reduce the latter to hysterical tears. Huth races through her career at Queen magazine, the BBC and selling nighties on the Fulham Road. We swirl through a succession of houses and friends. Novels are written, TV programmes made, marriages entered into and children born.
But there is plenty left out, as suggested by the title. She skims over her divorce from her first husband Quentin Crewe. On one page they are companionably writing in adjoining rooms, looking after their young daughter Candida and restoring a house in Bedfordshire; on the next, they are splitting up, with no reason given. (She is scarcely more revealing about her present marriage, to the academic James Howard-Johnston.) But there is no doubt that she is a thoroughly good egg: ever cheerful, a wonderfully loyal friend and as amusing and engaging a writer as one could hope to find.
Another writer, Duff Hart-Davis (whose novelist wife Phyllida was at school with Angela Huth), has also published a memoir. But Never Say No couldn’t be further removed from the taffeta and tea parties of Huth’s world. Hart-Davis’s travel stories are straight out of the Boy’s Own, all discontented lieutenants and big game hunting.
In his youth, he was one of the first Westerners to drive through Russia when the borders opened to tourists in 1957 (and the first Englishman in the Crimea), alongside his godfather Peter Fleming. The Russians were astonished by their car; ‘clearly,’ one of them said, ‘it is not possible for a private citizen to own such a vehicle.’
In 1970 Hart-Davis drove some 6,000 miles from Delhi to England with his wife, following the hashish route and taking in the Khyber Pass and Persepolis. Other trips were to Ascension Island, Kenya and Nigeria. With the keen eye for detail that makes him such a good reporter, Hart-Davis notices everything, including peoples’ heights and the makes of cars.
And he has been to some extraordinary places and met some amazing people, among them Oleg Gordievsky, ‘the most valuable double agent the West has ever had’, and King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal, the living incarnation of Vishnu. Yet there is no sense here of how living his life actually feels. Apart from an enthusiasm for cricket and flying, and a dislike of taxes and communism, we learn little about him. The everyday textures — food, clothes, even much description of his children — are sadly lacking. He’s a Joseph Conrad Englishman: bold, brave and restrained. Fans of Heart of Darkness will find plenty to enjoy.