Sunday, 10 March 2019

Date for your diary: July 7th 2019

I'm delighted to have accepted an invitation to the Steeple Morden Literary Festival on July 7th.  If you would like to hear more about my Secret Diary and ask a few questions, do please join me.  Venue and time to be announced in due course.

Steeple Morden is in South Cambridgeshire, just off the A505 near the border with Hertfordshire.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Frank Browne's Paddington South

This post gives a bit of background to the life of Frank Browne, the lift man who appears throughout the Secret diary.

In 1956 he and his wife Bridget appear in the electoral register as living at 6 Waverley Walk, Readings Ward, Paddington South Division. (They are also there in the 1963 and 1965 electoral registers.)

Waverley Walk was originally called Waverley Road, as it is here on Charles Booth's 1889 map, but was renamed around 1938.  It ran parallel to and immediately south of Alfred Road where Frank and Bridget were living in 1971.  

This is a part of London which has changed significantly since the 1950s.  Waverley Walk was demolished a year or two after 1965 as part of a slum clearance scheme when the Warwick Estate was built.  There is an interesting post about this on the Kensington & Chelsea Archives blog.


This photo from 1955 is of the corner of Harrow Road and Waverley Walk.

Thanks to the Facebook page for 'Paddington. Past caring' for two more photos of Waverley Walk in the 1960s ...


and this from 1909 (long before Frank arrived there!)

Well-known photographer Roger Mayne took many photos in this area; here are two he took on Waverley Walk in 1957. The boy on the bombsite one has been often reproduced.
Copr Roger Mayne
Copr. Roger Mayne
The Kensington and Chelsea Archives site has more information and photographs of the area.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Was Frank one of the good guys?

I'm always interested to hear what readers think of Secret diary of a 1970s secretary (in hardback Portland Place: the secret diary of a BBC secretary) and appreciate that they are quite entitled to their opinion of it.  

However, there is one aspect of the book which puzzles some, and on which I would like to set the record straight: the nature of the relationship between Frank Browne and myself.

Let's begin by restating that the book is an actual diary, a record of real events.  To retain its authenticity, I kept everything relating to that relationship in the published version and added nothing either.  What is there is the truth.

Now, some readers have found what happened between Frank and myself uncomfortable, even unpleasant.  Some suggest that Frank was a 'dirty old man' or a manipulative predator. Taken on a first reading one might imagine so, after all he was a lot older than I was, and obviously more experienced.  And wasn't it happening all over the BBC in the 1970s?  (Let's answer that one straightaway: actually, no.)

Before making my 1971 diary public, I read it through carefully several times and discussed it with friends, some of whom worked at the BBC at the same time as I did.  Certainly, cultures have changed in forty years; we now have a better awareness of the prevalence of groomers and how they operate.  We recognised that younger women today are much more alert to the process of grooming and might conclude, having read the diary, that Frank was guilty. 

Frank isn't around to speak in his own defence, and the BBC have decided not to broadcast an interview in which I gave my point of view, hence this post.


First, let's recap a bit of background.  In 1971 I was 19. My knowledge of sex and relationships was much less than what I imagine an average girl that age today possesses, and perhaps it is difficult to imagine what it might have been like to live in a world where sex was referenced in the media (advertising, pop music, films and tv drama) but real information was difficult to find. Like most girls, I was supposed to be getting married in my twenties, but I hadn't yet met any young men, let alone one I wanted to marry.

An incident on an underground train in 1970, when I was groped by a respectably dressed, middle-aged man, naturally shocked me. I knew it was wrong, but didn't protest because I didn't understand what he was doing. It made me aware, if only subconsciously, that I needed to know pretty quickly about what happened between a cinematic kiss and the actual making of babies.

Frank offered the opportunity I was looking for to find this out.  I don't want to imply motivations into Frank's actions because nobody knows exactly why he did what he did. My best guess is that, to begin with, he was flattered by my interest in him and, thinking that it was all just a bit of a lark like his younger days, was encouraged by my lack of refusal into assuming I was up for something quick and casual, with the added spice of being one in the eye for the world that had dealt him a pretty rough hand in life. He was a mature man with a seriously disabled wife.  He probably thought his days of attracting a woman were past.  Now, ask yourself, if you were him and a young girl turns up at work who thinks you are fascinating, how would you behave?

For me, Frank was unlike anyone I had met before and I enjoyed listening to him talk about his life in Ireland and his views on the world. I was delighted by his humour, his warmth and his generosity.  Being shorter than me, he was physically unthreatening.  While I wanted to learn what happened in a physical relationship without going 'all the way', I feared becoming emotionally dependent on him and he wasn't a long-term option. With him I gained confidence and reassurance. It wasn't so much about lust on my side, more about a brave new world opening up for me. And fun.
I'd guess that while Frank was away between March-June he thought about me much more than I realised at the time.  I suspect he had a rich fantasy life, certainly he was keen to make progress on his return to work, which I resisted. The 'mock-wedding' in June drew us closer, only for me to pull back again in late summer after I had been away on holiday. Then, towards the end of the year, something extraordinary happened; despite our impossible situation a deeper affection developed between us.  Has anyone else has written about two people falling in love in this way?

Was Frank genuinely in love with me?  He said so, and the evidence I wrote in my diary suggests that too.  But was he saying this to manipulate me for his own advantage?  

If so, we must accept that he did such a good job that I am still fooled today, because I don't think so. If he had wanted to, there were opportunities for him to threaten, humiliate or upset me.  He didn't.  Of course he persisted in asking for what he wanted, but he never forced me into doing anything I didn't want to do.  He was considerate and wanted whatever we did to be a good experience for me.

Surely if he was 'grooming' me, his failure to get what he wanted would have made him drop me pretty quickly so he could move on to another girl?  Yes, he bought me buttered buns and cups of tea but this seemed to me then, and now, simple generosity, a repayment if you like for what he felt he owed me.  His generosity extended to others too, such as his fellow lift man, to whom he gave his overtime money.  (Felicity Hayes-McCoy's book The house on an Irish hillside describes well the Irish philosophy of 'Enough is plenty', which when I read about it I recognised as applying to Frank.) 

Any suggestion that I was his victim also removes my own ability to make choices, and I enjoyed what we did together while setting boundaries which Frank respected, albeit with humorous reluctance. 

Believe me, since those days I have had enough experience of life, and met enough men who were stinkers, to be able to look back and know that Frank was genuinely one of the good guys.

That's my point of view.  Please read the diary and draw your own conclusions, but I'd advise reading it twice and then asking yourself this: Who got the most out of that relationship?

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The secret's out in paperback!

The paperback edition of my 1971 diary will be published on 2nd November 2017 (see retailers links below).  At under a tenner it's a copy for you and maybe a Christmas present for a lucky someone else too? 

The Hive (independent bookstores)

The title has been altered to "The secret diary of a 1970's secretary" (see post).  I'm delighted with the new, slightly brighter cover, and especiallythe endorsements from Joan Bakewell and Gyles Brandreth. 

An audio version, read by Anna Bentinck, will be available as a download from Audible; its already borrowable from public libraries.

The hardback edition, 'Portland Place', remains on sale too.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The mysterious case of the vanishing BBC ...

In November 2017 my diary for 1971 will be published in paperback as "The secret diary of a 1970s secretary".  Observant readers will note that this title has changed from the hardback one by ditching “Portland Place" and the reference to a "BBC" secretary.

It's no particular hardship to me, a rose by any other name and all that, and I'm not entirely sure of the reasons for the change myself, but it raised a few thoughts.

Portland Place: The Langham, All Souls & Broadcasting House

We originally chose “Portland Place” for the title because it was the classiest one that conjured up the London area around Broadcasting House and the Langham, where so many of the events take place.  “1971”, the title of the original self-published version, had just been taken by David Hepworth with his excellent book on rock music, “1971: Never a dull moment”.

But does “Portland Place” make you think “BBC”? It turned out that even older folk didn't always connect the address with the corporation, despite the frequency with which the address used to be mentioned on air. Nor was it memorable enough.  Perhaps my husband was not alone in calling the book on more forgetful days, “Peyton Place”?

More than that, maybe book browsers who licked their lips at the prospect of juicy backstage gossip were disappointed to find themselves reading the ramblings of a junior secretary. 

Perhaps it's just that the idea of the BBC in the seventies has become too toxic.  That makes me cross.  I've gritted my teeth on a number of occasions, answering questions which presupposed that a romance on BBC premises between two lowly members of staff must be considered in the same light as the abuse of children by sociopathic, highly-paid, popular entertainers. Our secret, charming, curious romance could have taken place in any office, then and (possibly) now, and the fact that it developed in a department making sex education programmes for schools is a hilarious irony.  Ours was a consensual relationship. I was not a victim, Frank Browne was not a manipulator and … well work it out for yourself: Who got most out of that relationship?

Above the entrance to Broadcasting House

It's true the BBC, local radio stations and the BBC Alumni Group apart, has been jittery about the book. Characterisations of the bosses in the diary may have offended some of the BBC elite, but given a little thought I am sure they saw that what is unique about the diary is the author's youthful candidness.  Besides, I'd like to think that the diary goes some way to redefine the reputation of the Corporation by offering an authentic account of what it was like to work there in those days;  bureaucratic, friendly, worthy, anxious and occasionally boring.

So, which title do you prefer?  How important are book titles?

Twitter: @Dymvue

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bookmarked in Cambridge

Tuesday 19th September, an early morning stroll takes me past 'The Cambridge Blue' pub, where I've enjoyed several happy occasions, but this time I'm en route to the studios of Cambridge 105.  I was lucky enough to have been invited by Leigh Chambers to join her on her 'Bookmark' radio programme, which is sponsored by Heffers Bookshop.  

I hadn't met Leigh before, but was delighted to find that she is a friendly and well-informed interviewer, and a total professional.  She explained that our discussion about the book would be interspersed with music I had previously chosen, and by pre-recorded pieces from two other Cambridge authors.  These were Emma Bennett, creator of 'The Cambridge Art Book' a gorgeous collection of representations of Cambridge views, and Jane Menczer whose gripping first novel, 'An Unlikely Agent', has just been published.

I hadn't slept too well the previous couple of nights which may explain my slow start, but once we got going it was great fun.  Leigh asked very perceptive questions about my relationship with Frank Browne and how I felt about publishing such a personal diary; I was so keen to answer them fully that she had to drop one of the music tracks.

You can enjoy the three interviews by listening to or downloading the podcast of the programme here.