despite my bruised and battered condition, i could not not bring you this obit from the london telegraph –
Nerina Shute, who died on October 12 aged 96, wrote acerbic film reviews, risqué novels, histories and memoirs of which none aroused greater interest than Passionate Friendships (1992), a “book of confessions” published when she was in her eighties. Among other eye-popping revelations, Nerina Shute told how her marriage to Howard Marshall, BBC broadcaster, D-Day hero, Oxford rugby Blue and author of a book about Scott of the Antarctic, hit the rocks after she confessed to having an affair with their French housekeeper. She also chronicled her 22 years of “friendship, happiness and love” with the doyenne of ballroom dancing, Phyllis Haylor.
Nerina Shute was born on July 17 1908 in north Wales, where her parents had briefly repaired after her father lost all his money on the stock exchange; but she spent her early childhood in a house on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, her father having inherited money from a relative. Nerina Shute became a gossip columnist for Film Weekly, writing acerbic pen portraits of film stars and causing offence to a generation of British film personalities. E A Dupont, the director of Piccadilly, was so annoyed by the comments she made about him that he banned her from the studio floor. She sneaked back disguised as a rabbi.
By now Nerina Shute had become the 1920s equivalent of an “It Girl”, famous for her outspoken opinions, her passion for sexual politics and broad-brimmed black hats. She moved in bohemian circles and attended louche parties at the home of the playwright Aimée Stuart in Carlton House Terrace where “we talked endlessly about free love and homosexuality”. “Miss Shute writes,” opined Rebecca West in The Daily Telegraph, “not so much badly as barbarously, as if she had never read anything but a magazine . . . Yet she is full of talent.” As a result of this review, Nerina Shute was asked to write a series of articles for the Sunday Graphic as “the Girl with the Barbarous Touch”, and was given a job by Lord Beaverbrook as a reporter for the Daily Express, from which she was sacked after six months. Afterwards she found a job as a film critic for the Sunday Referee.
Meanwhile, having taken up the cause of free love, she had embarked on an affair with “Charles”, a playboy former doctor who had been struck off the medical register for performing an illegal abortion. She went to live with him in Liverpool, where he had found a job as a commercial traveller. But the sex was unsatisfactory, and their “trial marriage” soon came to an end. She found consolation in the arms of “Josephine”, a monocle-wearing Roman Catholic who took comfort from the fact that “there’s nothing in the Bible against lesbians”.
The Marshalls moved to Mayfair, but Nerina soon found herself becoming bored with the restrictions of married life; her husband did not like parties and she missed her old friends. Her gloom was lifted by the arrival of Renée, a young French housekeeper. The two women became close, and though Nerina regarded their relationship as akin to that between mother and daughter, it soon became obvious that there was more to it. One day, Renée approached her mistress, duster in hand: " ‘Madame j’envie de faire l’amour.’ The next minute she was in my arms."
Nerina returned to her mother, by now living in a house near Horsham with her sixth husband, Noel Sparrow. Just before her mother’s death in 1958, Nerina decided to take up ballroom dancing and joined a dance club. Before long she had met and fallen in love with Phyllis Haylor, a well-known figure in the ballroom dancing world. After selling the house at Horsham, Nerina and her stepfather moved to live nearer Phyllis in London, where Nerina found work as a secretary at a hostel for unmarried mothers and later as a voluntary social worker with the Samaritans. After Noel Sparrow’s death in 1967, she and Phyllis bought a cottage together in Hertfordshire and eventually lived together in London. “I had never been so happy in all my life,” Nerina recalled. Their relationship lasted until Phyllis’s death in 1981.
– in a word, wow