Friday, 21 September 2012


1231 words

King Tut tut

The columnal skies exploded this week as single engined "not so few" emails weaved in and out of a second Battle of Britain attacking the invading statistics I gave last week. This column is strictly neutral but this is what the official website says:

"At the start of the war, Germany had 4,000 aircraft compared to Britain's front-line strength of 1,660. By the time of the fall of France, the Luftwaffe (the German air force) had 3,000 planes based in north-west Europe alone including 1,400 bombers, 300 dive bombers, 800 single engine fighter planes and 240 twin engine fighter bombers. At the start of the battle, the Luftwaffe had 2,500 planes that were serviceable and in any normal day the Luftwaffe could put up over 1,600 planes. The RAF had 1,200 planes on the eve of the battle which included 800 Spitfires and Hurricanes - but only 660 of these were serviceable. The rate of British plane production was good - the only weakness of the RAF was the fact that they lacked sufficient trained and experienced pilots. Trained pilots had been killed in the war in France and they had not been replaced."
From another reader: "Not sure whether it was deliberate reader 'test' by you, but the German Berlin Games filmmaker referred to in 9/14's Thought For The Day was actually Leni Reifenstahl."

As Dr Johnson excused himself in similar circumstances, "Sheer ignorance."

I stick to my main theme. The truth is much more dramatic than fiction. Take Downtown Abbey. I am an addict, even though life in the Abbey bears no resemblance to the few stately homes I know. I do wish Julian Fellowes would take a tip or two from my chum William Cross.

In the early 20th century Highclere Castle, where Dowton is set, was the home of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon and his countess, the rapacious Almina who came with a dowry of £50 million from Baron Alfred de Rothschild, the lover of Almina's mother. Cross's first book "The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon" was an eyebrow-raising account of her love life. Her lovers included her husband's best man who fathered, Cross believes, the 5th Earl. He was Prince Victor Duleep Singh, a godson of Queen Victoria and the son of the last Maharajah of Lahore. Almina (they wed in 1895) brought with her a colossal fortune, just at a time when the family coffers were almost drained. He got the money, she got a title.

If Carnarvon wasn’t interested in his new wife, ten years his junior, then his best friend - and, claims Cross, lover at Eton - was. Prince Victor practically lived at Highclere Castle in Berkshire. "He had plenty of opportunity," says Cross. Significantly, when the Countess became pregnant she made two sets of plans for the birth of her child. The first, official, plan was to have the baby delivered at the Carnarvon family home in London’s Berkeley Square. But she also rented another house - and for good reason. "She was terrified," says  Cross. "The safe house was her planned refuge - just in case the baby was born with the wrong skin pigment."

Her other lovers included at least one of her servants, an assistant gardener. She would summon him by standing in the study window.
As a new series of Downton starts Cross has published an equally frank, indeed sensational,  account, based on family diaries, of her husband: "Lordy! Tutankhamun's Patron As A Young Man". Perhaps we must now call him "Pharaoh Tut Tut".

The money the 5th Earl gave to Howard Carter to finance his hunt for the grave of Tutankhamun came from his wife, despite her suspicion the two men were lovers. Perhaps more important Cross has unearthed new evidence about the curse of the Pharaohs. The death of the 5th Earl was said to have been caused by a mosquito bite. The new evidence shows that Almina had no doubt what caused her husband's death. He caught syphilis during a continental jaunt with Victor when they were young men freshly down from University. By the time he made his last trip to Egypt the disease had reached its terminal stage. Cross has discovered errors in the death certificate.
He says: "In the rush to have Lord Carnarvon's death advanced into folklore as a result of a bite or curse those involved left clues behind  of their carelessness in an attempt to cover up the sordid truth... distractions that have completely falsified and distorted an important piece of archaeological and human history... Fiction fabricates facts for the sake of making a storyline more entertaining and dramatic. The TV dramas that uplift the lives of real people and aim to tell their stories but then exploit and distort these people's lives and try to put things over that are completely made up, thus masking the truth, are totally unacceptable and wrong."

Nevertheless Cross is not one to examine the oral hygeine of a gift horse. Not only does publication of his book chime with the launch of a second series of "Downtown Abbey": this is the 90th anniversary of the finding of the tomb of the pharaoh King Tut Tut.

Like other stately homes during the First World War, Highclere had been turned into a haven for the wounded, and Almina discovered a passion for wearing a matron’s uniform and bossing people about. After the war she was ready to try it again, this time for money. Alfred House in central London, named after Alfred de Rothschild, was likened to the Ritz Hotel. A hall porter in medals and a uniform greeted “guests” while Almina wafted round in her uniform. The trouble was she often failed to provide a bill at the end of a guest’s stay. “She thought it was bad taste,” recalled one grateful patient.

To boost her income, a new service was added to the menu at Alfred House. Though pregnancy termination remained illegal in Britain until 1967, a steady trickle of well-to-do female patients were now checking in to the nursing home. The consequence, had Almina been caught, would have been a jail term: instead high society looked the other way. The countess’s nephew by marriage, Evelyn Waugh, described it as “Almina’s abortionist parlour”.

It was not enough. Never having had to count the cost, she was now losing money at a spectacular rate. She also took a new lover, James Stocking, a heating engineer. She was nearing 70; he years younger. This choice of companion was, indeed, a final abandonment of her social position - but not the first. When her second husband died she had even taken a fancy to the young undertaker who attended his corpse. She was now, in the eyes of society, hopelessly déclassée.

And broke. “In 40 years she had used and abused every last vestige of her portfolio of investments… every asset was gone,” observes William Cross. In today’s values she had blown the equivalent of £50 million. Her son, the 6th Earl, wrote to the Inland Revenue. He called her “a scheming swindler”.  At the age of 75 the countess was declared bankrupt, largely due to the actions of her son. She moved to a terraced house in Bristol with no hot water and got by on occasional Highclere handouts. She died after choking on a piece of chicken in the early summer of 1969. She was 93. Julian Fellowes please note!

Copies of "Lordy! Tutankhamun's Patron As A Young Man" by William Cross are obtainable from


"Me - 'How does it feel to be eight?'
Jacob - 'Alright, but I rather enjoyed being seven.'
He finished the Guardian cryptic crossword for me at breakfast."
Jacob awarded Judo yellow belt
(Ken Ashton)


"You may or may not have seen on the BBC news among others this evening that Prince Charles and Camilla visited Headley Court today to open a new extension. A source very close to me was also there and met them both and said: 'They spoke to every soldier and they made every one of them feel special. They were well over an hour beyond their schedule and they didn't appear to give a toss. They made time for everybody and, unlike politicians, they know how to speak to the young private soldiers.'


An English pub landlord pulled a gun on customers after they tried to order drinks in Welsh, a court heard.

Gareth Sale became involved in a heated row with drinkers days after taking over the Royal Oak pub in Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd.
The 26-year-old landlord allegedly produced an air rifle after taking exception at locals trying to order drinks in their native language.
Mr Sale, along with his partner who were new to the area and didn't speak Welsh, asked their customers to order drinks in English.
But when customers ordered in Welsh, Mr Sale ejected a group from the pub while brandishing an air rifle loaded with a gas canister, a jury were told.

There were several clues relating to Toy Story, which  haven't seen and he has.