|By Hugo Vickers
The Jungman sisters were virtually unique. They were iconic figures of the 1920s, and will forever be associated with the ‘Bright Young People’, whose antics caused such controversy in society in London in the 1920s, just as the Sitwells are identified with the intelligentsia of the period. Sacheverell Sitwell loved Zita, and Evelyn Waugh tried to marry Teresa. The sisters belonged to a world that is already consigned to the pages of literary and social history.
Equally fascinating is the fact that from 1930 onwards they attracted no publicity whatever. They never gave interviews, they rarely helped biographers, and yet they made one brief but extraordinarily memorable appearance on British television. For most of their lives they lived together in perfect harmony in a succession of cottages in England and latterly in Ireland. They both lived to be 102. Zita died in 2006 and Teresa died last week, on 11 June, a month short of her 103rd birthday. Teresa (often nicknamed 'Baby' to her intense dislike) was the last survivor from Cecil Beaton's Book of Beauty, published in 1930.
In 1926 Cecil Beaton photographed them lying head to head on a floor covered in cellophane. With his customary mixture of perception and naughtiness, he wrote:
With her smooth fringes and rather flat head, like a silky coconut, like a medieval page, and with her swinging gait, she looks very gallant, very princely. But she can, if she wishes, easily become a snake-like beauty, with a mysterious smile and a cold glint in her upward slanting eyes, though it is more than likely that she will impersonate to perfection a charming village maiden laughing deliciously up an apple tree. Osbert Sitwell says of her classical, transparent beauty that it takes the spectator back to the realms painted on walls and ceilings of Venetian palaces, where gods and shepherdesses are depicted on clouds.
The Jungman sisters were daughters of Nico Jungman, an Anglo-Dutch artist. In 1900 he married Beatrice Mackay, scion of a devout Catholic family in Birmingham. Zita was born on 13 September 1903. and Teresa on 9 July 1907. Nico Jungman painted pictures of Norway and Holland. During the First World War he was imprisoned and held in custody in the judge's box at a race course. His wife left him and they were divorced in 1918. He died in 1935.
Beatrice brought her daughters up as strict Catholics, which they remained all their lives. She married secondly, as his third wife, Richard Guinness, and was later killed in a bombing raid in the Second World War. ‘Gloomy Beatrice’, as she was called, in certain sections of society, became part of that extended clan of Guinnesses which produced so many luminary society figures in the early years of the 20th century.
These Guinnesses were but distantly related to the brewing family of Iveaghs and Moynes, and descended from Richard Guinness, a barrister in Dublin, born in 1755. Although not Guinnesses by blood, Zita and Teresa claimed as cousins the millionaire Loel Guinness (husband of Gloria), Meraud (Mrs Alvaro Guevaro) and Tanis Guinness, the latter described by Cecil Beaton as 'fat and lovely ... like a solid Greuze', with 'gigantic eyes with shiny long lids.' They were also close friends, and close in age to the three nieces of Lord Iveagh: Aileen (Plunket), Oonagh (Lady Oranmore and Browne), and Maureen (Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava), whom director John Huston described as 'witches, lovely ones to be sure ... transparent-skinned with pale hair and light blue eyes.'
When she became a Guinness, 'Gloomy Beatrice' lived with her family in some splendour in Great Cumberland Place. The girls went to day school in Queen’s Gate with Lady Eleanor Smith, who would later be a collaborator in their high jinks in the 1920s.
One prank involved persuading Lord Beaverbrook to print a mock version of the Evening Standard with fake headlines and concealed clues. Eventually, treasure hunts became too popular, with Rolls-Royces jostling one another in small mewses and competitors fighting for the clues. They stopped them, though Elsa Maxwell later took up a version of them with some success.
One night Zita and Lady Eleanor Smith hid in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's for a bet, to see if they could get through the night. They moved the waxworks of the Princes in the Tower from their bed in order to sleep there. They were considerably relieved when a night watchman found them and they could end their vigil.
The sisters kept diaries. Zita's were filled with references to 'screaming' with laughter. In later life, she commented: 'We were all so over-excited. We were all talking about ourselves always.'
Teresa’s mother liked to entertain, and she mixed actresses with society people, which was unusual at the time. She could be stern, and once obliged an embarrassed Teresa to attempt a solo Charleston in the presence of a male admirer. Despite this, Loelia Ponsonby (later Duchess of Westminster) thought Teresa and Zita 'gloriously emancipated'.
When Beaton broke into this rarefied world in late 1926, the group found a photographer who could encapsulate them in romantic poses and publish the results in Vogue.
On one memorable occasion, Teresa pretended to be a newspaper reporter from a non-existent paper and interviewed Beverley Nichols at Claridge’s, while Zita and Lady Eleanor Smith hid under a table.
As early as 1923 Teresa was involved in a prank, dressing up as a Russian refugee called 'Madame Anna Vorolsky'. She adorned herself in a black wig, Woolworth pearls and her mother’s mink coat, looking, in the words of Eleanor Smith, like 'a mixture of Pola Negri and Anna Sten'. Further armed with a casket of jewels from her mother’s Rolls-Royce, Teresa went about pretending that she had to sell the jewels to educate 'my little boy', spicing this with grim descriptions of the Red Terror. Beverley Nichols was again taken in, as was the 9th Duke of Marlborough, who some years later became one of Teresa’s suitors.
She attended a garden party in the guise of Madame Vorolsky, with two Borzois in tow, and on meeting a distinguished general and his wife, told him that she would never forget the night she had spent with him in Paris. The general replied, somewhat sternly, that he had only spent one night in Paris during the war. 'Zat' said Teresa 'was zee night.'
In the 1920s the two sisters lived similar lives. They were invited to the great houses of the day – to the Desboroughs at Taplow Court, and the Salisburys at Hatfield. Both eventually married.
Zita's page boy beauty attracted Sacheverell Sitwell, the youngest of the three Sitwells, and also the playboy Italian diplomat, Mario Panza. Sachie Sitwell was already married to Georgia Doble when he fell for Zita, but neither his married state nor her ardent Catholicism deterred him. He pursued her in vain for some years. They had met at a party in 1926 and he thought she resembled a page in Tiepolo's Antony and Cleopatra. They met again staying with that aesthete of aesthetes, Stephen Tennant, at Wilsford Manor.
|Zita hoped to find a sympathetic confidant in Sachie, but was disappointed to find him too flippantly social. Nevertheless a Platonic friendship lasted between them for some years, not without jealousy from Georgia, who tried to promote a romance with Sachie's brother, Osbert, but he unfortunately soon settled down with David Horner. Sachie was terrified that Zita might tumble into a dreary marital alliance. Annoyed with Georgia in 1928, he wrote to her: 'My balmgiver, my golden tree, shake your curled hair ceaselessly …' Then Mario Panza arrived on the scene, but rather than marry him, she married Arthur James, a Yorkshireman and the maternal grandson of the 4th Duke of Wellington.
Zita was married on 29 January 1929, but the marriage was ill-fated from the start. Her mother and sister appeared on the honeymoon, which began at Leeds Castle, as later did William Walton (the composer) and Sachie Sitwell, convinced that she would soon tire of marriage to James, whom he deemed a dense man of little interest. He was right. She did not take to Yorkshire life. They were divorced in 1932.
Teresa's fair-haired beauty likewise attracted numerous admirers, amongst them Lord Margesson, the Conservative Chief Whip, Lord Ebury, of the older generation, Lord David Cecil, 'Bloggs' Baldwin (son of the Prime Minister) and Frank Pakenham, later 7th Earl of Longford (and father of Lady Antonia Fraser).
|Teresa was, however, very strict in her adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. Lord Longford was convinced that none of her admirers 'got anywhere with her sexually', and described her as 'more like a nun, like a very friendly and fascinating nun', he conceded.
Her best-known suitor was Evelyn Waugh, who met her after his devastating separation from his first wife. But he never had a chance with her, since he had not then obtained his annulment, and therefore could not marry her. Waugh told Lady Diana Cooper that if he held Teresa’s hand for a while, a little warmth came into it; the moment he released the hand it went cold again.
In 1933, when Waugh thought that he was about to be free from his marriage, he proposed to Teresa, but was turned down flat. As he recorded: 'Was elated and popped question to Dutch girl [as he often called her] and got raspberry. So that is that, eh'. Some have suggested that Teresa might have inspired the heroine of Brideshead Revisited, Lady Julia Flyte. In facetious mood, Waugh claimed that every character in Work Suspended was based on her.
Finally, in 1940, she married Graham Cuthbertson, a Scot who had been educated at Wellington and was then serving in a Canadian regiment. He arrived in Britain as a sergeant-major sporting a walrus moustache, and, to the horror of all Teresa’s old suitors, swept her off her feet. Lord Longford recalled that he and his friends thought him a bounder: 'He obviously had plenty of sexuality. Perhaps it needed someone like that to overcome Baby’s chasteness, which possibly he did not even notice.'