Friday, June 18, 2010

The Jungman Sisters, Part II

Teresa Jungman. Zita Jungman.
By Hugo Vickers

The Cuthbertsons had two children: Richard — who was killed in a car crash in 1965 — and Penelope, a gamine, haute bohemian hippy of the 1960s who later became the 2nd wife of Desmond Guinness, a leading figure in the restoration of Georgian houses in Ireland. Cuthbertson soon drifted out of Teresa’s life, and she returned to London with her babies.

Thereafter the sisters were virtually inseparable, but clearly derived great joy from each other’s company. Teresa's former suitor Evelyn Waugh visited them in 1953, finding them in a serious state of destitution; but he nevertheless judged their cottage pretty, clean and sweet-smelling, and relished their hot scones, choice of two jams, plum cake, and China tea. In later life Zita and Teresa shared a house called The Eight-Gabled House at Dowdeswell, overlooking a valley towards Cheltenham.

Zita and Teresa Jungman, photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1926.
Their financial situation changed with the death of Charlie Brocklehurst (best known as Christie’s silver expert), who had loved Teresa from afar for many years. He bequeathed her a fortune, which, for strict Catholic ethical reasons, she was at first disinclined to accept. When she relented, the lives of the two sisters were again comfortable, though they continued to live modestly.

There are a few later life vignettes of the sisters. Zita used to keep old copies of the Daily Telegraph and gradually work her way through them. Being a few years behind (having only reached 1980), she failed to note that her former husband, Arthur James, had died in 1981 and only heard about it from a friend some weeks later. The sisters were given a subscription to The Spectator, which arrived weekly, never to be opened. They bought books on the strength of reviews, but did not read them.

In 1989, Maureen Dufferin invited Teresa to her annual dinner for the Queen Mother, and she sat between Alec Guinness and Arthur Marshall. According to Lady Dorothy Lygon, the sisters moved to Aynho in Northamptonshire in 1990, having tried to enter a convent. In advance of this, they were presented with a form which enquired if they were incontinent. They did not know what it meant, but assumed it must be a good thing. So they wrote 'Yes, very' and were refused admission.
The Queen Mother with Maureen Dufferin at one of Maureen's annual dinners. Teresa with Christopher Balfour at dinner for the Queen Mother, 1988. Photo © Hugo Vickers.
In 1995, James Lees-Milne saw them at a funeral: 'They are like two very old dolls, turning their heads this way and that in swift movements,' he wrote, 'and saying "Yes" and "No" in unison ... They laughed as they drove off perilously.'

I first met the Jungman sisters with their Guinness cousin, Tanis Phillips at her house in Ham in January 1983, when I was researching my biography of Cecil Beaton. It was a curious thing to find myself seated between them at lunch. The other guests were Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, another fringe member of ‘The Bright Young People’, who had invented the Bring a Bottle party, and the Director of the American Museum in Bath.

I soon realised that Teresa was suspiciously alert to the presence of a biographer and reluctant to give much away. Zita was more talkative. I tried her on the 1920s, volunteering ‘It was all good fun, wasn't it?’ She replied: ‘More or less. Such surprising things are coming out now’, which I took as a reference to the sensational revelations in Nicholas Mosley's book about his father, Sir Oswald.
At a dinner for the Queen Mother given by Maureen Dufferin, 1988. L. to r.: Arthur Marshall (far side of the table), Teresa, Sir Alec Guinness (the actor), HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, PR man Billy Hamilton (back of head). Photo © Hugo Vickers.
This distaste for the past proved to be something of a line with her. She once wrote to Loelia: ‘The terrible things we did are boomeranging back on us now. I can't help feeling that your mother must have regretted the circumstances that brought us together, she must have thought us horrid, and our goings on intensely vulgar. We enjoyed it, of course.’

I had first heard of 'Baby' Jungman, when researching my biography of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough. Her name had come up in legal correspondence being prepared by Gladys for her divorce, which never finally happened, since the 9th Duke died before the papers were filed.

Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough, as she appeared in her 1918 passport. 
Zita told me she remembered the 9th Duke. Teresa thought she had said rather more, and was quick to qualify the situation. She told me: 'The Duke loved dancing and he used to love to take me dancing. Nothing more than that. Once he asked me to Blenheim with Michael Duff. He didn't tell Gladys and when we went into the library, Gladys was standing there like a statue, refusing to move or speak - just staring at us.' I have no reason to disbelieve her.

I saw the sisters again in Ireland, when invited to stay with Desmond and Penny Guinness at Leixlip in 1985. Guests were urged to take a taxi to a local pub, but not to cross the county boundary as taxi fares then shot up. I followed these instructions and presently the Jungman sisters, came to collect me in a small Mini. It was a surreal experience being driven by Zita then aged 81.

When, during the weekend, the story of a ball in Venice in the 1920s arose and Zita said 'I don't remember if I was there', I, hot from writing Cecil Beaton's life, was able to assure her she was. I did not find this particularly odd, but the story is still occasionally told as an example of my other-worldliness.

In old age Zita and Teresa went to live in Ireland. When Cecil Beaton's centenary came around in January 2004, Victoria Page came to see me about a BBC documentary being made about the photographer. Was there anyone from the 1920s who could perhaps talk about the early Cecil for her film? Almost as a joke, I replied 'Well, there are the Jungman sisters'. I knew of course that they eschewed any form of publicity and never for a moment thought they would take part. I was therefore surprised and delighted when, with the blessing of Teresa's daughter, Penny, it was agreed that they be interviewed. I offered to do the interview on the grounds that they would be less nervous of someone they knew. Zita was by then 100 and Teresa 96, startling ages at which to make a television debut.
Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, Georgia Sitwell, William Walton, Stephen Tennant, Teresa Jungman, and Zita Jungman. Photographed by Cecil Beaton (1927 or so).
I duly flew to Ireland and made my way to Leixlip. The form was that any guests at the castle would go over to the cottage with the Guinnesses to see the Jungman sisters for drinks before dinner, thus, in that way the Irish always get right and the English get so wrong, the two sisters remained part of the life of the family.

Desmond Guinness had built a wonderful room on the front of the cottage with a Gothic porch. The room was adorned with an Ambrose McEvoy portrait of Zita, a Wyndham Lewis sketch and a portrait of their father, Nico Jungman. Zita dozed in her chair to the left of the fire, surrounded by press photographs of the Queen Mother and enormous magnifying glasses, while Teresa sat opposite looking not a day older than when I had last seen her at least 15 years before. At this phase of their lives, both sisters still did the rosary every night, and Teresa went to Mass every Sunday, accompanied by Zita when she was well enough. They tended to remain in bed until midday and stay up till 3am. Zita formed a love for The Sound of Music, which was screened more or less every day, and presumably she saw snips of it between her snoozes.

It would be wrong to suggest that the sisters had done nothing but indulge in pranks. Zita had spent five years typing Sir Denison Ross's History of India. In the war she had driven ambulances. Their lives had been nothing but conventional from the mid 1930s onwards.
Zita Jungman, William Walton, Cecil Beaton, Stephen Tennant, Georgia Sitwell, Teresa Jungman, and Rex Whistler. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.
On the evening I was there, Teresa looked through The Book of Beauty and reminisced about the various friends portrayed. Zita's diaries were produced, filled with fascinating photographs and stories. Teresa, in a long ago moment of embarrassment, had destroyed hers.

The filming on the next day was great fun but complicated. I was allowed to read an extract from Zita's diary about Cecil Beaton’s visit to the South of France in 1927 and the idea was that they would comment. We were asked not to film Zita when she was asleep, so filming was intermittent. Zita dozed much of the time, but when awake, was sharp and direct in conversation. Teresa was as ever more cautious. Instinctively she did not like the cameras, unobtrusive as they were. She began by resorting to saying 'I told you that last night', but in the end her natural courtesy came to the fore and she told her stories again. We filmed for 25 minutes, everyone was delighted with the result, and a few minutes of the Jungman sisters appeared in the documentary.

Top: Rex Whistler. Next row: Stephen Tennant, Captain Crichton, Joan Churston (later Princess Joan Aly Khan and Viscountess Camrose). Front row: Tanis Guinness (later Phillips), Zita Jungman, and Loelia Ponsonby (later Duchess of Westminster). Photographed by Cecil Beaton at Cap Ferrat on 2 March 1927.
Zita died in 2006 and I wrote her obituary. I wrote to Teresa, and she thanked me for 'the marvellous obituary about Zita’, adding ‘I wish she could have read it'.

Bidden to Teresa's 100th birthday in July 2007, I had no hesitation in accepting and at the same time declining – by one of those annoying coincidences – two other invitations, one for Buckingham Palace at which The Queen was to be present, and another at Windsor Castle to which the Duke of Edinburgh was going! I arrived at Leixlip in pouring rain to find a giant barbecue underway, with a wide spectrum of guests, hosts of Guinnesses, representatives of the 'Peacock Revolution' – Sir Mark Palmer, Lady Getty, Ormsby-Gores, and others, along with her priest, and all the helpers and their extended families.

Teresa herself remained in her cottage, dressed in red with her feet up on a stool. Alert, beautiful, she could have passed for a good 70. The cottage was filled with flowers and presents and Teresa was comparing her telegram from The Queen with Zita's from a few years before.

I had brought foie gras, which she liked (or maybe Desmond Guinness liked), and, to amuse her, a card with a photo of my three children lying on the ground, with their heads together, in the same style as the Beaton photograph from 1926. Teresa did not come down to the party but Lord Moyne brought her to the window, where she waved and blew kisses to the guests who duly sang 'Happy Birthday'.

Desmond Guinness's daughter, Marina, defined the difference between the two sisters quite simply and I am sure she was right: 'Zita said very sharp things about people while Teresa always said nice things'. And there is no doubt that this was reflected in their respective old age – Zita had been rather unhappy, frequently in pain, whereas Teresa was serene, enjoying life and content to be part of an extended family. She retained her faculties and she was beautifully looked after in her lovely cottage.

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