Philanderer: The 6th Earl of Carnarvon with first wife Catherine Wendell
Lying in his favorite armchair, an illuminated pipe clamped between his teeth, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon talks to a tape recorder.
A Grundig reel-to-reel machine swings away on the table in front of him. Sometimes there is silence when he considers a question or pauses to refill the bowl of the briar pipe.
He usually talks without a break and collapses his story, as well as his hopes, dreams, disappointments and setbacks. They are the reflection of a life well lived by a man who is protected by wealth and privileges in the upper reaches of society.
Sometimes it is a boasting monologue, one that may have carefully recorded an aristocrat in another era in a private journal and locked him up forever.
But like Lord Carnarvon congenially chats, there are no such reservations. He wants the world to know the truth about his youth; how it was far from happy, with cold and distant parents who showed little interest in him.
His father, the 5th count, was the famous Egyptologist who, according to legend, died as a victim of the curse of Tutankhamun in 1923. Lord Carnarvon recalls that he had been called to his dying father's bed in Cairo and how, when he expired, all the lights in the city went out.
He also talks about his days in the army and his claim to be the last living man to order a firing squad to shoot a spy; and of his intimacy with the royal family – Edward VIII was the godfather of his son.
Nothing was off-limits, certainly not all of his femininity. He was proud of his reputation as a ladies' man – according to legend, he knocked on the bedroom of a woman with an unusual part of his anatomy. It was said that he once revived a female guest who had been extinguished after a particularly powerful delight with a jug of ice-cold water.
Relieving himself he remembers his first sexual experience with actress Modesta Daly, a well-known star in the London phase, who, he says, seduced him on a polar bear blanket in an apartment opposite the British Museum.
But he also proudly talks about his triumph in saving & # 39; of the parental home, Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey, when death duties after the death of his father threatened to destroy his legacy.
Beautiful beauties: the actresses Jeanne Stewart and Modesta Daly were both connected to the count
For the interviewer on the other side of the table, the stories were lively and exciting. Barry Wynne had been invited by the pear to write his memoirs and had been regularly armed with a tape recorder for most of a year traveling to Highclere in Berkshire, where a manuscript of 150,000 words took shape.
However, a few weeks before the book was to be published, Carnarvon abruptly withdrew the collaboration and obtained a ban on banning the publication. After taking legal action, Wynne eventually received £ 5,000 in damages – after rejecting the humiliating offer of £ £ £ £ in used £ 1 banknotes – and canceled the entire episode to experience.
Some time later, Carnarvon quietly published an autobiography, No Regrets, followed by a second volume, Ermine Tales. They were much less spicy than the book that was planned with Wynne, a former TV manager, although his vanity was still shining through.
As for the tapes he recorded, they were locked up for years – only to disappear. But for a coincidental find at a Lincolnshire hotel that was being closed, the 30 rolls of tires stuffed into a cardboard box would have ended up in a landfill, their secrets lost forever.
And last year, Wynne, now 90, was reunited with them. To his surprise, they were in reasonable condition and the sound quality was almost as good as he remembered.
The cache of Wynnes tapes is an extraordinary record of a golden history of one of our most popular country houses – particularly in the context of a large-screen version of Downton Abbey, to be released later this year.
The storyline of the film ensures that Downton prepares for a royal visit by George V and Queen Mary in 1927. This fictional visit is intriguing just four years after Carnarvon inherited the county and thus Highclere Castle. With fact and fiction so aligned, the history of the bands adds meaning.
The story begins in 1973, when Barry Wynne, who launched Thames Television, received a call from the then 75-year-old Lord Carnarvon. A year earlier, Wynne had written a well-received book about one of the great archaeological finds from the 20th century, the tomb of Tutankhamun. It was a subject near Carnarvon, whose father had financed the expedition.
But the pear did not want to talk about his father. Encouraged by the publisher Lord Weidenfeld, who & # 39; all the dirt & # 39; wished from a man who was known as one of the great rakes of the 20th century, Wynne and Carnarvon got to work.
Prochy's dancer and second wife, Tilly Losch
& # 39; Here he was in the mid-70s & # 39; 70 and he wanted to report his life & # 39 ;, says Wynne. & # 39; He was a great race mechanic. & # 39;
But after he had signed his acceptance of the manuscript, the two, at the pressure of his advisers about the frank memories, thought in the second instance. Stunned when Carnarvon pulled the plug, Wynne's shock only increased when he was summoned to the count's lawyers' office in London.
& # 39; From a drawer his lawyer pulled out a bundle of £ 1 banknotes and counted out 50, & # 39; Wynne remembers. & # 39; I especially remember that they were banknotes that seemed intentional. & # 39; It was the act of a pounding snob. & # 39; Of course I left on the spot. & # 39;
After finally settling a payout, Wynne handed over a copy of the manuscript and his notes, but not the tapes. According to him, the recordings were not part of the promotion.
& # 39; They were mine, not Carnarvon, made on my wife's tape machine. & # 39;
Nevertheless, he sent the tapes to his sister's house in Paris for safekeeping. They stayed there for 25 years before moving to their agent's office in central London for 15 years. Recently they were looked after by his youngest daughter, when they went missing.
After two failed marriages and a decade living on a yacht, Wynne has now settled in Cyprus. And there he received the call to tell him that the tires had been found.
It came from his daughter's ex-boyfriend who said his father would sell a hotel in the market town of Louth when he found the box of tires in the back of a cupboard.
& # 39; I didn't know this young man, but I remember it was Boxing Day and I told him he had given me the best Christmas gift ever, & # 39; says Wynne.
The tires are once again safe under lock and key with Wynne's lawyers. It will certainly fascinate historians and broadcasters. Some figures in the rational twenties and thirties were as shady and as well connected as Henry Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon.
Known as Porchy after his courtesy title Lord Porchester, he was a soldier, sportsman, bloodstock breeder, exhibitionist, chat show guest and apparently a lover of half the Berkshire women.
According to a wonderfully indiscreet obituary, he loved to tell how he was chased as a young cavalry subaltern through the backyards of Maidenhead by cuckolded husbands. It described him as a & # 39; most uncompromising direct lady & # 39 ;, a euphemism to describe a flasher.
He didn't think of taking other male women as his mistresses. One was Joan Bowes-Lyon, a well-known beauty and a cousin of the Queen Mother. She was married to Frank Bellville, a fellow soldier, who tried to blackmail Porchy by threatening to denounce the affair unless he had paid him £ 10,000.
Convinced that he was locked up, Porchester refused to pay and broke off the affair.
Highclere Castle, which acts as Downton Abbey in the popular ITV television series
As a child he told Wynne, he lived in fear of his forbidding and dissolute father and his rich but cold mother, Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, a flamboyant member of the banking family.
He remembered being taken to a Christmas party at Buckingham Palace as a ten-year-old boy, where he bumped into the famous Edward VII and knocked him to the ground. He then only aggravated this social faux by spilling ice over the new day dress of Princess Mary, the king's granddaughter.
For this he was defeated by his furious, social-climbing mother, who then ordered the family's butler to close him in an attic and to give him bread and water for only two days as punishment for being ashamed of the name Carnarvon.
It was nothing for humiliations he got from his father. After a poor school report, the young Porchy was instructed to undress and stoop, after which his father, armed with a birch staff, gave him six strokes on his bare back.
On a page at the coronation of George V in 1911 he remembered the mustaches of the German emperor and the Russian tsar. During the First World War, when he served with the 7th Hussars in Mesopotamia, his horse was shot under him and a bullet pierced his helmet. He also led a firing squad that executed a Turk spy. Afterwards, his hands shook so badly that he could not pull his gun back to deliver the final blow and surrender.
But he had no scruples when he saw an Arab cut off the boots of a dead officer. He pulled his gun and shot the man down. He also helped himself with the field glasses of a dead Turk officer, whom he used for racing for the rest of his life.
After the death of the 5th count, Porchester ensured the financial future of Highclere by reducing the number of staff and selling works of art. To earn more money, he turned his pastime on keeping racehorses and gambling on them in a profession.
During the throne crisis, he was asked to intervene with the royal family. As a close friend of Edward VIII, he met the king in a Turkish bath at St James's, and appealed to him to keep Wallis Simpson as his mistress, but not to make her his wife.
His own marital status was hardly undamaged. He married twice, first with the American Catherine Wendell and then with the Austrian-born dancer and Hollywood star Tilly Losch. Both ended in divorce. Catherine had left the parental home because of his flirting, and years later he tried to prosecute Tilly for desertion after she too had assaulted him.
Despite his reputation, he was not always successful with the opposite sex. In 1936 he was reported in New York to be engaged to Tanis Guinness, beauty of society, but she took over and fled to Mexico with a screenwriter.
Ten years later his name was associated with the British actress Jeanne Stewart and at the end of the 1950s he thought he had a marriage with Mrs. Jacqueline Descamps, the blonde daughter of a Belgian Baroness, who was almost half his age.
Yet, with Downton Abbey set to return to the screen later this summer, the real saga of the descendant of Highclere and the newly found tapes reveal a story that is just as dramatic.
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