Friday, 27 January 2012

The Last Post

My verdict on the course

Right Reverend Host: I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones!
The Curate: Oh no, My Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!

Cartoon by George du Maurier in Punch magazine in 1895

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A good week!

Wednesday saw an e-mail from The Oldie pop into the In Tray

Subject:Your address
Date:11 January 2012 09:59:53 GMT
Can you supply, please? We would like to pay you for your Olden Life contribution in the February issue.
Many thanks, Charlotte Fairbairn

Thursday saw the February issue of The Oldie drop on the front door mat with my article on Wintle in it. The same post also brought a letter from the university which contained this sentence:

I am pleased to be able to confirm that you have satisfied the examiners and that Senate has accepted the recommendation of the Board of Examiners that you be awarded the following:
MA in Biography

Today saw a visit to the Bodleian Library during which I found to my joy that it is possible to download facsimiles of many Elizabethan books onto a memory stick so that I can read them at any time in the comfort of my study. This is relevant to the project which has replaced the Wintle one and which I am slowly telling on my new blog about the Cinquecento cookery book Epulario.

This is, therefore, the last post I will make to this blog before my valedictory one of farewell.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Olden Life: Who Was ... Colonel A D Wintle?

It is the evening of Saturday 14 July 1956 and I am a twenty-two-year old undergraduate and reservist, doing my annual fortnight’s camp at RAF West Malling. A couple of us are in the Horse and Groom on Wrotham Hill when a short, erect, moustachio’d and be-monocled old buffer comes up to us and says, “Couldn’t help but hear you chaps talking about flying. Had a bit to do with you lot in the last war. Name’s Colonel Wintle.” We chat – or, rather, he does – till closing time, when he says, “Must carry on tomorrow ack emma at my place.”

Sunday morning sees us at Coldharbour, the old Kentish farmhouse which is his home, where he tells us over coffee about the shyster solicitor who had drawn up a will for Wintle’s simple-minded cousin whereby said shyster inherits most of her considerable estate, virtually cutting out her long-time companion, Wintle’s sister. “Had to do something about it. Debagged him. Took photos. Here they are.”

Wintle was prosecuted for assault and banged up for six months in Wormwood Scrubs. Many years later I learnt that he had carried on his campaign more conventionally. He lost in the Probate Division of the High Court. He lost in the Court of Appeal. With no money left, he learnt the law himself and pleaded his own case before the highest court in the land, the House of Lords: he won.

“Cavalry Officer Jumps Last Fence to Win”, thundered The Times the next day. Wintle became a household name, always on the wireless and the television, retelling stories about his life. There was the one about his imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1940 for using a drawn revolver to try to get a senior RAF officer to provide a plane to fly him to Bordeaux: he was convinced he could induce French airmen to continue the war from England. Then there was the one about his undercover mission in Vichy France in 1941-2 and his escape from prison in Toulon, using a file made from a bedspring to saw through the cell bar! And capturing a village single-handed, and many such …

Back at Coldharbour, morning coffee has given way to gin and tonic. He shows us a WWI military tunic with four bullet-holes diagonally across it. He then lifts his shirt and shows corresponding scars on his chest. We finally make our way back to our camp with splendid tales to tell about a gallant and bibulous old warrior.

A year ago I was looking for a subject for a biographical thesis for the university course I was completing and finally picked Colonel Wintle. Wikipedia informed me that he had written an autobiography, which I promptly got. I looked at once for his account of being machine-gunned in the chest. Of this there was no mention, nor in his army service record. He had been severely wounded, to be sure, but by a shell which had blown off most of his left hand, his kneecap and an eye: hence his monocle.

The Colonel, later research made clear, had been a distorter of facts and a practical joker all his life. It now seems that we had been victim of a particularly elaborate hoax, involving – as it must have done – stick-on scars from a joke shop. But, if I was tricked, there is some satisfaction in knowing that I was at least duped by that master trickster, “Freddie” Wintle.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Oldie February 2012: Among this month's contributors

is a retired serial entrepreneur (mail order delicatessen, wash­room hygiene service, photo­typesetting bureau, electronic vocabulary-learning flash­cards) who took a chance encounter with a maverick mustachioed and monocled cavalry colonel in a Kentish pub half a century ago as the starting point for his thesis for an MA in Biography at his local university (Buckingham) that he wrote last summer. Read what happened in this month's 'Olden Life' on page 16.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Proposal to The Oldie: 2

Subject:Proposal: I Once Met ...
Date:4 November 2011 12:22:06 GMT
Dear Jeremy

Thanks for your card: attached is a file with the text: hope y'all like it (even though it's one word short of 600).

Cheers, Tony

We very much enjoyed the debagging Colonel, and wd love to give him a run …. Thank you so much.

Do you have a pic of the old boy – preferably in uniform?

Jeremy Lewis

PS Tony or Anthony for the by-line?

Click for Amazon's all-five-star reviews for Jeremy's latest book, Shades of Greene.

Proposal to The Oldie: 1

The splendid monthly The Oldie was started as a retirement project by the founder of Private Eye when he felt the time had come to pass on the editorial baton to a younger journo.

Amongst the regular features which appear within its diverting pages are articles entitled "Who was ...?" and "I once met ...". The magazine thrives, not only because many of its contributors write for it more to be appreciated by their co-pensioner peers than to seek vulgar pelf.

Subject:Proposal: I Once Met ...
Date:17 October 2011 14:06:34 GMT+01:00

Colonel Wintle, one-eyed maverick warrior ... jailed in Tower of London in 1940 for drawing revolver on senior officer in thwarted attempt to get French air force to England ... jailed in Wormwood Scrubs in 1955 for debagging a shyster solicitor ... won case (without aid of lawyers) against said shyster in 1959 in House of Lords ... chat show favourite in late fifties/early sixties (Desert Island Discs, This Is Your Life, &c &c).

Self on annual university air squadron camp in 1956 in Kent ... pub, Saturday evening ... old buffer comes up ... "Heard you chaps talking about flying: had a bit to do with RAF during war: I'm Colonel Wintle" etcetera ...  invited to his place Sunday AM ... showed us WWI tunic he was wearing when machine-gunned ... showed corresponding scars on chest.

Fast forward 55 years ... doing MA in Biography ... choose Wintle as subject of my final thesis ... read his autobiography, get his army service record ... wounded by exploding shell, not machine-gun bullets ... were scars my False Memory Syndrome? ... Wintle's record as practical joker and hoaxer ... did he produce bullet-riddled tunic as prank on impressionable young students? ... has any other reader been hoodwinked by Wintle? ... or know where his diaries and papers are now, helping quest to establish the truth about his exploits in Vichy France?

Tony Randall
Dial House, Bristle Hill, Buckingham, MK18 1EZ
01280 821388

Many thanks for your email about Colonel Wintle. Why not write him up as a "Who was …?" piece? 600 words or so. We don't commission pieces, and all depends on the Ed, so I can promise nothing.

Best of luck, Jeremy Lewis

Friday, 9 December 2011

One door closes …

On 17 September I submitted a 25,000 word thesis entitled "The Colonel and I: Unravelling the Wintle Legend". The first section of it was almost word-for-word the same as my blog on 27 January, "The Wintle Legend: Prologue". The thesis expanded considerably on the brief account of his career that I gave in my blog of 9 February, "A Legend in his Lifetime". This account I wrote to go on the back of the laminated paneI that I prepared for display in the Horse & Groom, the pub on Wrotham Hill in Kent where I had my memorable encounter with the Colonel in July 1956. This appeal, which I caused to be displayed at various places in the nearby West Malling – Tesco Metro, the library, the Malling Town Club, and so on – was fruitless. I had, it must be confessed, little hope that anything would come of it, but the trip to Kent was worthwhile for regaining some sense of the place where the Colonel had lived his last twenty years.

I then gave up blogging as being a waste of time while carrying out my researches. The gallant colonel turned out to have been somewhat economical with the truth in his "autobiography", The Last Englishman. I put the word in inverted commas because it was published two years after his death in 1966, assembled from his writings and edited by a journalist whose other books lack distinction. Some of the stories in it can be verified in other sources, but others are dubious, to say the least. His account of derring-do in Vichy France and his daring escape from Fort Ste. Catherine in Toulon, for example, could not be substantiated: Les Amis de Vieux Toulon et la Region Var are amongst those who know nothing about these incidents. It further appears that the Colonel throughout his life had been fond of impersonations and practical jokes. It is likely that the bullet-riddled tunic which he showed us, and the corresponding scars on his chest, were part of the props for the japes that he played.

At the very least, however, the Colonel has provided me with an intriguing subject for research and for the 25,000 word thesis about him that I handed in on 17 September. It also has provided the material for an article I have submitted to The Oldie in their "I once met …" series. The subject is not of sufficient general interest to warrant putting in a proposal to write a full-length book, but more importantly is not of interest to me.

I now await inspiration about what to do next.