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Excerpt From My Father was a Newspaperman


My father, Michael Berry, later to become Lord Hartwell, was a man of varied interests, other than newspaper publication. He was fascinated by planting trees, which started off by being very small, and finally growing to substantial heights over the years.


A cousin of his was invited by my father to look at his trees.


The man turned out to be very rude. My father pointed to one of his trees and identified it by a long Latin name.


The visitor kicked the tree, let out a coarse guffaw and remarked, “No, it's not. It's ash and it's dead!” My father also enjoyed restoring paintings, as well as fixing fuses to plugs.


His hobbies were prolific.


Harriet, five years my senior, loved playing with dolls and was overjoyed when I was born. She told everyone that I was a “living doll which had been sent straight from heaven”. Her personality, namely that of a somewhat fierce advisor but loving protector, has not changed. We bickered a lot when we were children, and still do at times, although, on the whole, we get on reasonably well.


“How dare you?" I used to shout at her.

“I don't know how I dare. I just do,” she replied.

I am fairly dependent on my sister, although we do not always see eye to eye.


In later years, Harriet’s fiery personality has remained basically the same. Not long ago, she booked us into a ghastly hotel somewhere in Dublin. We had a room to ourselves. Each room was dark and was obscured by leafy trees, making it impossible to see the sky.


The temperature was ninety degrees in the shade. I left my room and walked towards the lift, which was out of order. Harriet was waiting impatiently outside the lift.


“The milk, which was brought to my room is sour. The orange juice is off. The room is haunted. There's no air conditioning, and the bloody lift is out of order!” I complained vehemently, adding, “I really don't find any of this at all amusing!”


Harriet was exasperated. “Oh, I do wish you'd stop being such a fucking old woman!” she shouted.

When Harriet was much younger, she cracked a black humoured joke, regarding the death of King George VI, who had died in his sleep. An undrunk pot of tea was brought to the supine King’s bed.


“Who drank the tea?” asked Harriet, in a deep, reverend tone of voice.

Long before the King's death a surgeon came into his majesty's bedchamber.

“Sire, I have tragic news,” he said.

“What news is that?” asked the King.

“I am afraid there are massive growths in both your lungs. You only have a short time to live.”

The king frenziedly lit a cigarette! (Lung cancer was not considered dangerous in those days.)


Unlike Harriet, I am not at all domesticated. I refer to my hatred of cooking. There is a deep-rooted reason for this. I had a horrendous experience in a kitchen when I was ten.


I have also been a poor athlete and gymnast. My nephew, Jonathan ironically calls me “British bullet!”

My late brother Nicky (Nicholas William) was two years older than Harriet. My elder sibling is my late brother Adrian (Adrian Michael). Nicky doted on me and we were very close. When we grew up, we shared a flat in London for almost ten years.


I used to collect skulls to put my wigs onto. Unlike me, Nicky hated morbidity. I inherit my macabre streak from my maternal grandmother.


“For Christ’s sake, get all these fucking skulls out of here, woman!” Nicky used to say, his voice raised.


It was he who introduced me to the late Robert Maxwell, whose sacred bones have been laid to rest in the Valley of the Blessed. I regarded Nicky as being the Pope and Robert Maxwell as being a deity. Nicky’s hated displays of emotion and never tried to get into my head.


Nicky expressed countless wishes not to be psychoanalysed.


He found the novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover “damned amusing,” other than disturbing.

I'm afraid, he and Harriet failed to get on. This may have been because Harriet is emotional and analytical, unlike Nicky.


Harriet always warmly expressed her love for my father. The fact that she was so loving towards him, bonded them until his death. I could never have shown such love openly, but that does not mean it didn't exist.


I can be compared with Cordelia, in Shakespeare's King Lear.


Harriet has two charming semi-Argentinean sons, Nicky has two sons.

My mother was the youngest child of F.E. Smith.

Nicky got on badly with my mother but well with my father.


I had an illustrious christening in St Margaret’s church, Westminster. My godparents were Sir Cecil Beaton, the gay photographer, and the prolific writer, Nancy Mitford.

Whenever I wrote to my godparents, thanking them for gifts, my mother told me to address them as “Dear godfather Cecil,” and “Dear godmother Nancy”. The late Robert Maxwell had not been chosen, by her, however. To me, he was my real godfather, and I am proud to have been his friend.


My parents had a ghastly next-door neighbour. He was the late actor, John Gielgud. My father used to call him “Stinker”, because he owned a parrot, which recited, To Be Or Not To Be, from about two o'clock in the morning onwards. The actor kept the horrible bird in his garden.

When I was two, my mother wheeled me in a pram into our garden, and left me by the fence, dividing John Gielgud’s garden from ours, from about ten thirty in the morning onwards. Predictably, I made a lot of noise, crying and screaming. Gielgud was unable to learn his lines and called the police.


Adrian was thirteen and at Eton when I was born. He was not dissimilar to me, in that he was literary, original and eccentric.

“Call the baby Carlotta!” he wrote forcefully to my parents. I have no idea why he wanted me to be given such a frightful name.


When I was about thirteen, I drafted a letter to Sir Cecil Beaton, which read, “The costumes in My Fair Lady were really quite good”. My mother wasn't very impressed.


For certain reasons, my mother did not get on well with my father's brother. However, Nicky and I went to his house frequently. The Macaulays, a large Irish family, stayed at my uncle's house most weekends. Billy, a farmer and the proud owner of a number of racehorses in Ireland, was head of the Macaulay family. He and his wife, Diana, were horse crazy.

My uncle liked to invite British soldiers to his house for weekends. Billy paid his small children to sing Irish rebel songs outside their bedrooms at six-thirty in the morning.

William, the eldest, was one of Billy's favourite sons. He was a jockey who rode his father's horses. Before William was about to visit his father's study for inspection, Billy called his son’s name.

“Would you be getting your hair cut, son!” commanded Billy.

“Jesus Christ wore his hair long, so why shouldn't I!” retorted the boy.

Billy banged his fist on his desk in a rage, displaying his heavy Irish accent.

“Jaysus Chroist may have worn his hair long, but Jaysus Chroist didn't happen to be royden’ any of my fockin’ hosses!” he shouted.


When I was eighteen, I took a job as a nanny in Bayswater. I lasted for ten minutes!

I went to several schools - a day school called Prebendal, a prep school called Godstowe and a public school called Wycombe Abbey. I learned nothing at Prebendal other than sexual activities, and being known as ‘Simon’s Moll’.

I was very happy at Godstowe and Wycombe Abbey, both boarding schools. It was just after I left Wycombe Abbey, that I began to write novels, before going to university.


My mother, among many other things, was a tremendous tease. To Dennis Wheatley, the famous, but not very accomplished writer, she smiled enigmatically, and said:

“I put your books on the left-hand side of the fire, and Ian Fleming's books on the right-hand side of the fire!”


Dick Crossman came to visit our family, and was very drunk and indiscreet about “Harold” (Wilson) and “Barbara” (Castle). Other guests included Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier (Vivien Leigh) who set a chaise longue on fire with a cigarette.

Robin Day was another guest who was so drunk that he had to be carried out to his car.

Incidentally Lady Rothermere’s son sees the same shrink as Philip Maxwell, Robert Maxwell's son.

Joan Collins visited us, but would only speak to men.

Poor Jeremy Thorpe wasn't allowed to come to our house after the Norman Scott affair. I attended part of the trail when Scott was giving evidence.

Re: the ending of one of my books, my father said: “I’m not interested in the name of the hospital he died in. All I'm concerned about is the filthy, disgusting language he used, just before he died!”


On another occasion, my father called the crime correspondent to his office (on The Daily Telegraph):

“You're drunk!” he said.

“Yes, of course, I'm drunk, and if your wife were sleeping with a different man every night of the week, you'd be pretty drunk, Sir,” replied the crime correspondent.


The loss of my beloved Peachey was the greatest loss I have ever sustained. His body was so badly presented, that I hit the mortuary attendant with my walking stick.


Doctor Ratner, everyone's GP, said to the actress, Elizabeth Taylor:

“Miss Taylor, you are my second most difficult patient!”

“Oh, Ratty, you mean there is someone worse than me. I can’t support this rivalry. When am I gonna meet this person?”

Mis Taylor and I met in Dr Ratner’s Harley Street consulting room.

I told the actress that I was the doctor’s first most difficult patient.

The news came as an anti-climax, however.

“Well, watta you know?” she said after a pause.


 

The blank front page caused by looking for Peter O'Toole.


When I was fourteen, I was very keen on the late actor, Peter O'Toole. I heard that he was in a London hospital, and I was determined to find his room and meet him there. God knows how I was going to do this, other than to say that I had a film script for him to read.


I rang every Hospital in London, but inadvertently jammed The Daily Telegraph switchboard. Unfortunately, one of my father's employees recognised my voice.

The following morning, the paper came out with a blank front page.

I was not popular!

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