Denny, Robyn (1 of 4). National Life Stories: Artists' Lives
2014-01-14, 2014-02-10, 2014-02-20, 2014-03-06
Interviewee's home, London
Denny, Robyn, 1930-2014 (speaker, male)
Courtney, Cathy, 1954- (speaker, female)
Part 1: [Session one: January 14 2014] [1:30:34] [RD’s wife, Marjorie Abela was present throughout this recording] Edward Maurice Fitzgerald Denny, known as Robyn Denny [RD]. RD and his three brothers were all given family names; RD is third of the brothers; eldest two brothers have recently died. RD always known as Robyn, sometimes spelt Robin; feelings about name. Was known as Denny at school. RD’s signature on his works of varying sizes; dating work; RD being asked to verify if work is his or fake. [4:28] Denny family history goes back to fourteenth/fifteenth century; refers to damaged family paintings; RD aware of family history as a child. Family portraits recently brought out of storage [6:52] RD’s grandparents on both sides died when he was young. [Marjorie Abela brings out some of the damaged family portraits.] Family portraits and ancestral swords were hanging in family house during RD’s upbringing. [Comments from Marjorie Abela]. Details RD family portraits; family baronetcy, RD’s elder brother, Anthony Denny [Tony], was title holder, title is now with Anthony’s son, Piers Denny. RD’s brother, Barry, his younger brother, Richard. [11:04] RD’s paternal grandparents; RD’s father spent a lot of his early life in Ireland, family home, Tralee Castle, later destroyed. Denny ancestors, relics given to V&A, one ancestor was a friend of the artist, William Blake; one ancestor became a member of Plymouth Brethren,. RD’s attitude to family history. [Comments from Marjorie Abela.] [13:33] RD’s paternal grandfather was a parson as was RD’s father. RD’s father’s education. [15:33] RD’s single memory of grandparents, paternal grandmother in old age; maternal grandparents both deceased when RD born. RD’s parents were cousins, Lister family. Dennys were Protestants in Ulster, sent by Elizabeth 1 to Ireland to quell unrest; current Irish government reviving Denny family history; RD’s nephew, Thomas Denny, a stained glass artist, has commission for church window. [18:40] Degree to which Ireland was part of RD’s childhood. RD’s father’s voice; one of his services was broadcast. RD unsure when family home in Tralee was destroyed. RD went to Ireland for first time as an adult. RD’s father had no siblings, few living relatives; visitors from Ireland when RD growing up; RD’s father a good historian and archivist. [23:52] Degree to which RD had a sense of America when growing up [coughing]. [25:05] Mother’s maiden name, Joan Denny [JD]; RD’s maternal grandfather had career in army, based abroad a lot of the time; RD’s maternal aunt, Eileen [Eileen Denny]; JD virtually brought up by RD’s maternal great grandmother. RD recites Chinese rhyme handed down through the family. Eileen Denny. JD’s upbringing in Brighton. JD twenty years younger than RD’s father; their marriage; JD born 1900, married 1924. RD’s father born 1878, was bachelor until marriage to JD. RD’s father left Ireland c 1919, moved to London, Chelsea, had job in Lower Sloane Street, remained in England for rest of his life. RD’s parents’ homes prior to having children; their children born 1925, 1928, 1930 (RD), 1940. [33:15] RD born in Abinger, Surrey; when church was bombed family moved to village in Sussex, Burwash. RD’s first childhood home in Abinger. [39:00] RD and his brothers went to same boarding school; not brought up to be competitive. Early books. Comics, refers to still having copies of Beano in studio, probably acquired by his youngest son. [42:50] Comments on family portraits, including by [John] Linnell and [Godfrey] Kneller. RD decided he wanted to be an artist when aged approx. fourteen; expectations. Influence of reading Letters to Theo by Vincent van Gogh. RD mentions having supportive art master at school. [48:15] Further details life in family home in Abinger. RD at boarding school from age approx. eight; values acquired when growing up; father’s attitude to being a parson. [53:15] JD’s role as parson’s wife. Mentions troops stationed near to home, brother Barry driving their jeeps. Physical affection as a child and RD’s for his children. JD’s clothes. JD and religion. Family went to church each Sunday; father’s sermons. RD and religion in childhood and subsequently. [1:03:00] RD father’s book about shrine to Kipling’s son, Burwash Church, Sussex; brass plate from clockmaker in Burwash which RD still owns; RD’s father’s interest in local history. Farley’s, junk shop in Burwash. [1:08:50] When RD first lived in London was near Portobello Road market, still has china and other objects collected then; mentions sharing accommodation with friend Charles Carey [CC], collector of Chinese porcelain; quality of drawing on plates which RD has kept. [1:12:00] Christmas presents in childhood. Thinks didn’t draw and paint at home. Time in garden as child. Memory of wartime in East Sussex. [1:17:40] Patriotism, hymns. RD became a Pacifist, didn’t tell his father; became Conscientious Objector, was twice sent to Royal Naval Detention Barracks as prisoner; Commander Jones; RD was nicknamed Gandhi, anecdote. [1:23:11] RD’s uncle, a Rear Admiral Sir Michael Denny, the Third Sea Lord. RD’s Pacifism. Refers to being obstinate as schoolboy. Being in remand cell, refusing to wear a uniform [see track 2 re chronology of this]. Brief comments on boarding school.