English, Rose (1 of 13).  National Life Stories: Artists' Lives

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  • Recording date

    2005-12-08, 2006-02-03, 2006-04-11, 2006-05-08, 2006-06-05,

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home/studio, London

  • Interviewees

    English, Rose, 1950- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Dyke, Anna, (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [Session One: 8 December 2005] [2:58:09] Rose English [RE]; meeting tomorrow with long-time collaborator Simon Vincenzi [SV]. Describes interview room; kitchen in RE’s home/Studio ‘O’. RE’s clothes; earrings, ‘sparkle’; make-up; hairstyle; refers to wearing wigs in performances. [05:32] Full name Sarah Rose English; always known as Rose; parents’ choice of name. 31st August 1950; in Hereford. Mother’s family from Hereford. Father was professional soldier; parents’ itinerant lifestyle. Description of RE as baby. Maternal grandmother’s remark re-RE’s hands. Siblings; elder brother Simon [SE]; RE; younger sister Harriet [HE]; then twin sisters Susannah and Athene, named after Goddess Athene. Memories of HE’s birth, 1953; twins born in Gibraltar; SE and RE’s reactions to having sisters. HE’s character as child. [13:31] Nanny, Ivy Cadman [IC], was hired to look after HE. IC lived with family until twins age 5. IC also from Herefordshire. IC’s character; laughter. RE’s parents’ sense of humour. RE’s relationship with IC. Close relationship with SE as child. SE’s appearance; interests. SE was treated differently because he was male. SE sent to boarding school (Cothill), age 6; in England, whilst family in Gibraltar. Recalls SE leaving for school; kept contact via letters. [24:19] RE wrote thank-you letters to relatives; both parents from large families. Describes letters. [Refers to noise outside] Father’s letters; drawings. Artists in father’s family. [28:36] RE’s drawings as child (age 8); narrative scenes, clothes, colouring-in. RE’s costume designs; Spanish clothes; wedding dress; announcing she wouldn’t get married. RE’s clothes age 8; mother made clothes for RE and sisters. Describes favourite outfit; satin party dress; 1950s-style. Children’s dress in Gibraltar and Spain. Pierced ears from age 6. Describes father’s uniform; Royal Artillery, The Gunners; officer’s stick. Father’s off-duty clothes. [37:37] Mother’s clothes; worked in milliners before marriage; hairstyle. Parents’ features. SE’s red hair. [Pause in recording] [41:02] ‘Batman’, a soldier who looked after RE’s father’s uniform; known as ‘Memory’. Sitting with Memory on doorstep, brushing boots; learning about work. [43:34] Describes behaviour/posture when wearing stiff blue dress; social etiquette. Entering adult world; parents’ social life. RE felt comfortable in both formal and informal settings. Greeting parents’ guests. RE describes herself as shy person still. RE’s role in family; taken on parents’ trips into Spain; eg. pilgrimage to El Rocio, southern Spain; night time processions. [53:03] Parents were Anglican; attitude to religion; loved Spanish culture; learnt Spanish; father took RE to bullfights. Due to open border with Spain, RE’s family had Spanish maid and cook, Carmen Perez [CP] and Isabel. CP had daughter [Carmencita] out of marriage, who would visit during holidays. CP took RE to cinema. CP emigrated to England after RE’s family returned. Carmencita’s personality; appearance. CP’s hard life; lived through Civil War, poverty in southern Spain in 1950s; Carmencita was given father’s name [Perez]. [1:01:35] Awareness of differences between rich and poor; Gibraltar was centre for smuggling; cosmopolitan; Sephardic Jews; merchants from India and China; sailors; Spanish workers. Tramp known as Malaga Joe [MJ]; seeing MJ bandaging his leg. Convent; RE’s reaction to the nuns’ uniforms. Fish market. Avoiding people’s spit. [1:05:09] Awareness of social convention re-CP and CS. Trips into Spain in parents’ car; being noticed; RE conscious that they were well-off. Father posted in Gibraltar due to its colonial status; military parades; Anglican cathedral. Parents also enjoyed Spanish culture of Gibraltar; large families; socialising. [1:10:07] Father born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia); upbringing in Rhodesia and England; travelled widely before marriage; colonial perspective. Parents’ social life; describes drinks parties; military receptions; also socialised with Spanish friends in bars, cafes. Parents moved posting every three years. Parents’ close friends in Gibraltar; John and Joan Stewart, engineer, Irish, widely-travelled; Brenda Masterton-Smith and daughter Tessa; Dunkley family; Russo family, Spanish. English woman, Surrealist artist Diana Brinton Lee, visiting her home El Almondral, eating roasted almonds. Parents bought paintings; artists and writers in southern Spain. Picture of Spanish guitarist. Mother’s professional flamenco dance tutor; reason for RE giving up dance lessons; tutor taught RE to take seriously whatever she did. [1:20:22] Social chatter; details. RE had entrée to party, but could withdraw. Role of alcohol; Bulmers woodpecker cider with Sunday roast. Parents drank gin and tonic or sherry in evenings with guests. Wine or spirits on social occasions. Visited Bodegas sherry makers. Tasting brandy. [1:26:33] Describes seeing group of sailors drunk, on leave, in Main Street; RE’s reaction. Making link between alcohol and drunkenness. Conscious (age 8) of being looked at by men; asking mother why; mother’s practical response. [1:33:25] Mother’s name Eleanor Margaret Gilbert [EG] (born 1917); father Robert Anthony English, known as Tony [TE], died 1964, in his mid-fifties. Parents met after War. EG’s friendship (pre-war) with TE’s brother Philip [PE] and sister Patience; marriages within their group. TE returned to London after War, from Burma. TE and EG’s romantic relationship. TE died when RE age 13. Parents’ photographs of one another; eg. skiing trip. EG in late twenties when they married; in Bishopstone, Byford Church; ceremony; wedding dress; reception; honeymoon in Belgium. RE’s childhood wedding dress designs. [1:44:43] TE’s childhood. Paternal grandmother known as ‘Ouma’, Afrikans word. Paternal grandfather (Cecil English [CE]) died before RE born. Maternal grandmother ‘Granny’ was more present in RE’s childhood. TE eldest of five siblings: Dan [DE] lived in Rhodesia; PE and Patience, in London; and youngest brother John [JE], architect in Rhodesia. Letters from TE’s family. TE travelled to Rhodesia when Ouma died; SE and RE went too. Paternal grandfather owned two farms, (Khami River Ranch) in Rhodesia and Evesbatch Herefordshire. Great grandfather emigrated to South Africa; made fortune in Kimberley Diamond mines; then bought property in Portman Square, London. Herefordshire farm run by grandfather; then by Ouma who ran successful dairy business. TE sent to Clifton College, feeder school for army. [Break in recording due to background noise] [1:51:50] TE’s relationship with siblings; humour; financially comfortable childhood. CE’s ill health following injury in First World War. Ouma’s maiden name Bishop; trained as secretary; worked for fashion editor of Evening Standard; business skills. Relative of RE has written history of English family. Memories of Ouma. Story of two grandmothers meeting. RoE’s injury; subsequent depression. PE told RE about CE. Relationship with PE and Aunt Patty; lived in London; solicitor; had two children; second home to RE after TE’s death; HE lived there for 18 years, after separating from husband. Contact with TE’s other siblings. JE still alive; lives in South Africa. [2:01:35] Memories of visiting Rhodesia; keeping diary; sketching Kilimanjaro, Nile. Could see coast of Africa from Gibraltar. JE’s Modernist house in Salisbury (Harare). Lizards, chameleons. JE’s architecture practice. DE living in Khami Ranch; cousins’ lifestyle; Aunt Kitty. TE greeting Masocho, most senior man working on farm. Visits to local school; beer party; architectural remains; Victoria Falls. Noticed TE’s bearing changed in Rhodesia. TE’s voice; sang during car journeys. Aunt Patience’s deep voice. RE’s voice; people ask where she is from. RE didn’t go to drama school, so hasn’t had formal voice training. [2:11:44] RoE’s income; inherited money. Women artists among CE’s siblings - supported by private incomes; Grace English attended Slade; Elizabeth English was illustrator and opera singer; cousin of TE, Molly Bishop was artist also. TE and EG bought first house when RE age 13. TE retired - but returned to work in administrative post in same regiment - shortly before he died. TE’s entry into armed forces. Ouma kept TE’s letters from war. TE’s humour re-the army; mentions The Goons. Clifton College; education. TE didn’t talk about the War; was in India pre-War. EG’s lack of knowledge of what TE did in army. TE was Major. [2:19:05] TE’s personality; play; trips; laughter; could also be stern; discipline. TE loved ballet; shows; mentions Frankie Howard. Television; White Hall farces; Brian Rix; ‘It’s a Square World’ with Michael Bentine. TE read stories to RE and siblings; kindness. RE’s relationship with TE when returning from boarding school. [2:24:43] Noticing TE get angry. Seeing TE cry when Ouma died; RE’s reaction. Maternal grandfather had died previously. Awareness of mortality; pet death. Bullfight (age 7); TE took RE afterward to room where bulls were butchered. Visiting grandfather’s friend in Spain, called Andres Airlez, a shepherd, had eagle owl [refers to background noise]; seeing a pig recently killed; RE’s awareness of animals dying. Funerals of relatives; restrained grieving in public. Attended grandparents’ funerals; dress; behaviour; church service with burial (in England). [2:34:10] Understanding of death as child; finite; asked questions about what happened after; conscious of there being different answers. Relatives’ graves; places to visit. Parents’ religion; RE and siblings baptised; church and Sunday School. Different experiences of church at different postings; eg. Hounslow, vicar became friend of EG. EG’s faith; takes communion. [2:39:06] RE’s awareness in Spain, of deified image/ icon; saying prayers, details; wishing for things; still prays. Fear of nuns; for a time, went to Convent school; hearing of missionary who received ‘Call of God’. Spanish churches; worship of female icon; RE’s reaction to this. Not having to take on restrictive aspects of Catholicism. Aesthetic aspects of church; speaking; language of St James Bible; ‘In the beginning was the word’; elemental stories. [2:44:58] Interest in new words at school; ‘toilet’; ‘crocodile’; being disappointed. TE invented stories and read; pleasure of hearing voice. EG read novels. RE learnt to read at school in England; Janet & John books; enjoyed writing letter forms. Parents encouraged RE and siblings to draw and paint; materials. [2:50:10] RE’s interests; dolls’ names; dressing them in baby clothes. House brick tied with string like a parcel; took it everywhere; it was two things, a brick and a parcel. Lost interest in dolls from age 10, but kept them. Later RE’s sisters played with teenage dolls; RE’s reaction to their game. Speculates on differences between RE and sisters; interest in shows, dressing up; keen to leave home and go to art school; sense of being adult from a young age. [2:58:09]

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