Love in Longhand
When Baroness Trumpington, the Conservative politician, wooed her future husband, the late Alan Barker, it was in a long-distance world, devoid of Skype, Instagram or WhatsApp. Here her son, Adam Barker, shares some of her letters from that time
By Adam Barker
July 5 2023
My mother, Baroness Trumpington, the Conservative life peer, erstwhile intelligence officer, one-time socialite and committed smoker, would have been 100 on 23 October 2022. As the BBC wrote when she died, “She was the society girl and war-time Nazi codebreaker who fended off the amorous advances of Lloyd-George.”
In a long and glittering political career, she was Mayor of Cambridge and a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. She told her own story in her autobiography, Coming up Trumps, but as she was a big fan of Boisdale, I wanted to share a few of her private letters to my father (including some photos from her private collection) that show the development of their early relationship from friends to lovers.
Not only do they offer a charming insight into life in the early 1950s, they are also a reminder that things weren’t as instantaneous as they are now. Atlantic phone calls had to be booked at considerable expense and so communication was by airmail.
My parents met briefly in May 1952 when my father, then an Eton school master, was visiting the States and my mother was working at a New York advertising firm. They started corresponding (with my mother sharing details of her love life!) and a year later my mother returned to the UK to witness the coronation. It was clearly a successful holiday, as she returned to the US engaged to my father.
There then followed nearly six months of letter writing while my mother planned a large wedding and life as a Don’s wife at Queens College, Cambridge. My father was somewhat terrified about a large wedding, but in the end my mother got her way and they were married on 18 March 1954 at the Royal Hospital Chapel, Chelsea.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy these excerpts. They are a reminder that, not only was my mother a highly effective politician, she was also a special and fun person.
My darling Barker…
My love life is a bit sad at the moment – that is to say my private and personal L.L. You may remember that I had a very special beau who was American Vice Consul in France. Well, he is now back in America. I worked myself up into a complete “Ladies Home Journal” state of excitement about his return ... and now that I see him in his own home I have suffered a complete disillusionment. It is lucky that I have seen him in America as people are so different abroad. While I found him silent and fascinating in France, I find him snobbish and spoilt in America. This sad state of affairs has left me feeling rather blank and wondering what next. However, my public L.L. flourishes and I would be glad if you would not mention this if you write to anybody else.
Thanksgiving is now over and was very alcoholic and great fun. Goody goody, I thought to myself, four whole days of holiday – but actually I was so wrong. Today, Monday, I am utterly exhausted. I went to a ball – and to the Stork Club another night and sat up till 3am playing bridge another.
23 January, 1953
My New Year’s Eve was quite a different cup of tea. I went to a party given by Joe McCrindle, which was pleasant but not exhilarating. At that party I saw a chap who I have met several times before who I have always found amusing. He suggested that I go on with him to another party, which he said would be great fun, there won’t be many women he said – but plenty of men. Of course, I jumped at it, and off we went. Well, when we got there, there were 150 men – not one other girl – and they were all pansies. They called each other Honey and Darling and kissed each other and danced together. I sat there feeling acutely embarrassed, on my side sat the man who designed the costumes for the elephants at the circus this year (they are going as peacocks) – and on my other – a man who was described as Osbert Sitwell’s lady-in- waiting. Can you imagine? I simply cannot understand why I was invited… I was working for the March of Dimes – selling chances for a mink coat at a nightclub called La Vie En Rose! This was quite fun – and I ended by selling $5-worth of tickets to Bette Davies and Gary Merrill, who teased me about my voice.
2 February, 1953
Last Friday the new star for the new Cole Porter show, “Can-Can” (which is about the Moulin Rouge and is to open in April) arrived. She is French and is called Lilo.
Through a series of circumstances my parents know her, and she spent a weekend at the farm – wearing nothing a nylon shirt with nothing underneath and leopard skin trousers most of the weekend. I was not at home that weekend, but I heard colorful accounts from my father and brother, Alastair, and a sinister silence from my mother. However, Mummy wrote to me and told me to be
nice to her when she arrived in NY. (Rather funny don’t you think.) So, I called her up – collected two young men for drinks and we all met her. She looks just as one imagines – platinum blonde, small and curvy – but turned out to be awfully nice and completely lost here. She had a 6ft azalea tree in her bedroom from Cole Porter! So, I feel her loneliness won’t last long. However, she has invited me to go to all kinds of plays with her – and the two boys I took along to meet her were quite enamoured and so I foresee a rather backstage future.
16 April, 1953
It was a lovely Saturday morning Jeanie-Bebe sat up in bed – the sunshine streaming through the windows. On her knees lay a large tray – the coffee on one side, eggs and bacon in the middle – bananas and heavy cream on the other. She was reading your letter, and all seemed well. Suddenly she read the words “ARE YOU DIETING”. The still morning air was rent with her screams – the day was ruined, and the tray was pushed peevishly away.
A rather interesting development has arisen in my life. (I only tell you these items because I think they probably amuse you.) I have a new boyfriend!! He is the ex-middle- weight champion boxer of Virginia university. He is a rather odd fellow – but very keen on me –which is nice, and I must say that I really do enjoy the occasional smooch. (I think I may be a sex maniac –as I think such a lot about it.) What a ghastly admission – but I really can’t type this all again – so just take anything I say at this point with a grain of salt. I feel rather lightheaded.
I leave here on the 29th May – tourist flight – Pan American – I am staying at 35 Chester Row c/o Lady Kinloch. I wish to see a great deal of you – if you can stand being seen with a fat girl!
20th June [after May-June visit to the UK]
Before I came to England, I was harbouring not only a secret fancy for you, but also a definite premonition that something was going to happen. Then we met at Eton – I loved that day – but was so tense and so were you that I felt we were both being most unnatural xxx I do love you Alan – I love you because you are cosy and clever and can boss me – and I hate to feel stronger from a mind point of view than other people. I also love you for other reasons – the vital 10%, if you know what I mean!!! I wish so much that you were here now – because I find you entirely eatable – I have worried myself sick when I think of our conversation on sex the other night. I felt at the time that there was no point in my pretending not to have been pretty naughty in my time –and it was exactly because I wanted to do so much with you that I was determined not to – I hope you see that – and I also hope that you do not mind about the past. I am fundamentally very much of a one-man gal and will behave like one until I see you again – and then you better watch out!!!
Please look after yourself – and don’t stop thinking about me for one second – the worst of my many faults is jealousy, so please only take out sexless old bags until I come back.
The papers really go into startling detail about the Kinsey report. Apparently men are on a sharp decline when they get out of their teens (a depressing thought) whereas women reach their peak – where they remain until 50 or 60 – in their late twenties – it looks like you are in for a rough time!! (I feel rather coarse this afternoon.) I had a charming letter from Edward Clifton-Brown today. He seems to attribute his successful love life to a pep talk I gave him before he left NY!!
Please cheer up darling and don’t worry – Senator Kennedy married a girl I know at a super colossal wedding at Newport on Saturday. Incredible publicity and press goings-on and a reception for 1400 – somebody said that they thought he was the best- looking bridegroom they had ever seen – and when he was told this he said “Well, I am glad that somebody noticed the bridegroom.” So, you see everybody feels the same way. Love Love Love and a million kisses – and now it is your turn to reassure me.
Jean Campbell-Harris and Alan Barker were married at the Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, on 18 March 1954