A memoir of the residents of Lord Berners’ Faringdon House estate in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) has been written by the granddaughter of one (or possibly two) of them. This is The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me , by Sofka Zinovieff (Jonathan Cape, 436pp, £25, U.S. publication scheduled for 2015).
The author’s relationship to the menage is a bit complicated. Her mother, Victoria, was the child of Jennifer Fry, who lived at Faringdon in the 1940s and married Robert Heber-Percy (“The Mad Boy”). He was also Berner’s companion and may (or may not) have been Victoria’s father. Heber-Percy and Fry were soon divorced, and he later married Evelyn Waugh’s friend Dorothy (“Coote”) Lygon. Other male companions also came and went after Berners’ death in 1950. The estate was left by Berners to Heber-Percy, who kept changing his own will, causing Waugh to make the following comment to Diana Mitford: ‘I went to dinner at Faringdon … the Mad Boy has installed a Mad Boy of his own. Has there ever been a property in history that has devolved from catamite to catamite for any length of time? It would be interesting to know.’
Heber-Percy ultimately left the estate to Zinovieff who still owns it and rents it out to American millionaires. This is all explained in more (and more entertaining) detail in a review of Zinovieff’s book by Waugh’s grandson, Alexander Waugh, in the current issue of Literary Review.