Waugh’s Press Nemesis Recalled in The Independent

The Independent on Sunday newspaper (April 20, 2014) has run an article recalling the career of a media figure from the 1950s who locked horns with Evelyn Waugh. Christopher Fowler’s article appears in the paper’s regular column Invisible Ink devoted to forgotten writers. The subject of the article is Nancy Spain, who at the time of her confrontation with Waugh was a reporter for the Daily Express. The story briefly mentions the lawsuit successfully brought by Waugh against the paper for an article written by Ms. Spain claiming that Alec Waugh’s books outsold his own.

The IoS story suggests that Ms. Spain brought disrepute to the Daily Express by being sued twice by Waugh. Waugh’s other litigation was over a statement appearing in the paper’s review of a book by Rebecca West. According to Martin Stannard’s definitive biography of Waugh, that review was the work of the paper’s literary editor Anthony Hern, not Ms. Spain, although Waugh’s animus toward Ms. Spain may have contributed to his litigiousness. Waugh won both suitsthe one naming Spain’s article in court and the other in a settlement shortly thereafter.

Ms. Spain’s career extended far beyond inspiring the wrath of Waugh. As explained in the IoS article:

She was a journalist, broadcaster and television presenter, a genuine populist who wrote columns for the red tops when they still commissioned bright writing instead of pursuing celebrity gossip. Spain was a Woman’s Hour regular, and appeared as a panellist on What’s My Line and Juke Box Jury.

“Red tops” refers to the tabloid press, although at the time Ms. Spain was writing for the Express it was owned by Lord Beaverbrook and published in a broadsheet format. She later worked for the even more downmarket News of the World (recently consigned to its grave by the Murdoch organization) which proudly introduced her to its readers in these terms: “She’s gay, she’s provocative, she’s going places.” She was apparently living openly in lesbian relationships at a time when that was uncommon.  This probably explains Anthony Powell’s 1957 telegram to Waugh when he won the lawsuit: “Congratulations on Burning Sappho.” She died two years before Waugh in a 1964 plane crash on her way to cover a horse race. Waugh uncharacteristically seems not to have noticed.

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