two kippers and a bottle of gin

If I were a real nurse and if the Gimcrack were a real hospital, I would have liked Marion Wrottesley as a patient….

“At the age of seven Marion was shipped off to England, but her education at a girls’ school in the Cotswolds was swiftly terminated when an aunt heard another pupil say “Pardon”. She was transferred to the more exclusive Felixstowe Ladies’ College, where she learnt to dance and play the piano.

image

Back in Shanghai in 1940, aged only 17, she married Sean Rainey, an Irishman then serving as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. This was partly a strategic move to get out of China: the Raineys duly moved to Bangalore. Here two children were born, and young Mrs Rainey served briefly as recruiting officer for the Black Watch while learning about “the sins of gin” and how to mix dry martinis.

image

Such skills made her welcome when she arrived as a young divorced woman in austere post-war London and fell in with upper-class rebels such as the Labour minister’s daughter Lydia Noel-Burton, who always carried on her person two kippers and a bottle of gin.

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

In 1949 Marion met an Old Harrovian, Dick Wrottesley, in the Bag of Nails nightclub. The heir to Lord Wrottesley reputedly locked her in the lavatory until she had agreed to marry him.

In spite of blissful summers at Wrottesley, near Wolverhampton, where the family had lived for 900 years, and the birth of their son Mark, the marriage broke down quickly. Dick Wrottesley had already told his wife: “I only married you for your tarty qualities.”

image

In the early 1960s Marion returned penniless to “Swinging London” where, in 1964, her son Michael would open the fashionable outfitters Hung on You in Chelsea Green. At the reception following Michael Rainey’s marriage to Jane Ormsby-Gore, Marion was assured by the bride’s father, Lord Harlech, that his own family was “full of pisspots”. On learning that Brian Jones and Keith Richards were also present, she declared: “I must find myself a Rolling Stone.”

image

During this era Marion also formed a close bond with her playboy stepson Richard Wrottesley, who first hit the headlines in 1966 when his Bentley was found upside down in the snow outside the Palace Hotel at St Moritz. At his regency-style flat in St James’s Street, young “Wrotters” introduced his stepmother to his less respectable friends, such as the East End gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray.

Reggie Kray with Shirley Bassey

For the remainder of her life, Marion Wrottesley lived mainly in bedsitters in Chelsea, Kensington, Earl’s Court and further afield. Though a gifted story-teller she never gave in to pressure to write her memoirs. Instead she flourished on National Assistance (her card was crudely marked “Alcoholism”) and became a character in London pubs where she began the day with Fernet Branca or Carlsberg Special.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 8:52 am  Comments (42)  
Tags: , , ,