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Unlikely liaison of a left-wing stage director
The left-wing theatre director Joan Littlewood stands revealed as the supreme champagne socialist — for which, on this occasion, read claret socialist — through her long and intimate friendship with Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The woman who made the other Stratford famous many years before the Olympics, with her Theatre Royal there, surprised everyone by her involvement late in life with the multi-millionaire owner of Château Mouton-Rothschild.
Following the deaths around the same time of both of their partners, they found consolation in each other’s company. Littlewood helped the baron to write his autobiography Something of the strangeness of their ménage at Mouton is captured in Stephen Spender’s Journals. He was a friend of both, with a French home not far away.
He writes: “Sometimes she would leave abruptly without informing Philippe or anyone else where she was going. She told Philippe to his face that he was an old reprobate etc, in good moods addressing him as ‘Gov’.”
Spender describes a lunch he attended in London late in 1979 hosted by the baron for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The other guests included the naturalist Dame Miriam Rothschild, playwright Christopher Fry and photographer Cecil Beaton.
Famously fond of food and, especially, drink, the QM was in ecstasies over the wine. Sniffing a glass of one of the Moutons, she said: “Oh what utter bliss! It’s like being in heaven.”
Spender recorded: “I thought Philippe sailed a bit close to the wind when he said that Joan Littlewood had not come to lunch because of her: ‘She refused to meet you.’ ‘Oh, but that’s very unfair. What a pity! After all she might have liked me,’ said the QM.”