Sunday, October 21, 2018

All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Felicity Worthington Shaw, aka Anne Morice (1916-1989), and Her Life in Crime Fiction

Between 1970 and 1990, Anne Morice published 25 detective novels (the last of them posthumously).  All but two of them were part of the Tessa Crichton series, Tessa Crichton being a professional actress and lighthearted though pertinacious amateur sleuth.  After 1973 all of the Anne Morice mysteries were published in both the UK and the US, and in the latter country a few titles were reprinted in pb in the Eighties by Bantam, as part of their "Murder Most British" series, which included such stalwarts from both past and then-present as Agatha Christie (at the time Bantam controlled the American copyrights to nine Christie titles), Ruth Rendell, Margery Allingham, Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Simpson, Catherine Aird and Elizabeth Daly

Not bad company I would say!  Morice earlier had joined additional distinguished company when she became a member of the Detection Club in 1976, the same year as Margaret Yorke and a year before Ruth Rendell, not to mention two years before Reginald Hill

Despite this onetime seeming popularity, however, Anne Morice's novels are out-of-print today and there are very few posts about her writing on the internet, with practically nothing on her life.  (Even her given birth year, 1918, is mistaken.)  This is surprising not merely because at one time in the recent past she was a fairly popular author, apparently, but because her family background was rather interesting indeed.

The author was born Felicity Anne Worthington Shaw in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, on February 18, 1916 (not in 1918, as book sites commonly state).  Her parents were Harry Edward Worthington (1867-1936), a "respected and loved" village doctor, and his rather younger wife Muriel Rose Morice (1881-1956).  Besides Felicity, the couple had three other daughters: Elizabeth (born 1907), Angela Muriel Darita (born 1912-1999) and Yvonne (born 1918).

All seemingly a pretty unexceptional provenance for an English mystery writer--yet in fact Felicity's complicated ancestry was like something out of a classic English mystery, with several cases of children born on the wrong side of the blanket to prominent sires and their humbly born paramours.

Her father Harry Worthington was the son of George Fitch Jennings Worthington, an apothecary and boardinghouse keeper, who in 1868 authored the earnest guide Bathing: Its Uses and Advantages, Shewing When and How to Bathe.  However, his wife Muriel Rose had a much more vivid story. 

Muriel Rose Morice was the natural daughter of Charles John Morice, a Harrow graduate and footballer who played in the 1872 Scotland/England match.  He later became a stockbroker, like his father Charles Walter Morice, his brothers and his nephew Percy John de Paravicini, son of Baron James Prior de Paravacini and Charles Morice's only surviving sister, Valentina Antoinette Sampayo Morice.  Baron de Paravicini and his family resided as Riverside House in Datchet, Berkshire.  (Actress Billie Whitelaw owned the house on the Sixties.)

Riverside House, Datchet, Berkshire, home of Anne Morice's great-aunt
Baroness Valentina Antoinette Sampayo Morice de Paravicini.  Whew!

Charles Morice's grandfather, John Morice, was a Scottish merchant who settled for a time in Lisbon, Portugal, where he married Charles' and Valentina's mother, Marie Valentine O'Neill.  I'm guessing that through marriage there was a good deal of Catholic blood in this family.

Footballer Charles Morice played the fields of romance as well.  Two years before the 1872 Scotland/England football match, he fathered with Clementina Frances Turvey, daughter of  coachman George Turvey, a son, Charles Ernest Turvey. It was not until three decades later, apparently, that the couple finally would marry (in Ireland), after Clementina had borne another son with Charles, in 1893, whom the couple named William Charles Morice.

In between these two births, another child was born to Charles Morice, the aforementioned Muriel Rose Morice, mother of Felicity.  Like her half-brothers, Muriel Rose was of natural birth, being the daughter of Rebecca Garnett Gould, a dressmaker who was the daughter of Yorkshire tailor Joseph Garnett and the widow of schoolmaster George Richard Cambermere Gould.  Rebecca passed away just four years after Muriel Rose's birth, leaving Muriel to be raised by her half-sister Katherine "Kitty" Gould Richardson, who recently had wed a commercial traveler. (Many years later, in 1914, two years after the death of her first husband, Kitty would make a prestigious second marriage, wedding Alfred Douglas-Hamilton, a connection of the Dukes of Hamilton.)

Frederick Lonsdale
National Portrait Gallery, London
Muriel Rose lived with her half-sister Kitty in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, where she met local doctor Harry Worthington when Harry was treating her for measles.  The couple wed in 1904, when she was 22 and he was 36.  (Not content with the actual substantial age difference, Muriel Rose later falsely told people, including her daughters, that she was 30 years younger than Harry.)  Together Harry and Muriel Rose had a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1907, but Muriel Rose's later three daughters--Angela, Felicity and Yvonne--were fathered by another man, a fact later related by Angela in a tell-all book (more on this book below).

All through the 1910s Muriel Rose, the "pretty little wife" of Birchington's beloved village doctor, carried on with other men, the most steady lover of whom was the married London playwright Frederick Leonard Lonsdale (1881-1954), author of On Approval, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and other popular stage works, many of which were later adapted as films.  Supposedly Fredrick originally had attempted a seduction of Muriel Rose's beautiful elder half-sister, Kitty, only to have her advise him to "Go and amuse the little sister."  He promptly did so--and how!

With his increasing stage success in the Twenties, Frederick's interest in Muriel Rose evaporated, however.  He arranged for his secretary to send his cast off lover 100 pounds annually for each of his illegitimate daughters, provided the two never met again.  Angela Worthington vividly and somewhat bitterly recalled the result:

His offer was accepted.  From that moment forth my mother canceled out love from her life.  She taught us that men have no feelings whatever and that they never, never, never speak the truth about anything (unless they are good and unattractive like Harry, and that does not count).  The man she had loved had proved a bastard, and didn't give a damn about the Love Children.  He didn't either.  I have never had a kiss from a mother or father. 

As this suggests, the Worthington girls lived rather strange lives.  The three younger daughters had not much to do with their elder half-sister Elizabeth, who had been sent to a "rotten boarding school which she loathed."  They were permitted to leave their nursery only by permission of their Nanny, Angela recalled: "Mummy was not going to have small children 'rampaging around the house.'  Even then I knew this was because she 'entertained' in her pretty bedroom on the floor below.

Later in life their wayward mother explained to them that "Poor Harry's impotent, you know....He can't do it--Thank God!"  Inconveniently for Muriel Rose, daughter Angela explained, she "needed men physically," though "for a woman of her class, that was something to be deeply ashamed of.  And affairs could be very messy, especially in a small, tight community like Birchington."

Muriel Rose seems to have been a woman of golden flights and fancies, who couldn't be satisfied merely with her life with an impotent, unattractive (though happily well-off) husband whom she didn't love.  She wanted something more dazzling out of life.  At some point she had adopted a suggestive new name for herself, Lucy Glitters.  She told her girls that her father, Charles Morice, had christened her with this appellation on account of his having won a bet on a horse by that name on the day she was born. 

Jesus in the nursery
He is meek & he is mild
He became a little child
This all sounds highly romanticized (apparently the girls never knew their mother's name was really the prosaic Muriel Rose), but in fact there once indeed was a pedigree English racehorse named Lucy Glitters, who had been born four years before Muriel Rose.  Presumably the horse had been named for the character "Lucy Glitters" in R. S. Surtees' popular novel Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour (1853), wherein the title character weds Lucy Glitters, a former showgirl who is, in Surtees' memorable words, "tolerably virtuous."  Lucy Glitters does seem a better appellation for the well-admired wife of Dr. Worthington than Muriel Rose.

Yet all that glittered was not gold.  There were what Angela called her mother's "black rages" when her bright romantic fantasies were dashed.  Angela recalls a day when she

must have been making some tiresome noise in our nursery.  This more often than not exceedingly charming and amusing woman [Lucy Glitters] appeared at the door in her dressing gown, seized me violently and, pushing me ahead of her, hit me repeatedly on the head.  I fell down the stairs to the landing, finally hurting myself quite badly, on an oak chest on which she had carefully arranged her willow pattern china. 

Worse yet came when the girls' nanny was sacked. Nanny Bowler was a devout Chapel-going Wesleyan Methodist.  "God-fearing, goody-goody, wispy and delicate," recalled Angela, Nanny Bowler placed pictures in the nursery of Jesus Christi which depicted the Christian savior as a "droopy, rather colourless man, draped in a white sheet, clutching a lamb.  He had a sickly-sweet expression and a halo." 

Nanny adored Jesus and Dr. Worthington but held the doctor's wife in rather lower estimation.  Faithful to the doctor's dictates, Nanny took the girls swimming every summer.  (Dr. Worthington seems to have been influenced by his father's bathing pamphlet.) Although she thought salt water bathing "a lot of nonsense," Nanny, Angela in tow, would pack Felicity and Yvonne "into the pram along with buckets and spades, towels, bathing costumes, warm clothes to change into and Petit Beurre biscuits, and [with them] set out for Minnis Bay and the beach."


Nanny got the sack when Angela was around seven, after Nanny had a "blazing row" with Lucy Glitters below the staircase to the nursery over Lucy's "continuing infidelities."  It was not merely another day of "black rage," however, but

also a day of growing up, of being aware for the first time of other people's misery, and for the first time of feeling affection for Nanny, even gratitude, compassion, if you like.  I decided in a moment that I, too, would get out, but voluntarily, and as soon as I could.  I felt impotent fury toward my mother, and throughout my childhood, that never quite left me. 

It was at Quex Park, the "Big House" in Birchington-on-Sea, that Angela found out she was "illegitimate," when she overheard (and was meant to overhear, she thought) a conversation between the mistress of the house, Hannah Powell-Cotton, and her girls' nanny, in which the nanny exclaimed of Angela, "Well, of course she's difficult, isn't she, illegitimate and all that?  Mr. Lonsdale, her father, doesn't even work!  Poor Dr. Worthington is what we all say."

Major Powell-Cotton of Quex Park,
African explorer and big game hunter.
The Worthington girls pretended that
he was secret Service
Quex Park was owned by celebrated English explorer and hunter Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton, creator of the Powell-Cotton Museum, located on the grounds of Quex Park.  Of the Major Angela recalled that he "had a beard and we hardly ever saw more of him than a glimpse, a detached smile: I would pretend to myself that he was Secret Service."  She remembered the Major's museum too, as well as an even more frightful exhibit, the Major's wife:

Major Powell-Cotton had an amazing museum full of wild animals he had shot and stuffed: elephants, lions, tigers, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes--nothing had been spared....The Major [also] had a huge, beautiful, patronizing wife called Hannah and I wished that he had shot and stuffed her too.

Ouch!  Considering that the Powell-Cotton daughters, Diana and Antoinette, contemporaries of Angela and Felicity,  were still alive at the time (1986), this was a pretty blunt comment.

Angela had a better opinion of neighbors Gladys Cooper, the noted stage (and later film) actress, and the influential actor-manger Gerald du Maurier, father of future bestselling author Daphne, who was a bit older than the Worthington daughters and proved a rather remote girl:

I remember Daphne du Maurier as a small girl as if she were in my garden now, with her wonderful blonde hair and straight, slim body.  She invariably dressed in an emerald green stockinet pullover and shorts but never played with the rest of us: always, when I recall her, she is lying face down in some long grass, reading, never talking, never joining in, always reading.  Her sisters, Angela an Jeanne, were fairly friendly to me.

du Maurier sisters (Daphne on left)
neighbors of the Worthington girls, three of whom, including
Felicity Worthington (future mystery write Anne Morice),
were actually daughters of playwright Frederick Lonsdale
In the 1920s, after  "poor Dr. Worthington" began exhibiting symptoms of Parkinson's Disease and he had been packed off by his wife to a "tiny cottage on the Powell-Cotton estate," attended by a nurse, "a huge woman in a pleated white bonnet," Lucy Glitters, now in straitened financial circumstances (by her standards), moved with her daughters to a maisonette above a cake shop in London at 16a Lower Belgrave Street.*

*(This was located very close to the address of the notorious 1974 Lord Lucan murder.)

According to Angela, Lucy Glitters' move to Belgravia was a daring gamble "to help her daughters achieve what she believed to be their rightful position in life":

"In private she would still yell and scream and lambast us for being lazy, irresponsible and ill-mannered, but [in public] she exercised great charm" and she gave the girls a "really inspiring sense of the enjoyment of day-to-day living, no matter what the problems were."  Angela could well imagine people saying of her mother, "you could almost say the mother was a lady."

Angela went into acting for a profession, and her mother's theatrical ambition for her is said to have been, though in her memoir Angela doesn't discuss the matter, the inspiration for Noel Coward's amusingly biting 1935 song "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington":

The profession is overcrowded
And the struggle's pretty tough
And admitting the fact
She's burning to act
That isn't quite enough
She has nice hands
Give the wretched girl her due
But don't you think her bust is too
Developed for her age?
I repeat, Mrs. Worthington
Sweet Mrs. Worthington
Don't put your daughter on the stage


The greatest contribution to acting made by this "wretched girl" Angela came when she married Robin Fox and became the mother of actors Edward (1937) and James (1939) and film producer Robert (1952).  I remember Edward Fox quite well from 1970s films, having as a child been taken by my father to see the classic crime thriller The Day of the Jackal (at the age of seven!) and, five tears later, the sprawling war epic A Bridge too Far.  (In the latter film Fox and Anthony Hopkins made the greatest impression on me out of the huge all-star cast; having recently re-watched the film, I well see why--Fox deserved his BAFTA award for this role, even if it was essentially for one bravura scene.) 

In the 1980s I recall James Fox in the pivotal role of the school superintendent and decent Englishman Richard Fielding in David Lean's adaptation of EM Forster's A Passage to India.  Christie fans should also recall Edward Fox, superbly droll, as the butler Gudgeon in the 2004 adaptation of the Hercule Poirot mystery The Hollow.  And Colin Dexter fans that James Fox is the father of Laurence Fox, aka Sergeant Hathaway in the Lewis mystery series.  Interestingly Laurence Fox attended Harrow like his noted footballer and stockbroker great-great-grandfather, Charles Morice.

I had no idea, when I first read an Anne Morice mystery back in the 1990s, that the late Anne Morice, aka Felicity Worthington Shaw, was an aunt of the Fox brothers.  Angela Worthington Fox details much of this is her first volume of memoirs, Slightly Foxed (though a good bit of the above is not in the book).

a Fox as the Jackal
Although Felicity, in contrast with her sister, eschewed the acting profession, she married a director, Anthony Shaw, and like her sister had three children.  After writing a couple of mainstream novels, she successfully turned to mystery writing in 1970, when she was 54 years old.  It's not surprising given her family history that her lead character was an actress.  More soon on Felicity and some of her crime fiction!

5 comments:

  1. This is riveting, thank you so much for your research! Morice is one of my favorites, and I've long thought she'd be ripe for reprinting, but I selfishly enjoy having her be under the radar these days. (I did pitch an essay on the Tessa novels to several publications, but it never went anywhere.)

    It's funny because her novels are light-hearted and the continuing characters are very appealing, but I do think her very dysfunctional background (about which I had no idea until now) can fit in with her fiction. Most of her novels do feature dysfunctional, unappealing upper-middle-class and rich people, and I can think of several Lucy Glitters-esque characters. It's almost like by making the core characters--the Tessa/Robin/Ellen/Toby quartet--lovable, she's carving out a new space for her own values in a world largely peopled by characters like Lucy Glitters.

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  2. She certainly is under the radar today! I think those are some very persuasive observations. That’s very interesting about the essay pitch, hope we hear more from you about her books. I only started reading them more extensively. She sometimes got criticized for her country house settings, but it’s actually something she lived, and during the Golden Age of the detective novel too. Glad you enjoyed the piece, I personally found all those details and family connections unexpected and fascinating.

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  3. This is all very interesting, Curt. I read a lot of Morice's books, probably in the 80's, but haven't read any in quite a while. I should find some to try and see if I still like them.

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  4. Fascinating, your research is always amazing. I have a couple of Morice books on the shelf, I will have to get them down and re-read.

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  5. I’ll have a post on a few of her books soon. Glad you liked the piece, I thought her’s an interesting story too!

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