Freelance journalism means working with many commissioning editors over years but none was more distinguished than Veronica. Clear, consistent and always appreciative she said how pleased she was when made features editor of Radio Times. And what pleasure she gave.
Thanks to her in 1984 I travelled to Czechoslovakia to write about Gregor Mendel’s garden in Brno, with a night in Vienna’s celebrated Sacher hotel as part of the journey. This was followed by a trip to the Camargue to look at the preservation of the flamingoes and a flight to Paris to interview a Chinese chef. She trusted me with a fascinating range of subjects and nothing raised the spirits like a commission from RT, with its circulation of several millions.
I was honoured to be asked to Veronica’s leaving do in the boardroom of Broadcasting House, under the portraits of Lord Reith and Sir Hugh Greene and we kept in touch for several years afterwards. Then she sought me out this summer and came to lunch. Three months off her 90th birthday she drove herself to the flat, arrived on the dot and looked impeccable. Despite several mentions of memory lapses she seemed so unchanged and we spent a very happy
Sunday afternoon talking about books, films and her early journalistic days on Country Life. She said she dreaded being summoned to St Thomas’ Hospital for an appointment as their use of the apostrophe so disturbed her. Once a sub-editor……..
Every time I visit Marylebone High Street – where copy had to be delivered in those pre-fax, pre e-mail days – I will think of her special qualities and the life-enhancing assignments. Thank you, Veronica.
This is a huge loss to her friends. They have lost a most civilised individual. I grieve her passing.
Veronica used to visit us in Courtenay Square for a fish supper whenever we could get together. She would bring Sid, her beloved Dachsund, who would sit under the table and wait for the 2″ x 2″ piece of fish skin, which was all that she was allowed because Veronica didn’t want the little dog to get fat…..
Always immaculately groomed and delightful company, Veronica was interested in everything and everybody (a typical journalist) and her knowledge of films was just amazing. She was shocked when I told her that I had never seen ‘Casablanca’, which she considered one of the best films ever made, and sent us a copy. We’ve watched it many times since. She educated us about classic films that we’d missed: the latest DVD she loaned us was ‘The Maltese Falcon’.
Rest in Peace dear Veronica: you well deserve it after your difficult last years.
Margaret and Tony Clinch
I got to know Veronica through my partner James Davie, who had worked under her at the Radio Times. Veronica and I shared an interest in cinema, particularly the films of Werner Herzog. She introduced me to Herzog’s “Fata Morgana” and we both hugely admired Herzog’s “Nosferatu”, his retelling of the classic Vampire legend, first made famous by Murnau in the 1920’s. She was sharply intelligent, cultured and entertaining. Her company was never boring. She has an innate dignity and high standards. James used to say to me, ” Now remember, you must behave yourself in front of Veronica. She is a daughter of the Raj. ” I remember her kind visit to James just before he died. I am sure it meant a lot to him. I do hope her little dog Sydney has found a good and loving home, such as Veronica provided for her.
I knew Veronica when I was a junior sub at Radio Times and Veronica in her full glory in the features department.
She was an impeccable journalist, and a pleasure to work with.
After I’d left the magazine, we met for lunch and I plucked up the courage to tell her that she was considered the most stylish woman in the building: she looked slightly shocked.
Her film knowledge was extraordinary, and someone conjured up that she had changed her name to Hitchcock in honour of the Master of Suspense. (I only just learnt this wasn’t true). I still use one of her lines whenever anyone mentions SW1 -’SW1 – a very good address’. And don’t let’s forget the owls.
Veronica was my very first boss and easily the best. Quite honestly, who could compete with a boss who brought her baby owl in to the office? WOL lived in an upturned wicker wastepaper basket, and was not only fed mice (in the early days) then I believe moved on to raw chicken, followed by a dessert of mauve mohair sweater to provide the necessary roughage. WOL duly coughed up purple mohair ‘balls.’
After hitching round South American I lost track of Veronica, then we met up again when she was at the Radio Times, through a mutual friend. We lost contact again for a while, and then through the same friend met up again and didn’t lose contact again till her death.
Getting an e mail from Veronica was a treat in itself. Of course she wrote beautifully, and often made me laugh out loud. She came to us for lunch, and sometimes we lunched out, most recently at the Ivy in Chelsea. We went to the theatre and the cinema and talked about movies a lot, remembering favourite moments and exchanging DVDs. Her knowledge of the movies was incredible, remembering exact moments and scenes, even from films she hadn’t seen for years.
She told us some wonderful stories about travelling on photo shoots with Alex who, once behind the camera assumed he was fully in charge so she was expected to jump to it as the humble assistant.
And she always looked wonderful. With my background in fashion I occasionally helped source something I know she would like – as indeed she always did. She had style to her very fingertips.
We will miss her hugely, but feel privileged to have known her.
She loved our garden, and here she is sitting in it, the year before Covid struck.
Veronica worked in the Lutyens designed Country Life building in Covent Garden. Alex Starkey was a photographer there. She and Alex married, but while she worked in Central London, she went every evening in Alex’s car to visit him when he was not well.
She was renowned for her witty remarks in various situations. She loved porridge. She had a dog called Sydney (‘the Hitchcocks always had dachshunds’). Her neighbour Frank (Lord) Field called Sydney Mrs Butler because Rab Butler MP married Sydney Courtauld whose family developed artificial fabrics. Veronica was glad her cousin Eleanor came to dress her leg when she had cancer. Veronica became ever more concerned about her own failing health.
Veronica (my mother’s cousin) seemed at first one of the older relatives who are ‘there’ and not especially noted by youngsters; I do remember her fabulous gold ring and trademark gold earrings, along with some cool Capri pants and a Mini car with the numberplate of ‘WOL’ which, apparently, her dad had purchased for her, on account of her inordinate fondness for Little Owls…. (I suppose everyone will know that she kept a series of Little Owls in her flats over the years, one of which was dubbed ‘Wol”).
She seemed extremely glamorous and pleasant, but rather distant… a bit like a Royal! I was too young to detect that there was much more to her.
A little later I remember thinking that Veronica and her delightful partner, Alex, both resembled cartoon owls, with their outsized spectacles and calm, intellectual demeanours…. They used to send terrific handmade Christmas cards, always on an owl theme, and with a beautiful Christmas greeting stamp….. being a stupid unthinking young adult, I enjoyed the cards, but rarely reciprocated!
I only really got to know and appreciate VH in the last 4 years, after her leg started to give her a lot of trouble, necessitating many lengthy and excruciating hospital trips to have her wound dressed. As a fellow London resident, I was able to accompany her to a few appointments, especially on the rare occasions when Eleanor (who, as most will know, was the sole reason VH had survived earlier health problems) was unable to attend. Veronica was always unbelievably stoic, even when experiencing the agony of having a large open wound dressed by sometimes less than expert practitioners. She was great fun, with a twinkly naughtiness which was very engaging. She was also an absolutely appalling driver, and I recall the couple of journeys to and from hospital in her beaten-up, fume-filled car as among the most terrifying of my life, but every near-miss was narrated with immense spark, always cheerfully blaming the other motorist…
Her flat, which she seemed to adore and loathe in equal measure (too cluttered and hot! But so handy for the Curzon!) was a treasure-trove of wonderful objects; an original sketch by Edward Ardizzone hung near an ancient landscape fashioned from sand, and a ‘Radio Times’ cover of which she had been particularly proud. Her many cupboards were almost overflowing with DVDs of every kind, both bought and recorded from the tv. I think the term ‘hoarder’ might well apply here, though the items retained were of interest, rather than the more classic hoarder’s tropes of random old newspapers or, literally, bits of rubbish. Her long and varied life seemed to echo the ‘treasure-trove’ nature of the flat… things would turn up in conversation; family links to Oscar Wilde, anecdotes about Robert Maxwell behaving badly at dinner, and I vividly recall that once, when she went to make us some toast under her tiny oven grill, she was obliged to remove a plastic tray full of what appeared to be large pebbles…. I asked what they were. “These are my stones from Petra,” she announced rather grandly, and when I asked why she stored them under the grill, she thought for a moment and replied, “Well, I’ve really got nowhere else to put them!” which was very funny and almost true.
She was so very fond of dachshunds, and both Chota and Sydney gave her an immense amount of pleasure. I had wondered – when she and Eleanor motored off to far-flung corners of Britain in search of a replacement for Chota – whether it was worth all the effort and the bother it would inevitably entail, settling a new dog in etc – but it was absolutely worth it, and Syd was completely devoted to Veronica, which was wonderful to see. Whoever was selected to adopt Sydney just prior to Veronica’s death will be somebody well qualified to provide for dachshunds.
Veronica was of course wildly enthusiastic about film, and once hatched a somewhat scary plan at the local cinema, whereby she somehow used her free pass to get not only herself but me and my partner in to a film we all wanted to see…she wouldn’t hear of us paying to get in, and gave us our instructions…. we were to meet outside the cinema, surreptitiously take 2 tickets from her, then breeze in while she negotiated yet another free OAP ticket… it all felt rather thrilling, as she clearly got a kick out of ‘playing the system’ in little ways, and it was the incongruity of someone so elderly, ‘proper’ and dignified being irresponsible which made it all the more entertaining.
She was very generous, in that she would often make a DVD copy of whatever film/tv play she felt one needed to see, and on several occasions I found I had to stop watching, as I discovered that the film she’d sent was actually too violent! Veronica would always respond to this news with Alfred Hitchcock’s rebuke to Ingrid Bergman; “But Ingrid, it’s only a film!” She did however score a tremendous hit for me, with a DVD copy of Thora Hird performing two Alan Bennett ‘talking head’ monologues; absolutely brilliant! It was wonderful to be able to say an unequivocal YES! to something, especially as my partner and I found ourselves entirely unable to wade through her DVD of Alec Guinness in ’Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. She was clearly saddened by this dreadful philistinism, but was gracious in defeat.
She wrote wonderful emails, with a lovely dry wit and a somewhat archaic style which I found irresistable. The fact that in the end she couldn’t see well enough to email greatly saddened her, and seemed really unbearably cruel.
Veronica will be sorely missed by many. Of course she lived such a long life, many of her closest friends were already gone by the time of her death. She said a few weeks ago that she’d always had older friends and boyfriends, as she found them more interesting; when I remarked that it might be tricky, at almost 90, to find a new, older boyfriend, she laughed and said, “Yes, or even a boyfriend at all!” She bore her health troubles with dignity, no fuss, and great practicality, though it became increasingly hard for her to maintain a cheery demeanour with little hearing, vision, balance or appetite, and a sense – not shared by me at least – that she was beginning to lose her (razor-sharp) wits. She was excellent company right up to her final days, and I felt incredibly privileged to be able to get to know her, as did my partner David, and our 2 children, Billie and Frank.
Thank you Veronica! And thank you Eleanor, for enabling her to survive for so much longer than she might otherwise have done.
Lots of love
Harriet, Dave, Billie and Frank xxxx
Sleek. Chic. Utterly unique. Veronica looked every inch the movie maven that she was, on a continuum running from Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest (the sophisticated comedy by her unrelated namesake, Alfred HItchcock) to Ealing comedienne Joan Greenwood, via first-series-of-Avengers Honor Blackman, made manifest in her classic white Mini and her gilt-chain-handled handbag that always hid a boy’s torch and a screwdriver. “So useful,” she’d explain inexplicably.
The Mini’s number-plate included the letters WOL, referring to Wol(lie), the first of the rescued Little Owls who shared her swish apartment tucked away in Westminster SW1; Athene Noctua swooping about the sitting-room – an honour not extended to her estimable gentleman suitors.
Her away was as individual as her home. Annual winter-sunshine sojourns in the West Indies in the company of the heir to a renowned nursery (plants not babies). Neither jampacked Jamaica nor touristy Trinidad but Nelson’s island, Nevis.
She had equally impeccable taste in light entertainment, organising tickets for us to see the London Palladium apotheosis of Liberace and his dancing fountains. And Ken Dodd, running on and on into the night, unwilling to leave his adoring audience. And Irene Handl, guest starring in Rod Hull’s Emu in Pantoland after her two-volume excursion into experimental fiction.
Veronica was born, a child of the Raj, in 1930s Kashmir. One lunchtime at BBC Publications, where we worked side by side for three years, sub-editing features about forthcoming programmes as Feature Assistants, Radio Times (the Beeb still went in for job-title initials), I came back from the local Oxfam shop with a £2 toast rack with carved wooden letters spelling out T-O-A-S-T, and marked on the base with a pungent provenance: ‘Suffering Moses of Srinagar,’ her native town. Of course she wanted it. And of course she got it.
One last thing: sometime in the early 50s her mother obliged her to see Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. “Perfectly dreadful,” said Veronica, who then began a one-woman spoiler campaign against the long-running show, by spreading the identity of the murderer: “The policeman dun it,” revealed Veronica. “Pass it on.”
With love from
Dear Steve and Eleanor,
We are sad with you to have lost our cousin Veronica.
Her sparkling nature will be missed by you and the many friends she accumulated in her long life time.
We would love to be at the funeral but we are not able to travel.
We thank you so much for giving us the details to enable us to be part of this online with so many of Veronica’s friends and family.
Bill and Elfi
Veronica and I were first cousins – she was six years older than I, with no siblings, and I have three (all younger than myself). She was a (seemingly-to-me sophisticated) ‘City Girl’ living in Richmond, whereas we were distinctly the ‘Country Cousins’, living in rural Cookham Dean, Berkshire! I well remember that when she came to stay, I felt she and I were comparable with ’The Famous Five’. She was a totally adventurous and fun, which was terrifically exciting for a dutiful Oldest Child. I think I must have been 9, when she and I walked down to Wooten’s Boathouse and swam across the Thames to the safe little Creek where our family used to swim. But that was far too tame for Veronica, so we walked across a water meadow on the far side, (full of rather startled cows), stripped off to our swimsuits and plunged into one of the vast, and extremely deep gravel pits in the next field. I’d always been warned off the gravel pits, not just for their depth, but climbing out again was extremely hazardous, due to the ‘lip’ (on the edge of the abyss) being clay, and SO slippery! I had never dared swim there, nor knew anybody who had!
Veronica was totally unphased, even by my dire warnings about vast pike that apparently bred in there! I was SO impressed, and vowed from then on, to be far more adventurous than hitherto, (except when in the role of sole-childminder of course!).
About ten years later, I was commuting and working in Central London so sometimes she and I used to meet up for lunch, gulped down in order to make time for a bit of (grown-up) window shopping and a natter. And it was the sophisticated Veronica who (with encouragement from my mum – Veronica’s “Aunty Bra” – kindly guided me to purchasing a suit to wear for my Wedding in December 1959. That felt perfect to me; she was SO worldly, yet young, and FUN plus a bit of a rebel; I really trusted her!
I thought Veronica extremely glamorous, fearless, politically interesting, VERY generous with her time (and DVDs sent), entertaining, a giggler – (SO important), amusing, dog-crazed, and fun to be with. I shall miss Mrs. Alex Starkey, just as I miss her husband dear Alex – who was quietly proud of his work, and yet totally unassuming! Both SO well worth knowing and enjoying.
Zanna Wheeler (nee Pitts)
Our Dearest V
Wishes come true they say.
You wanted to sleep and not wake up.
And on that Faithful Tuesday, 27th July 2021 your wish indeed came true.
It was least expected to say the least
It was so soon but peaceful.
However, with your true organisational spirit, you were able to say your “Thank yous and Good Byes” Your wave of hand gestures denotes your typical way of saying “l want to be left alone. And indeed we understand”
We understand that life changes can be viewed differently by individuals.
We also understand that the end is not the best but with a grateful heart, we thank God for the great and exemplary life you lived.
If there is a reincarnation, an afterlife, or another new World to live, I would love to cross paths with you again, to know and love you the more. And that you will put the House of the Lord next to your love of Films
In all, we can still say we are truly Thankful for whom you were and we give God all the Glory with a cheerful heart of Gratitude for the life you lived and the people you trusted and uplifted by your generous act of kindness here on Earth. We Hope and Pray for God’s Cleansing, Forgiveness, Grace and Mercy as you approach that beautiful and Glorious Gate.
We pray you will be welcomed home by St. Peter and all the True Saints of our Abba Father
Our dearest V
Farewell and May your gentle Soul continue to Rest
In the Bosom of the Lord
Veronica and I shared a love of animals. I drew the line at nurturing a pet owl for years in my cloakroom, but we were at one with dogs, and far too infrequently would stroll together, with our respective pooches, her current dachshund and my rescue, in St James’s Park, a five minute walk from her flat in Victoria. The owl was one of the first eccentricities I learnt about this extraordinary and delightful woman, who aside from her impeccable manners and smart appearance, conformed to few known conventions, cheerfully conducting her life according to her own rules. I never met her partner Alex either before or after they married,
knowing only that one of these rules was that they did not live together or do everything together, which Veronica clearly regarded as the most natural thing in the world. It was only at his funeral that I learnt what an interesting man he was and of his distinguished career as something of a pioneer photographer for Country Life, lugging his cumbersome equipment all over Britain to take remarkable pictures of stately homes.
I got to know Veronica, like so many others, because of her passion for the cinema. As film reviewer on the Sunday Mirror I was fortunate enough to be drawn into her exclusive circle of film buffs and to become a “member” of her regular Thursday “lunch club”, held over the years in the various cheap and cheerful BBC canteens, and latterly at Channel 4, to which her job gave her access. There she would sit like a queen bee, surrounded by her devoted acolytes, exchanging DVDs of long forgotten movies and dog eared copies of Sight and Sound, whilst animatedly discussing who played the parlour maid or the gang leader’s right hand-man in a black-and-white B-movie of twenties, thirties or forties vintage (contemporary films apart from the odd “gem” from somewhere like Iceland mostly got short shrift). Usually the only other woman present, I couldn’t begin to match their formidable memories and vast pool of knowledge.
Veronica was invited to my 80th birthday celebration this year, which because of Covid had to be postponed from July to September. Typically, despite her many health problems, she accepted with pleasure and alacrity. Her cousin Eleanor tells me she even went and bought a pink suit for the occasion. I am so saddened that because of the postponement, my dear friend will not now be showing off her splendid new attire as a guest of honour at my table. But she will surely be there in spirit as someone unique, who greatly enriched my world with her abiding curiosity and with her infectious zest for life.
It was Roger Corman, king of exploitation cinema, who brought Veronica and me together, despite the fact that neither of us was personally acquainted with him. At least, not beyond attending an interview he did with Derek Malcolm at the National Film Theatre. She subsequently sought a piece from Derek, whose deputy I had recently become, for Radio Times, but he was away; I took the call and presumptuously proposed myself in his stead. Veronica gamely took me up on it and fortunately was satisfied with the result. This led to several further commissions over the years, and the pleasant discovery on my part that Radio Times paid considerably more than specialist film journals. More importantly, it initiated a friendship with Veronica that went beyond professional contact and continued into the realm of our respective retirements. While tis was predicated in the first place by our mutual devotion to the cinema, it also transcended that: she was as skilled a conversationalist as I have ever known, and, of course, possessed of an infectiously dry sense of humour.
Roger Corman’s own standing may not have been bolstered much over the intervening years, but somehow to me it will always be tempered by proxy gratitude to him for having inspired that phone call of long ago.
After all these amazing tributes, I thought it might be fun to offer Veronica’s report on her and Sydney’s visit to an exhibition on “Architecture for Dogs” just before lockdown November 2020:
Apologies for not having sent an e-mail off sooner, but yesterday les chose sont contre nous with a vengeance.
I left an hour and a quarter to get to the Japan House in Kensington High Street yesterday, having made an appointment for 1pm. I cannot tell you how awful the traffic was and it took me 20 minutes to get to the end of Victoria Street itself! However, I knew they would let me and Syd in even if I got there very late, so was not in too much of a state. KHS was solid and I could not see any of the house numbers to know when I had reached Japan House, but while in a jam I asked a taxi-driver if I had passed it, and I had, so I did a U turn and decided not to try to find a Blue Badge bay and just left the car where the leaves seemed to be covering up most of the road and its double red lines, and we walked it for about 8 minutes. The House is actually not on KHS, but on the corner of Derry Street and is rather amazing. Everybody was tremendously welcoming, but the exhibition was in the basement. Rather than carry Syd down the glass stairs, we got into a totally glass circular lift and down to the exhibition which was housed in a single room. I took a number of quick snaps on my iPhone which I will send separately as I don’t know how to get them on to my Mac. As I said before, Very Silly Indeed
I am really glad I made the effort to go because it was so ludicrous, and I really don’t think you missed anything significant. After Thursday it will have to close to the public and you will have missed your chance anyway! And to top it all, I didn’t get a parking ticket, though I could see a meter man hovering.
Both myself and my brother, Derek Ungless, worked at the Radio Times in the 1970’s and we knew Veronica well. I remember when I joined the Radio Times, my brother Derek working in the Art Department, said you need to meet someone important. He took me from Production into Features to introduce me to Veronica saying: here is the best person on the magazine to write a brilliant headline. And of course he was right, she always was, even in those last minute situations of changed copy before going to press. She always managed to come up with something amazing. Veronica always had time for people loving to discuss what was happening in our lives out of the office. Each time we had our Marylebone High Street Club Lunch it was lovely to catch up with her. Derek would always ask to be remembered to her and she was pleased to know about his working life, especially when he moved to Canada and onto America. As always she was really interested in people. I know I will certainly miss seeing her at our next lunch, as I’m sure many other people will. Rest in peace Veronica.
Dear Veronica: such a sharp mind, such a stylish dresser, such a special and idiosyncratic colleague and friend, with her owl in the bathroom, her dry wit, and endless knowledge and curiosity! In 1981 Veronica was entirely responsible for hiring me as the film columnist at the Radio Times – a significant career step for me, and one for which I have always been grateful, even with the annual torture of the bumper Christmas double-issue or the difficulty of finding something useful to say about conveyor-belt American movies made for TV.
For eight years, she would phone me each week with a list of what films the BBC would be offering, along the way sharing her own memories from her vast knowledge and experience of cinema and film-going, stretching back to before I was born. An adventure film featuring Anthony Steel, Britain’s game attempt at beefcake in the 1950s, brought forth the information that she’d been on a date with him in his early heyday, not an experience that she repeated. She commiserated with me when the films were poor, as they often were, and rejoiced when classic titles came up, as they often did, especially if the studio was RKO, whose film library the BBC kept recycling.
I remember her telling me that she thought Orson Welles’s “Magnificent Ambersons” was better even than “Citizen Kane”, a view that marked her as a real film connoisseur. Now of, course, in the great screening room in the sky, she will be able to watch “The Magnificent Ambersons” complete, not the severely cut version RKO left us with on earth, and I’m sure it won’t be a disappointment. I’m pretty sure Orson Welles won’t be one either.
Each week I’d type up my column and hand it in at the RT offices at Marylebone High Street, where she sat at her features editor desk in a buzzing, busy room. I also saw and relished her, then and since, at her Westminster flat, at film screenings and like-minded events, and once, delightfully, on the street, en route to Peter Jones at Sloane Square. But the memory that clings remains Veronica in her RT office, supreme in her job for all its tensions, working in a business and an industry she loved. “Thank you, Geoff”, she’d say with a warm smile as I offered up my couple of pages. No, no; thank you, Veronica, and rest in sweet peace.
Veronica and I worked together in Channel 4’s Programme Management department, where she was a compliance viewer and I looked after the subtitling of foreign-language films. We got on very well; she was wonderful conversation, and what she didn’t know about films was hardly worth knowing. At first the viewers had their own office where they could work uninterrupted, but when the department went open-plan in 2004 they had to have desks out in the open; Veronica took this in her stride, and headphones became her ‘do not disturb’ sign.
Our compliance viewers were a remarkable bunch; one of them gave Indian head massage, and on my 60th birthday in April 2006 Veronica’s present to me was a free massage session. She was among the guests at my party that evening, and after I left three years later we stayed in touch. I visited her occasionally in her flat near Channel 4, where the great conversations would continue, usually in canine company. When, in November 2014, she mentioned she was having difficulty finding someone to read from Francis Thompson’s At Lord’s at Alex’s funeral, what could I do but volunteer? The following March she paid me the compliment of coming to my mother’s funeral.
At the 2018 Proms we met up briefly after the performance of Britten’s War Requiem in which her cousin was singing. She was a lady of culture, high intelligence, great good humour, and dignity with which she faced whatever life threw at her. I respected her deeply and continue to do so; what a privilege it was to have her as a colleague and friend.
I am one of the four ‘Country Cousins’ Zanna Wheeler refers to in her tribute to Veronica . I find that what people have written in her memory is very apt, often very moving and most interesting, as I knew very little about her work and life in London. We cousins have all learnt a lot from the various tributes. I don’t think that I personally can add very much to what has already been said about her, other than that my parents (and I when I was present) always looked forward to her coming when she visited her father, our uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrance Hitchcock who lived at our house in his retirement.
One little piece of information comes to mind which might make some readers smile; Veronica, always so creative and original, had lovely names for the Little Owls she cared for over the years . I know three ; of course, her very first one – the famous Wol , and then Guzzle and Grizzle! When she occasionally came to stay, her current owl came too; on one occasion, I was delighted to be introduced to the Little Owl of that year and that same one even perched on my index finger ! Veronica said owls only did this when they felt completely relaxed and at ease . What an honour it was in view of the fact that I was a total stranger!
Veronica really was a very special lady. She will be very much missed .
I first met Veronica in 1982 when she was Features Editor at the Radio Times. It was just after I was made redundant from ‘What’s On In London’ when the magazine was sold to another publisher. It may have been Tom Vallance who suggested I contact Veronica about the possibility of writing for the Radio Times particularly as we had a common interest in films. Veronica knew ‘What’s On’ as a regular reader and she invited me for lunch at the Hellenic Restaurant in Marylebone High Street. We got on well and she invited me to do a cover feature for the Radio Times on Marlon Brando, as the BBC were having a season of his films. Eventually I joined her Thursday lunches at the BBC canteen, and later at Channel 4 to which she invited mostly people who wrote or knew about films. She herself had a fantastic knowledge of films, particularly British cinema – the works of Powell and Pressburger, Alfred Hitchcock, and the films based on the novels of Graham Greene. Her favourite actors were usually those who played cruel types, villains and other shady characters. She admired the three Henrys: Oscar, Daniell and Hull, as well as Norman Lloyd and Raymond Huntley, amongst others.
Veronica had a remarkable memory for recalling film scenes and lines of dialogue, often quoting things I had totally forgotten. I think we shared the same sense of humour, if not other aspects of life and culture. She loved poetry but she admitted to not being very musical and didn’t appreciate musicals or operas very much.
She did, however, love animals, and for many years kept a Little Owl in her flat. After the owl died Veronica went back to her beloved dachshunds which her own family had always kept. On her own, after her husband Alex died, she found comfort with Chota and Syd, two dachshunds who in their turn became vital companions and helped a lot when she became ill.
Always a good friend, Veronica was a pleasure to be with. We sometimes saw films together and had several lunches, mostly in the last ten years or so.
I have known Veronica for nearly forty years. I will miss her philosophical outlook on life, her good humour and her avid delight in going to the pictures.
Her friends enjoyed her Oscar parties when she would put on a good lunch while we watched the results the morning after the evening before.
And finally, I think we have all lost a really dear friend.
I worked for Country Life in the eighties so I knew Alex as he was our architectural photographer, I knew of Veronica but never met her until Alex’s funeral. I only really got to know her after we sat next to each other at a charity performance of Die Fledermaus by Diva Opera in 2018. After that we met frequently for lunch and I enjoyed many films, courtesy of her wonderful free tickets, mostly at her local Curzon in Victoria Street, with tea afterwards together with Sydney, her beloved dachshund. She was always great fun and was an incredibly knowledgeable film buff. The last time I saw her was in June when we had lunch at the Sloane Club for which she treated me as it was my birthday. She was looking very perky in a beautiful new pink trouser suit with crisp white blouse. She said the next lunch should be at the Goring…..
I will be following online from Gloucestershire. I have very fond memories of an exceptional woman – the person in charge of Radio Times Features when I first ventured in. My life is the better for her mischievous and indeed rather awe-inspiring presence.
I have known Veronica – my husband’s cousin – for over 50 years and for all that time, have been in awe of her elegance (even when wearing a Mickey Mouse tee shirt); of her poise and ability to engage in erudite and charming conversation about anything. She and Alex joined us for years at Christmas and at family parties, and were brilliant, exciting company and JOLLY GOOD FUN. They had travelled all over the world, knew so much and were eager to know and do more.
Veronica seemed ageless and always looked fabulous. She was not old at 89, and managed her Macbooks, i-pods, i-pads and i-phone. She also kept up to date with the news, current affairs, films and theatre.
Many people have spoken about their feeling of privilege to be counted as one of Veronica’s friends, and that getting a radiant smile from her was like being given a bouquet. Others have said that they did not really know very much about her, despite being a friend for years. We rather felt the same way until her dachshund Chota died. Veronica was battling against a cancer in her leg at the time, and wanted Chota to be buried in our garden. When we brought her to the house for the burial, Veronica’s leg was in a terrible state, and soon after she was admitted to hospital. I visited her there, and stayed in her flat when she was discharged. I dressed her leg two or three times a week for almost three years, and accompanied her to hospital appointments. It was during that period that we got to know each other really well.
I’m afraid Veronica despaired that anyone could know nothing at all about film, and have no inclination whatsoever to address this fundamental flaw ! So, occasionally, I was ‘encouraged’ to sit through a film and then have a cross- examination about it afterwards. However, this proved to be rather disappointing for both of us, and soon stopped!
During these visits we would tackle all sorts of projects together, and still managed to remain good friends by the end of the task. She also taught me how to knit with such patience and gentle reassurance that it is a memory I will cherish for ever.
When the Covid lockdowns intervened we started our Skype chats for an hour every evening and covered all sorts of topics.
Veronica could be incredibly generous – paying my daughter’s fine when she was arrested at a protest that Veronica approved of, but could not attend herself; lending money to friends to help them out. She could also be unbelievably ‘careful’. Anyone who has seen her wrestle with the possibility of hiring a taxi, or buying a coffee when out shopping will know that she would rather walk and be thirsty than pay for these services.
She could not walk past a skip without checking its contents and removing anything she wanted. She was a dab hand with tools and delighted in repairing her commandeered trophies.
Veronica was very proud to have an SW1 address, but for years drove a battered Mini in which the road was visible through holes in the floor. She would emerge from it looking like a film star.
There is probably one constant though for all of us – we will all connect Veronica with the animals that were so important to her. She adopted a succession of young Little Owls that had been rescued from certain death. One even accompanied her to work, spending the day under a waste paper basket. After her retirement she then focused on her beloved dachshunds – first Chota and then Sydney.
We had a lovely holiday together in Cornwall where we retraced the steps she had taken years before with her mother, and years later with her best friend. I am very sad that we will not do any of this again.
Steve and Eleanor Pitts
Barely a day goes by without thinking about how many special times I had with Veronica over the last fifteen years. This included a private screening in her flat of Ken Russell’s DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS for a friend visiting from Australia and i remember her tale of how she provided the director with a copy of the film after he lost his own print in a fire…or .grappling over which to watch of 2 rare prints of Rene Clements KNAVE OF HEARTS. On another occasion allowing me to access huge boxes of VHS tapes in her garage for anything of interest and coming away with lots of rare for me treasures. I remember also getting tickets so Veronica could take Alex in his wheelchair to the OZ for a notorious staged version of BEN HUR with a wild live chariot recreation which they both loved. There was an intriguing tale of how she had to report that the hanging rope images of Bogart and Hepburn during the finale of THE AFRICAN QUEEN meant that this once widely loved family film could not be screened uncut on C4 before 9.00. I was chided by Veronica for not rating Carol Reed much higher in my pantheon of British filmmakers and was always intrigued as to what it was that she retrieved from the demolition of the gloriously fondly remembered Biograph cinema in Victoria Finally i remember going to see Veronica many times at Westminster Film Conventions and always finding her in the cafe holding court as a charming woman always surrounded by a group of male movie lovers. Such was the charm of this remarkable woman who gave so much pleasure over so many years. Included is a photo i took earlier this year playing games with her name , flowers and the surname of one of her cinema idols
I first met Veronica in the summer of 1978, when she was on a BBC “board” that turned down my application for a job in the Radio Times features department. Later that year I snuck in through another door, after which Veronica was always very supportive, encouraging me to try again to get into features, which I did in 1981 (she wasn’t on the board that time).
Like many others, I was in awe of Veronica’s calmness, poise, elegance: her speech was so measured. You sensed that she never lacked control of her situation.
Other things I shall always remember:
Her knowledge of films: you could recall any scene or any line of dialogue and she would identify the film. Ditto with TV: I remember much later, after she’d left Radio Times, I mentioned a BBC play that had once made a lasting impression on me, set in a chocolate-enrobing factory where an employee fell into a vat and was processed into the chocolates. A DVD copy of Secrets, by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, arrived in the post.
Video recorders: Veronica was the first person at Radio Times to own a VCR (the 1700-series Philips). We bonded when I became the second, and for a while she envied me for being able to leapfrog into the VHS era.
Her irresistible attraction to builders’ skips. Her arrival at work would often be delayed by her having spotted a skip en route, and she’d proudly tell me what she’d retrieved and stashed in the boot of the Mini. Most attractive of all were old Vent-Axias, which she and I knew never wore out but which builders would happily discard. For a while she would pass them on to me, I would cannibalise the parts, clean them up and present her with a good-as-new composite. We had no time for Xpelairs.
The Mini, whose rusting joints were masked by stickers and for which Veronica could find a parking space in any street in any borough.
Lunchtime swimming: I must have been going through a fitness phase because for a while I joined Veronica for her lunchtime swimming sessions. We’d take the Mini to Marshall Street baths (off Carnaby Street), or another just off the Harrow Road. She knew all the haunts, and could squeeze the Mini into any space.
“Flat 3 Europa House Saint Matthew Street”: Veronica had a tendency to organise all sorts of domestic matters over the phone from the office, spelling out that address over and over so that we all knew it.
Alex: what a perfect partner.
How I shall miss our chats.
I met Veronica through Alex who became an important part of my life, taking photographs for numerous articles I wrote mainly on country houses
Alex Anne and I became firm friends on the long journeys mainly to France Germany and Italy to photograph houses often lasting two or three weeks.
We met Veronica and went to dinner at her flat where we were introduced to the owls. Veronica and Alex both had a distinctly owlish look with their spectacles. Anne remembers having to look after one of the Little owls for a week when they were away. This consisted of feeding it frozen day old chicks. A task she did not relish but the owl was very appreciative.
Alex and Veronica wrote travel articles every year for Country Life, usually photographed in colour, then rare in CL, on exotic destinations
In her flat Veronica had shelves piled high with recordings of films she vetted for ITV and others checking them for bad language and other matters which might influence the time they were broadcast.
Obviously Veronica was absolutely reliable and meticulous in these matters and was never stood down for anyone younger.
Her knowledge of films and actors was boundless and she was often asked for copies of rare films that she had captured on one of the many recorders in the flat. She and Alex were passionate about the theatre too and could always be relied on for good advice if we wanted to know what to go and see next.
Veronica was always very elegant and beautifully turned out and a fascinating and lovely lady. We will miss them both.