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For Sian and Gillian Baverstock

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Isn’t it strange how the death of someone you have fond memories of can affect you?

This morning I learned of the death of Gillian Baverstock this Sunday past  (24 June) at the age of 76. From pursuing the obit columns, I realised that Gillian’s daughter, Sian, had died last year from a heart attack at the age of 44.

Who were Gillian and Sian Baverstock?

Well, for starters, they were respectively the daughter and granddaughter of Enid Blyton and wife and daughter respectively of Donald Baverstock, one of the early controllers of BBC 1 who was later involved in the setting up of Yorkshire Television. (It was Baverstock who commissioned the first series of ‘Doctor Who’ – and it was from the forum of the Doctor Who fansite Outpost Gallifrey that I learned of Gillian’s death.)

In 1988 I enjoyed a 6-7 months romantic relationship with Sian, during which I met Gillian several times. She was every bit the charming, elegant and articulate woman described in the obits though she kept a polite distance emotionally from much of what was going on around her. She was as reserved as she was welcoming.

The Baverstocks were a troubled family, though, for all their wealth (which was considerable!).

First, there was the growing conflict between Gillian and younger sister Imogen Smallwood who had just written her contentious memoirs of mother Enid, ‘A Childhood at Green Hedges’ (published the following year by Methuen). I was given an advance copy of Imogen’s book and asked for my opinion. (At this stage Gillian was contemplating legal action to prevent publication.) Imogen’s book was indeed very harsh regarding her mother’s style of parenting; but some aspects of the treatment of the two girls did help to explain certain aspects of Gillian’s – and, to some degree, Sian’s personality.

In Gravesian terms, Blyton’s BLUE world of formal routines, strict discipline, nannies and arm’s length parenting would have done little for the girls’ PURPLE vMEME’s need for attachment. And it would seem in retrospect that Gillian’s more Phlegmatic temperament made her more accepting of this than Imogen’s more Choleric temperament. (When Gyles Brandreth interviewed the Blyton daughters for The Daily Telegraph in 2002, he noted how conspicuously different they were in temperament.)

Nonetheless, such an upbringing would go a long way to explaining the very formal – emotionally cold? – way Gillian had of conducting herself. (When you read an account such as Imogen’s book, it really does help to explain how people raised that way – eg: the royal family – often have great difficulties dealing with their emotions.)

Although she would become an ardent champion – apologist? – for her mother and her oeuvre in later years (and indeed herself wrote two biographies of Blyton partly to set the record straight), there was at the time – as I remember it – no real denial of Imogen’s stories. Rather, it was said that Imogen was being overly selective in her memories and thus producing a distorted account.

There was also a cold fury that Imogen deigned to expose the less savoury aspects of the family’s  history to the public’s gaze. (As I understand it, the Blyton girls rarely spoke to each other after the publication of ‘A Childhood at Green Hedges’ and indeed wouldn’t be interviewed together for Brandreth in 2002.)

Additionally the Baverstocks were still grieving over the death of son Glyn (in a car crash in 1983) – though it was rarely talked about while I was there. As for Donald, he was in a bad way. As I recall, I only met him twice – and one of those occasions was only minutes before Gillian hustled him away. From the other longer encounter, it was clear he was a very intelligent and articulate man but opinionated to the point of being boorish. He was mired in alcoholism.  Sian told me he was drinking by mid-morning most days and was usually incomprehensible by late afternoon, though often he would carry on drinking into the evening until he passed out. It seems he had been that way for several years.

Apparently there had been some kind of major fall-out with one-time close friend and collaborator Paul Fox at Yorkshire Television, the machinations of which had effectively ended Donald’s career in television. Coming more or less at the same time as Glyn’s death, Donald had become aimless and depressed. A heavy drinker for years, he had turned to the bottle; and, Gillian being fiercely protective, he was mostly kept out of the way of anyone other than close family and a few friends who still bothered. Any contact with the media was scrupulously avoided.

The man who had pioneered some of Britain’s best loved television programmes, from ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘Emmerdale Farm’, was a mere husk of the man he had been when I met him.

That Donald survived until 1995 surprises me, given the state he was in in 1988 – but maybe the family pulled him through some of the worst of his excesses…?

Sian herself had had her share of problems.

In her teens she felt alienated from the socialite world of her parents – damaged PURPLE facilitating high RED rejecting ORANGE? – and fell in with the quite substantial hippie crowd in the Baverstocks’ home town of Ilkley. This lot of ‘acid freaks’, however, were more influenced by Ken Kesey than Timothy Leary. They didn’t stay at home dropping LSD and attempting to find God and meaning in life. They loaded themselves then went out and about and lived life to the full while stoned. I’ll never forget Sian’s description of driving while trying to decide what colour the traffic lights were as the stancheon melted into the ground! Dangerous undoubtedly –  but what a tale for RED to tell!

However, Sian ended up broke, malnourished, her teeth rotting, unwashed and smelly, and mainlining speed.

She was saved by Gillian taking her home and paying for the treatment to get her detoxed.

Next Gillian set her up in a house in Shipley which Sian and brother Owain gutted and virtually rebuilt from the inside. I distinctly remember Sian proudly showing me pictures of various stages of the renovation.

Now restored, a vibrant and very attractive young woman, Sian got a job in the general office of Hellmann Mitchell Cotts Ltd (now Hellman International Forwarders Ltd) on Cemetery Road in Bradford. Which is where we became friendly through our mutual appreciation of the music of Jefferson Airplane/Starship.

One day I plucked up the courage to ask her out – and that was it: we were pretty instantaneously a couple. Sian was suspicious of people in general and men in particular, with so many interested in befriending a woman with her potential fortune. But, since I had little interest in wealth per se, it didn’t seem to be a problem…at first.

Paradoxically, as it began with Jefferson Airplane, so it ended with them. A stupid, thoughtless row after Starship’s set at the Reading Festival that August, no-consequences RED saying vicious things that weren’t really meant but couldn’t be taken back too easily either while RED’s pride was still dominating our minds. So we split. Sian was so upset she left Hellmann within a week of us getting back from Reading.

As much as there was any real substance to our split, it was that Sian couldn’t handle her growing feelings for me when set against the Baverstock ethic of putting off ‘golddiggers’. And maybe I could have been more patient with her. (But my own damaged PURPLE was somewhat anxious resistant at the time- so patience with a woman’s affections was most definitely not one of my virtues!)

Much as we were good friends and passionate lovers, it wasn’t really one of those love-of-your-life affairs. After the initial trauma of the split, I soon stopped pining for her. And, as far as I know, Sian didn’t pine that long for me. But we had our moments – and I have my memories. For example…

# Me counselling Sian on the eve of a meeting of Darrell Waters Ltd, the company chaired by former BBC Director General Alistair Milne, which licenced Blyton merchandising. Should an image of Big Ears adorn the crotch of a range of knickers was the key issue to be discussed!

# Us sat in  the Baverstocks’ kitchen around their large wooden table, counselling Owain on his plans to set up business as a tree surgeon.

# Us nervously blowing each other kisses between the open facing doors of our respective offices.

# Sian complaining that we were acting like love-struck teenagers and then describing how ugly a Martian might find the human act of sex…all in a swish Indian restaurant!

# Sian complaining repeatedly about my shaved-off stubble clogging up her bathroom sink.

# And can I ever forget that evening I opened my door to find Sian wearing a huge fake fur coat? When I told her, I objected to fur even if it was fake, she opened the coat to reveal she was wearing nothing underneath but her jewels!

The last time I saw Sian was in the Spring of 1990. I’d contacted her to persuade her to sell me a rare Jefferson Starship video she’d previously indicated she wasn’t that fond of.

The bitterness of the split was long gone and we enjoyed a couple of hours reminiscing about old times and filling each other in on our adventures since we’d last met. She seemed in good spirits – though very concerned about her father’s health – and very positive about her current job. There was no hint from either of us of any lingering romantic feelings. What was had been and was gone. We exchanged Christmas cards for a couple of years after; but I let that lapse in 1994 when the latest girlfriend proved profoundly jealous of contact with previous paramours.

I vaguely recall Sian telling me at some point about a heart problem; but it was still a shock to learn she’d died in 2006 from a heart attack at just 44. Truth to tell, I don’t think I ever asked her age; but she looked and seemed older. Possibly the effects of her time in drug hell.

It’s strange to think she’s been gone over a year – a woman I shared my body and some of my deepest emotions with. And now her mother’s gone too.

Sian and Gillian, wherever you are now, whatever you are, if you are…many thanks for those few months and those little differences you made to my life. It was a privilege to know you. If there is a god, may he/she/it/ bless your spirits. I bless your memories.

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14 Responses

  1. Keith E Rice says

    Thanks for this, Jennifer.

    The occasional comments from contributors like yourself help to build up the picture of Sian. Although we were lovers-type close for a little while, she was quite guarded in some respects and wasn't overly forthcoming about some aspects of her life. Surprisingly, I never realised she was a keen horse rider until Deborah - a few comments back - said so!

    I can assure you your words will be read. More than 8.5 years after the original version was published, this Blog post remains in the top 5 most popular on my site.

    I reckon most of them are hunting down Baverstock references due to the Blyton connection.

    Which may have been the root of some of Sian's problems.

    Like (1)
  2. Jennifer bidgood says

    Just read your story about Sian and Gillian.
    Sian and I were best friends at Leeds girls high school. We were linked by our love of ponies and show jumping and would talk for hours about them on the phone in the evenings even though we would see each other the next day.
    And we were both free spirits. Sian had a brilliant mind. We were soul mates in our teenage years. One day we were found on the school roof. We invented our own language so no one could understand it. I can still speak it.
    I can't understand how we lost touch and yet I still miss her.
    Maybe one day .........
    Gillian was always charming, a warm mother and homemaker my childhood self remembers.
    How tragic the money haunted her ... I never knew.
    Hope someone reads this x

    Like (1)
  3. Keith E Rice says

    Thank you so much for these comments, Deborah. I'm touched, as I'm sure you are, that, though some of the memories are of her "darker years", people she met clearly cared for her. It seemed to me that Sian had a way of leaving an indelible mark on you - mostly positive! - and, from the comments posted here, clearly she touched others too.

    Thank you too for clearing up some of the inaccuracies in both the original Blog post and some of the comments.

    And thank you for your insights into Gillian. They perhaps balance my own recollections which, at the time I wrote the original Blog post, were 19 years old and quite possibly reduced to a one dimensional characterisation by the frailties of memory. I do remember Gillian being very solicitous of Sian's wellbeing.

    On the face of it, it's a hugely tragic story - so it's welcome to have an insider's perspective to bring out more of the positive memories and the warmth of at least some of the family dynamics.

    Keith

    Like (0)
  4. Deborah Grogan-Jarvis says

    I am so sad to read the memories people have of Sian's darker years. She was my much loved cousin, my mother was Donald's sister, and I am glad that my memories of her are so much happier. She was intelligent, fun-loving, musical and a talented horsewoman. She sometimes seemed utterly fearless and had a wicked streak so big you could almost see it. She could tell the most appalling jokes and still make people laugh. However, like her father, she was emotional, outspoken, opinionated, with a deep hatred of what she considered injustice and even as a child, she could be very 'moody'. (my mother always called it "the Welsh temperament") She was a bit 'Marmite' but those who knew her, loved her. During her last years, my sister and I wrote to her on many occasions, begging her to get in touch, but we did not receive any reply, so the only news we had of her was through Owain and Mary, her brother and sister-in-law.
    Owain always adored Sian, as did his children, Zoe was probably a little young to remember much, but Owain's son, Glyn had a very special bond with Sian The whole family was utterly devastated by her death.
    I sometimes question whether Sian was pre-programmed to self-destruct, or whether it was the life she was born into that prompted her to follow the path she did. I'm sure it wasn't easy for her to have to question why people wanted to know her, whether it was for who she was, or who her grandmother was. Maybe she was trying to be 'normal' and found herself slipping from one extreme to another. One thing is for sure, the Sian she became was not the real one. I think, from what you have written, that maybe you were fortunate to see a large part of the real Sian, and I am so pleased that, even though it was some years before her death, at least she did have some time with a man who obviously understood and cared for her, and, on behalf of her family, I thank you for that.
    Just a couple more things I feel I should mention,
    Sian's brother Glyn didn't die in the car crash, he was taken back home to Low Hall and cared for there for about 18months before he died.
    At the time she died, Sian may have been 'cash poor' but the bequests that she made in her will, many to charities, would suggest that, by us 'normal' folk's standards she was certainly not broke.
    and last, but most importantly I feel, you did not meet my Auntie Gillian at her best, she was in fact a wonderfully warm person, with a huge heart and a terrific sense of humour, who was about as detached as a mid terrace house! As you said, she was still grieving for Glyn, she had been very concerned about both my Uncle Donald and Sian's health for a long time, but there were other worries, which it would be wrong for me to explain here. Had you met her before, I'm sure that you would have adored her.... maybe almost as much as I did!

    Like (1)
  5. Carolyn O'Donnell says

    Hi Keith,
    I met Sian Baverstock on a riding holiday in Wales in
    1976. I searched for her on Facebook today and found the obituries.
    Wehad a friendship for a year or so afterwards. I stayed in Leeds at the
    family home. So sad.
    Carolyn

    Like (1)
  6. Mike Tracey says

    Lina, I was interested in what you had to say about Sian. It is indeed a sad story, particularly given that ahead of her death she basically disappeared and the family really didn't know where she was until they were contacted by police and told that she had died in her hotel room which I believe was in the King's Cross area of London.
    My original idea had been to write an essay about Donald Baverstock - whom I first met over thirty years when I was working on my doctorate,and then again when I wrote the biography of Hugh Greene. I met with Owain and Mary Baverstock in March and came away with a profound sense that what was really required was a book. I've been back twice to start the research, mainly involving interviews, which is where I met Keith in what proved to be a superb interview. I am coming over in the New Year and would, if you are able, very much like to talk to you.
    You can reach me at:
    tracey@spot.colorado.edu

    Mike Tracey

    Like (1)
  7. Stephen Isabirye says

    in my review of the literature on Enid Blyton for my book, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage, I briefly reviewed Imogen Smallwood's book, A Childhood At Green Hedges. Nonetheless, from the tone of Gillian Baverstock's Afterword of the book, it seems she may not have agreed with most of the issues Imogen had written about life at Green Hedges, hence the the beginnings of apprent simmering differences between the two sisters.

    Stephen Isabirye

    Like (1)
  8. keitherice says

    You don't need to explain, Lina. Your annecdotes are touching and heartfelt and convey very simply, sadly and powerfully the mess Sian was in at the time you knew her.

    Joys, usually, can be shouted from the rooftops. Many sadnesses are better alluded to or not even mentioned. The original version of this blog post contained some descriptions of Donald that, on reflection, I decided did no one any favours and so edited them out earlier this year.

    Like (0)
  9. Lina says

    sadly she was very ill when i knew her so i never really got to know the full extent of her inner beauty but it was most deffinately shining through, even are her craziest more unrational moments.. i do know that from her point of view, she told me that things didnt work out well with her family and her and she was included and excluded by default in the end... i know that doesnt make such sense but without plastering what i knew of her private life on here i can't really explain.

    Either way it's very sad that she's no longer with us and she is and always will be greatly missed x

    Like (1)
  10. keitherice says

    Lina, thank you so much for such a touching and heartfelt annecdote of Sian. Decidedly sad and reflecting the troubled side of Sian - just as Deborah's does - but, I'm sure. immensely valuable to those who cared in some way for her. But, like Deborah, you also highlight the beauty in Sian's make-up alongside the troubles. Again, thank you!

    If Mike Tracey is to be believed, then Sian, both before I knew her and after, was quite a mystery in many respects. Mike seemed to have only vague notions of what had happened to her - which, presumably, is why he attached such importance to the recollections of my brief time with her. I can only surmise that either Owain doesn't know much or he simply isn't letting on - though Mike told me Owain was happy for everything to come out.

    It's worth noting that Sian's 1994 doctoral thesis, 'Managing Emotions', is referenced by Professor Gerry Randell of the University of Bradford School of Management in his article, 'The Core of Leadership' -http://accreditation.mbaworld.com/downloadblrarticle/1063/index.htm

    The title of Sian's thesis might be an indicator of the journey she was on.

    The last time I saw her in 1990, I'm sure she said something about being involved with the School of Management. 'Dr Sian'...? I'm sure she would have taken real pride in that...and, to be honest, I feel just a little proud myself.

    Like (0)
  11. Lina says

    hiya,

    thank you so much for what you have written.. i have only tonight learnt of Sian's death and i'm so sad that things ended that way for her, despite all her problems she was a beautiful person. I maybe however be able to shed a little light on her life after you lost touch.. sadly it's not positive news and i won't write you a massive detailed description here but, i am a 26 year old girl..woman.. living in Ilkley... when i was 17/18 ..so around 2000 i was in hospital with Sian for 6 months.. sadly it was a psychiactric hospital.. a private one none the less as i'm sure only a Baverstock would find!
    She was again very troubled mentally and physically and to be honest it really doesnt suprise me that she died so young.. i had just kind of hoped having not heard anything, that she had found a way out of her sadness.
    There is of course a lot more to my friendship with her and how she was and what went on while i knew her but i wont post it all here for her diginity.
    Just thought you'd like to hear from someone who lived with her closer to her death.
    be safe x

    Like (1)
  12. keitherice says

    This Blog post has been one of the enduringly popular since its posting at the end of June 2007. It never had mega-hits but there was rarely a week or 2 went by without at least one hit.

    But since BBC 4's broadcast of 'Enid' on Monday evening, it's had 138 hits. It's not the biggest single hit blitz - that honour goes to June 2009's goes to '"Britishness' at the Regent's College Summit' - http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/2009/britishness-at-the-royal-college-summit/

    Nonetheless it's a pretty big number for a Blog focussed primarily on radical sociopsychological theory. Which says something, I guess, about the continuing fascination with Blyton and, to a lesser extent, Baverstock.

    Certainly 'Enid' was pretty watchable stuff - viewers clearly thought so, the programme getting 1.5 million viewers at its peak (the third highest BBC 4 rating ever). More Imogen's influence on the programme makers than Gillian's, I feel - though I thought the portrayal of Blyton lacked the sheer coldness of Smallwood's descriptions in 'Green Hedges'.

    Rather more challenging for me personally was being interviewed about Sian by Mike Tracey in mid-October. Tracey, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is a renowned expert on public service broadcasting and is working on a biographical account of the Baverstocks, provisionally entitled 'Donald & Gillian'. Originally it was going to be just about Donald and his contributions to British TV; but the more Mike got into it, the more he came to focus on the troubled relationship between Donald and Gillian.

    Initially I was a little suspicious of Tracey who is something of a controversial figure - having first made heads spin during his days at the Broadcasting Research Unit, his chair at Boulder has found him mired in controversy through no less than 3 highly-contentious documentaries about the murder of pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey. By his own admission, Tracey has received death threats as a result of these documentaries!

    He claims to be writing the authorised biographical account of Donald and Gillian with the full backing of Owain Baverstock. I e-mailed Owain who now runs a gym in Guiseley to ask if it was OK to talk to Tracey. I never heard back so....

    Tracey was particularly interested in Sian's late teens/early twenties drug problems and just when I understood them to have begun. He also asked me for my psychological interpretation of Sian's relationship with her parents. Apparently Sian had again become estranged from her parents in the 90s. Mike didn't seem to know why or what the state of relations was between Sian and Gillian when Sian died in 2006. Or, if he did, he wasn't saying...!

    It was a truly strange experience doing the interview - not that Mike was in any way unprofessional or untoward; but, under his prompting, I found myself remembering things I didn't know I knew. Some were sad, some were just humdrum, some were really quite startling...!

    At the end of the interview, Mike seemed pleased - that it had given him an angle on the Sian-Gillian-Donald relationships he hadn't had before. Me. I found myself quietly stunned in a numb sort of way. A bit like I felt when I first learned of Sian's death.

    Digging deep into something that had mattered so much at the time - though irrelevant to me today - was quite a bizarre experience!

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  13. deborah says

    Dear Keith
    strangley, was just thinking of Sian today and googled her, only to find out of her passing a couple of years ago. How sad, dear Sian, I remember her fondly. I grew up in Ilkley and knew Sian in the early 80s.I remember her as a troubled yet beautiful soul.
    I feel your sadness
    love Deborah xxxx

    Like (1)
  14. Max Drake says

    Keith - to say I was shocked and upset to read about Sian's fairly recent passing would be an understatement. I know how you guys were together as I was around you both at the time. My sincere condolences. I'm the same age now as Sian was when she passed. "Carpe Diem" as they say...........

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