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.