Friday, January 25, 2008

Valentine (Nicholas) Lawford 1911 - 1991

Valentine Lawford
Valentine Lawford by Horst

My uncle Valentine, who died in 1991, was a most interesting character. Gay - long before it was fashionable or even legal - brilliant (a double first) and extremely cultured. He was educated at Repton and Corpus Christi, Cambridge where he read modern and mediaeval languages, and compeleted his studies at the Sorbonne, Strasbourg and in Vienna. In 1934 he joined the Foreign Office and in 1936 was posted to the embassy in Paris, where he became friends with a wide circle of artistic and fashionable people such as Gertrude Stein, the Duff Coopers, Sir Charles and Elsie Mendl, Douglas Fairbanks, the Rothschilds, the de Castellanes and the Windsors. We have a letter to him, inviting him to dine at Maxim's, signed 'Wallis Windsor'. He was particularly close to Nancy Cunard, who gave him some fine presents, such as a bronze of Napoleon on horseback and an antique map.

He was summoned back to London in September 1939 to become private secretary to successive Foreign Secretaries - Halifax, Eden and Bevin - as in addition acted as interpreter between Churchill and de Gaulle during the D-Day landings. He attended all the major war conferences including Yalta between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. After the war, he was appointed alternate UK Delegate to the UN Security Council and then 1st Secretary in Tehran, where he befriended the future Shah and other members of the Shah's family, one of whom - Princess Puhran- gave him a convertible Cadillac which ended up being used on the farm at Danegate!

He resigned from the Foreign Office in 1950 and moved to New York (where he was known as Nicholas) and lived for the next forty years at Oyster Bay on Long Island with the photographer Horst, writing, painting and gardening. They had a large number of friends, all of whom seemed to be well-known. His collaboration with Horst on behalf of Vogue (Diana Vreeland was of course a great friend) on Vogue's Book of Houses, Gardens and People well illustrates his love of beauty and of civilized company. He annotated a book of Horst's photographs published in 1971, Salute to the Thirties and also wrote Horst's biography, Horst, which was published in 1984. There is fine video retrospective on Horst's work on YouTube here. And here there is a video of Valentine interviewing Horst for Andy Warhol TV.

His own autobiography, Bound For Diplomacy, published by Jock Murray in 1963, was a small masterpiece. There is a fine review of it by Harold Nicholson here. He always intended to write another volume but never did. And of his diaries, Somerset Maugham commented to 'Chips' Channon in November 1947, that he thought 'they would live, but they would be too precious - too distinguished and that his style was too elegant.'

He was my father Patrick's closest brother and they used to holiday together in the Pyrenees, the South of France, the Tyrol and on Mull (where he wrote and illustrated a journal which still survives). Sadly Patrick never visited him in Long Island. He died in a New York hospital at 80 from an allergic reaction to a testing agent.

Click here for the memories of some of Valentine (Nicholas)'s friends

Click on the links for photos from each book and the heading for some photos of Valentine

Click here for some late photos of Horst and one with Valentine by Stathis Orphanos

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  1. SIr - I have the recent pleasure of having read your uncle's biography of Horst and heartily commend it. Written with great charm and style, and copiously illustrated with Horst's wonderful photographs, it's a must have book for any photographer or student of fashion and society in those times.

    Thank you for your remembrance.

  2. I just spotted your blog today and am rereading Mr Lawford's memoir. Once long ago I spent the loveliest afternoon with him and Mr Horst, at their delightful house in Oyster Bay, and was stunned by your uncle's enormous charm. He was a lovely man. And a damned good writer.

  3. Just stumbled into this blog posting after an Internet search on your uncle, who I had just learned of today. He sounds like a wonderful man, and I thoroughly enjoyed your writeup on him. Thank you for sharing.