About an imagined voice on the radio whose destiny was shaped by a happy accident.
Finding a partner for life, in any era, whether you are male of female, has always been a socially driven priority once adolescence has been successfully navigated, although a significant minority appear happy to remain unattached throughout their lifetimes, seemingly content to be described as ”confirmed bachelors” or even “maiden Aunts”; the term spinster having long since been dropped from common parlance.
Whenever a famous singleton dies, thousands of people read their obituary just to see if there is any hint as to the deceased’s sexuality. It is the unspoken prurient curiosity of millions of ‘respectable’ citizens whose own lives are, of course, beyond reproach or simply unremarkable.
How many habitual readers of obituaries start with the last line?
When she died suddenly at the age of 45, Darcey Claymore, or ‘DC’ as she was affectionately known to her legion of devoted Radio 3 listeners, would surely have attracted an unusually high proportion of obit readers disappointed to learn in the penultimate line of her formal obituary in the Daily Telegraph that:-
“Ms Claymore never married but is survived by a cousin who is believed to be living in the USA.”
There wasn’t even a mention of Joey, her pet labrador, whose name occasionally cropped up in conversations she had on air with a variety of celebrity guests over the ten year run of “The Darcey Claymore Hour” the popular late afternoon programme on Radio 3. The show only came to an end when it was announced that DC had succumbed to Covid 19 during her regular three week summer break. For millions, afternoons between 4.00 pm and 5.00 pm would never be the same again.
Predictably, social media platforms went into overdrive following the BBC’s shock announcement:-
“It is with extreme sadness that we announce the untimely death of BBC Radio 3’s Darcey Claymore. Her agent has confirmed that she died this morning having been admitted to King Edward VII’s hospital in Marylebone suffering from Covid 19 symptoms the previous day. No further bulletins will be issued but our thoughts are with her colleagues, family and friends at this traumatic time.”
The Guardian was no more forthcoming on the subject of her personal life. The arts editor charted DC’s remarkable career, referencing her early years as a research assistant for Danny Baker and Chris Evans, pioneers of so-called chaotic zoo radio delivered from BBC Radio London’s studios in Marylebone High Street, transferring to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 as an assistant producer, before finally graduating to Senior Producer on Radio 3 where her knowledge of classical music was quickly apparent to all.
Her big break came completely by accident when an experienced presenter, Sara Mohr- Pietsch, failed to show up for a 4.00 pm stand in slot for Sean Rafferty’s “In Tune” programme which is a mixture of live chats and classical music. As duty producer, DC took an instant decision to sit in and present the show herself for an hour whilst colleagues located the contracted stand in.
Darcey’s cut glass accent coupled with an easy manner and an intimate knowledge of her subject matter made an instant impression on the loyal Radio 3 listeners. She was completely unflappable.
At 4.02 pm, the hyper active self-styled punk classical violinist, Nigel Kennedy, plonked himself down in front of her to promote his latest concert. He announced that he intended to play a Jimi Hendrix inspired cadenza to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.
DC simply smiled and asked if he knew Hendrix lived in a house at 23 Brook Street next to George Fredrick Handel’s who lived at 25 Brook Street.
Clearly irritated, Kennedy immediately took out his violin and challenged DC to play a Jimi Hendrix track immediately after he had demonstrated his cadenza. As he finished, he was genuinely flabbergasted to hear All Along The Watch Tower coming through his headset. As it finished he immediately followed up with an improvised three minute burst of Handel’s Largo from the Opera Xerxes on his violin.
“One all, DC, One all!” He cried as they both dissolved into laughter.
When Sara Mohr- Pietsch turned up at 5.00 pm, the BBC had already received thousands of calls asking for DC to carry on. Due to a straightforward clerical error in Sara’s contract, DC’s career as a presenter had been born. Her knowledge as a producer had given her a unique edge.
When The Darcey Claymore Hour was launched it quickly acquired a sophisticated all ages audience that adored the laid back formula which was soundly rooted in classical music but never afraid to depart from a strict musical genre footpath if the conversation suggested it.
Although Janet Carpenter, one of DC’s colleagues at Radio 3, launched the show as Producer, insiders at the BBC knew it was really a joint production, not that DC ever referred to it as such. For her, it was simply a team effort with each member playing equally important roles. If anything it was more a labour of love.
Nobody knew, least of all DC or JC themselves, what actual music tracks might be played during the hour. They became adept at instant interrogation of the BBC’s vast digital library depending on what the celebrity guest was promoting. DC’s personality emerged as the show developed but never in a dominant way. She was a brilliant facilitator. Her guests were always centre stage. As a result, celebrities with books shows concerts or tours to promote began requesting appearances.
The Darcey Claymore Hour morphed into a combination of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs or Private Passions on Radio 3 but within a recognisably Chat Show format. It managed to straddle the audience bases of Radio’s 2, 3 and 4 which made DC a hot broadcasting property but one without a visibly high profile. Only occasionally did her personal life get a mention; then only tangentially.
Gyles Brandreth was promoting his latest novel “Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders” which are based on an imagined collaboration between Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who, in 1892, is exhausted writing about Sherlock Holmes. En passant, in typically garrulous Brandreth prose, Gyles innocently remarked.
“It all starts out around the corner from where you live in Baker Street, DC, so who better to give it a personal recommendation!”
DC had laughed but immediately suggested that Gyles enlist the help of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who knew a thing or two about solving Vatican mysteries. Their subsequent conversation was duly interrupted by a recording of Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere which the 14 year old Mozart had famously heard on a visit to the Sistine Chapel and written down from memory afterwards thus defeating successive Popes’ attempts to forbid transcriptions.
DC really did live in a three bedroomed Mews House off Baker Street. She was a frequent visitor to numerous restaurants in Fitzrovia with friends, colleagues and occasionally with guests who appeared on her show. She took her turn introducing the Proms on Radio 3 from the BBC’s tiny box at the Albert Hall but would not have been recognised by the public at large, even if she had stood with the promenaders in front of the stage.
Her agent at Noel Gay was Josie Cousins who came to appreciate her client’s unique talents. She handled all contract negotiations with the BBC, but DC always made it clear that she wasn’t interested in corporate work of any kind or making a move into television. She remained a very private person albeit someone who thoroughly enjoyed the company of others.
She liked nothing more than inviting small groups of friends to join her at home, two of her regulars being Josie Cousins and Janet Carpenter. Other friends and BBC colleagues often referred to them as the three Musketearies, their affectionate term for female Musketeers whose conversations often ended in tears of laughter.
Her taste in furniture was Conran influenced but the windows were simply hung with tweed curtains on poles thrust through metal grommets which could just as easily have been bought from B&Q.
The walls of the Mews House were lined with books of all kinds as well as her impressive collection of classical music CDs. She even had a vintage Garrard 301 record player for use with vinyl records.
She enjoyed showing off by lowering the needle effortlessly on to the groove in the style of an old fashioned DJ whilst mimicking a naff introduction to a sublime piece of music by Albinoni.
“Our fastest mover of the week … leaping in at no 5 in the all time Hall of Fame charts ….”
Despite having a weekly audience of 3 million, 50% higher than any other BBC Radio 3 show, very few people would have recognised its eponymous presenter if they bumped into her in the street, such is the relative anonymity afforded radio presenters compared with their TV counterparts. According to official RAJAR figures, 60% of DC’s listeners were female. Her overall audience had an average age markedly lower than the typical Radio 3 listener profile.
Her funeral was delayed by two weeks and then only attended by three people due to the strict Covid 19 Pandemic protocols. They were her agent, her producer, and the BBC’s Director General who paid a glowing tribute to DC’s achievements with a promise that a memorial service would be held at All Souls Church in Langham Place in front of the BBC as soon as government restrictions were lifted.
Clarissa Young, a senior partner in Streathers Solicitors of 44 Baker Street, opened the meeting with a brief introduction. DC had been her client for 15 years. She had arranged the purchase of 5 Baker Street Mews originally with the proceeds of DC’s inheritance from her parents plus a sizeable mortgage. Some ten years later she had been responsible for drawing up DC’s Will. By this time DC had become something of a celebrity. Josie Cousins and Janet Carpenter had agreed to be trustees.
“Firstly, may I take this opportunity of thanking you all for coming here to today. I know how difficult the past three months have been for Janet and Josie in particular. I doubt if any of us will be able to achieve closure until the formal memorial service is held at All Souls. In the meantime, there are issues arising from DC’s Will which need addressing, which is why I thought it appropriate to meet here at the Mews House. Can I start by introducing you to DC’s cousin, Jonathan Clark?”
A tall impressive looking man, who had arrived with Clarissa, immediately moved forward to shake hands before being reminded of the social distancing rules which caused him to stop and smile.
“Ah yes of course” he said apologising with a wave of his hand. “How do you do ladies” he continued in a slight mid Atlantic accent “May I say how sorry I was to learn of DC’s death? Until Clarissa finally tracked me down in New York, I had no idea what cousin Darcey had done with her life.”
Jonathan Clark was an imposing six foot six in height with luxuriant dark brown curly hair greying around the temples as well as infusing its natural waves. He wore a well fitted blue serge single breasted suit over a dazzling white open necked shirt. His Italian shoes looked as if someone had spent hours spit polishing them. His only concession to naff was a pair of gold cuff links bearing the emblem of Arsenal Football Club. He was in his late forties and looked extremely fit. Above all, he had a relaxed manner which both Josie Cousins and Janet Carpenter found utterly disarming.
Clarissa Young was in her late thirties. She had joined Streathers after qualifying at Irwin Mitchell, a much larger international firm of lawyers. A combination of hard work and a sharp intellect, coupled with being in the right place at the right time, had propelled her to her current position of Senior Partner in a thriving local firm. She wore her success lightly.
DC had been a confidant as well as a client and had introduced her to a number of her BBC colleagues. When they were all seated Clarissa continued with her explanation.
“DC’s Will is a fairly standard document which leaves this house to Josie and Janet. Like most houses in this area of London, it is a leasehold property with 110 years left on the lease although there is an opportunity to buy the freehold under current legislation. As this is a statutory right, it is something I would strongly recommend you look at once the legal formalities have been settled given its highly desirable location. The mortgage DC took out to purchase it has been paid off by the insurance company.
DC has left her record collection to you Janet and has asked if Josie would take care of Joey who I have placed in a local kennels for the time being.”
Janet Carpenter and Josie Cousins looked at each other, tears beginning to well up as the unbelievable generosity of their late friend sunk in. The Mews House alone, mortgage free, was worth around £1 million, possibly more. Neither knew what to say and were relieved when Clarissa picked up the narrative again.
“Jonathan here is the closest living relative that DC had as far as I can ascertain but it was DC’s special request that we track him down if possible. She thought that two items she had inherited from her mother really ought to be left to him if possible.”
She reached into her bag and produced a photograph and a man’s plain gold wedding ring with a single diamond embedded in it. The photograph had been taken in 1995 by DC’s mother and showed her brother George presenting a trophy to his own son Jonathan. Both looked incredibly pleased with themselves and were smiling indulgently for the camera, Jonathan looking especially resplendent in an RAF Uniform, every inch the archetypal dashing young pilot.
Now it was Jonathan’s turn to swallow hard and fight back the tears as he picked up the ring and slipped it on his finger. After some few minutes of thoughtful reflection he spoke with some emotion.
“Forgive me” he began. “But those were happy days. I had won the trophy from the RAF College at Cranwell for being “Graduate Engineer of the Year 1995”. My parents were so proud of me. They sprung a surprise party on me. DC and her parents came. It was the one and only time I met DC. She had just secured a place at Magdalen College, Oxford so it was a double celebration. I’m not sure which of us was the more embarrassed.”
Clarissa Young suggested a pause whilst they topped up their cups of tea before introducing the one subject which she had been mulling over for days. How would all three react to the personal correspondence that she had found amongst other papers deposited with DC’s Will?
“There is one more subject which I have on my agenda” she said quietly but positively. “And I must admit that I have thought long and hard about how best to present it to you … if at all.”
It was now Clarissa’s turn to hold back the tears.
“DC died so horribly young.” She said, pausing to find the right tone …. “She had so much life to look forward to, but I did find this small bundle of what I can only describe as love letters which I felt, on balance, I should share with you.”
She reached into her bag and took out a small bundle of envelopes, all post marked and addressed to 5 Baker Street Mews, which she carefully put down on the coffee table between them.
The room fell silent as each one in turn read the handwritten letters which Clarissa had numbered in date order.
Letter No 1.
This is the very first time I have put pen to paper because I am extremely shy.
I don’t want to embarrass you in any way, but I would like to know if we could become pen friends, perhaps, or even meet up for a coffee? I have admired you from afar for some time.
I am female, 25 years old and an English graduate of Oxford University. I like classical music, country walks & dining out with friends. My favourite food is Italian, but I also like Chinese cuisine with a preference for Peking over Cantonese.
My friends would have a fit if they knew what I was doing.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Return letter No 1.
My dear DC
What a lovely surprise it was to receive your letter. I don’t know what I have done to deserve your admiration, but I will do my best to warrant it, if I can. I am 28 years of age. I am an engineer working with the RAF which might sound glamorous, but one hangar looks much like another if you get my drift. My leisure time is spent climbing mountains or holidaying in a log cabin which I visit in Colorado every year. My interests revolve around politics and Arsenal FC which will probably put you off completely, but I do share your passion for classical music.
Where did you have in mind as a possible place to meet?
Here’s to a continuing dialogue!
Letter no 2.
I am so pleased you have not taken offence at my boldness. I have an interview at the BBC next month. Perhaps we could have a coffee at the Langham Hotel in Portland Place afterwards. My Uncle George is a journalist. He put in a good word for me with the Controller of BBC Radio who is looking for programme researchers. I am extremely nervous, but I like the idea of researching material for radio programmes. I am a bit of a book worm. If I get the job it might lead me to becoming a producer one day. When I know the time of my interview I will let you know.
PS I know nothing about football, but my Dad was a West Ham supporter.
Letter no 3.
I am so sorry we were prevented from meeting but well done on getting the job! As my mum used to say “it will be tuppence to talk to you” soon. At least, I think that’s what she said!
Thank you for the photograph! On second thoughts, make that quote from my Mum “a shilling to talk to you!”
I will write again once I know where my next assignment will take me so we can finally meet face to face. The pic enclosed was taken five years ago. A word of warning though. Uniforms can hide a multitude of imperfections!
Letter no 4.
My dearest JC
I don’t agree about uniforms. Someone needs to have a perfectly proportioned frame to display the uniform in the first place!
Why else would Queen Victoria have fallen head over heels in love with Albert? After all, they were first cousins weren’t they?
Yours as ever
Letter no 5.
Dearest frustratingly infuriatingly adorable DC,
All unions carry risk,
Victoria & Albert may have passed on haemophilia to the Russian royal family, but they seemed to do alright for themselves didn’t they?
Perhaps we should try a concert at the Royal Albert Hall as our first official date?
What do you think?
Missing your reply already
There was a long silence when all four had finished reading the correspondence. No one knew how best to express their thoughts.
Jonathan Clark finally plucked up enough courage to get the ball rolling.
“It is difficult to know where to start” he said “But I can assure you that I have never seen these letters before. I may well be the JC referred to in them but then we three are all JCs are we not?”
Janet Carpenter and Josie Cousins looked at each other; neither having spotted the coincidence.
“If you look at the postmarks on the envelopes and the handwriting” continued Jonathan, “It seems clear to me that Cousin Darcey must have been the author of all of the letters herself. She was effectively writing to herself every time.”
“But why on earth would she do such a thing?” said Josie, slightly miffed at the suggestion. “The DC that I knew was a kind considerate highly intelligent individual with multiple friends. She was one of the most grounded people I have ever known. She was rational to a fault. This behaviour is totally out of character.”
“I agree” said Janet, sensing Josie’s irritation. “There has to be more to it than that!”
Clarissa Young could see that this conversation might turn awkward at any moment so decided to intervene with a few thoughts of her own.
“You both knew DC on a personal level much better than me” she started “But I have been doing my best to understand these letters ever since I found them. I can only offer you a hypothesis not an explanation if you would like to hear it?”
All three JCs immediately nodded their agreement.
“When DC first saw Jonathan at the family party she fell head over heels in love with him. Let me embarrass him right now by admitting that he is still a hugely attractive man but even more so back then in his uniform. It was love at first sight. Imagine DC’s excitement at going off to Magdalen College knowing that she had already met the man of her dreams!”
“But why wait another 15 years after leaving University before writing?” said Janet.
“Surely the answer is in one of the letters” suggested Josie. “She was consoling herself with the thought that cousins shouldn’t marry. If she couldn’t have Jonathan for a husband, she would concentrate on her career instead, to the exclusion of any other romantic relationships which would always seem second best. She would not be the first singleton to prefer life that way.”
“I’m sorry Josie, it still doesn’t explain the timing” said Janet looking again at the postmarks.
“I think I can help you there” interjected Jonathan, who had been listening with increasing interest to the logic emerging. “The reason my father’s wedding ring ended up with his sister, DC’s mother, and not with me is because, sadly, they had already cut off all contact with me … you see they never accepted my choice of a partner; someone I had fallen in love with. It probably didn’t help that Pat is mixed race. My parents were very traditional. They gave me everything for which I will be eternally grateful but there comes a time when you must follow your heart. Pat and I married at the Chelsea Town Hall in 2015. It was the happiest day of our lives. When we appeared together on the balcony overlooking the Kings Road there was a spontaneous round of applause from people below as we embraced. I shall never forget the warmth of the affection we felt from total strangers. No doubt DC’s mum will have told DC about us”.
Clarissa Young, Josie Cousins and Janet Carpenter listened intently, once again close to tears, as Jonathan finished his story.
“When we left the RAF after 25 years, we decided to set up our own engineering consultancy in Colorado. It has been successful beyond our wildest dreams. When Clarissa tracked me down I was speaking at our National Convention in Carnegie Hall.”
The memorial service at All Souls finally took place in mid-2022. It was packed to the rafters by DA’s loyal listeners and colleagues from the BBC.
The Director General delivered a glowing Eulogy referencing DC’s unique individuality. She had pioneered a modern style of broadcasting that somehow managed to marry the old with the new but in a spirit on spontaneity.
Gyles Brandreth recited some Keats and Nigel Kennedy played Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams live to a backing track he had created himself on a Moog synthesizer.
The congregation filed out to Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender” from the 1962 movie ‘Girl Girls Girls’.
They all smiled as they passed Jonathan and Patrick Jerome-Clark standing in the back row, each beaming from ear to ear.
They knew they could still turn heads and acknowledged the attention in an understated way by slightly nodding their heads.
Pat glanced down every few minutes at the gold wedding ring with solitary diamond on his left hand. He was looking forward to taking Joey back to the USA. He adored labradors.
Jonathan was planning to help Josie and Janet to purchase the freehold on 5 Baker Street Mews.
All in all, it had been a hugely enjoyable typically eclectic Darcey Claymore Hour
This Decamot was inspired by the following Decamot items: Claymore, love letter, Darcey, mountain, needle, footpath, grommet, Labrador, log cabin, hangar