Rose Collis on Nancy Spain, Coral Browne and Colonel Barker
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th February, 2009
I took a break from campaigning and work this evening, to go to hear my friend Rose Collis talking about her writing, at Brompton Library in Earl’s Court. When I first met her she was working on her biography of the Daily Express columnist, cookery writer and lady about town Nancy Spain and it was interesting to learn tonight that there was no Nancy Spain archive to work from when she started. So she had to construct one — something I am having to tell some of my students on the M.A. Non-Fiction Writing Course at City University. Rose has a knack of picking somewhat offbeat subjects; her second book was about Colonel Barker, who gave birth to two children when married to a man as a woman, then married a second time while fooling everyone — including the little wife from Littlehampton — that she was a man. Then last but not leastcame Rose’s biography of the wonderfully gutsy Australian actress Coral Browne, immortalised for me as doubtless for many others for her performance as herself in Alan Bennett’s teleplay about her visit to Moscow to see Guy Burgess, An Englishman Abroad.
Rose had terrible problems getting that last book published, but perseverence paid off. After eleven publishers had turned the idea down, it was twelfth time lucky. A lesson to us all. But like most of us freelance writers and journalists, she cannot live by her pen (or computer) alone, so has carved out an interesting alternative niche for herself, not only giving talks (as many of us do), but also walkie-talkie tours round Brighton, in whose cemeteries she has now evinced a burning passion.