I must have been one of thousands who remained open-mouthed at the title “Revealed: The day Vanessa Redgrave found her husband in bed with her father” in the Daily Mail; a title that has now been changed on the internet to “The cursed legacy that still haunts Vanessa Redgrave”.
Joely Richardson, daughter of Vanessa, is eager to put the record straight. She says, “The argument of “today’s news, tomorrow’s fish and chips” no longer holds, with information stored on the internet”, which is why the more her correction is reprinted, the more chance there is of cancelling the effect of the many blogs which seem to have copied the original article word for word.
So here, word for word, is what Joely has to say:
Freedom of the press, and it being used responsibly, are very hot topics at present given the phone hacking investigation.
Last week a national newspaper published excerpts from an unauthorised biography titled The House of Redgrave — The Secret Lives of the Theatrical Dynasty.
My family heard about the proposed book two years ago. The author approached my sister Natasha claiming he was writing an appreciative book on my father, Tony Richardson’s, work. There’s much to appreciate.
As the son of a chemist from Shipley, he won a scholarship to Oxford, came to London and, according to the FT, was: “Britain’s most admirable film maker”, and that the Renaissance of British theatre in the 1950s and of British cinema in the 1960s “owed more to his flair and fearlessness in creating something new than to any other person or historical factor”.
“Hear, Hear,” added the author when he forwarded this article to Natasha. Despite this, my sister smelled a rat, and said that the family would not contribute to the book unless by mutual consent via lawyers and literary agents. The author replied: “It won’t come to that because this is going to be a great experience for us all. I am, after all, only embarking on this project because of my admiration for Tony”. The family firmly declined.
In the wake of Natasha’s passing I started to receive calls from friends and acquaintances saying they’d been contacted by this individual who had now changed his narrative to a book on the Redgraves.
He claimed to have Natasha’s backing before she died. Anyone close to us refused to collaborate. When a biography is unauthorised, the writer, having no access to the direct story, must inevitably “fill in the blanks”. At this point the narrative enters the realm of invention, “make believe” at some times hysterical, and some times awful.
One of his more insensitive descriptions is of Vanessa singing Edelweiss to Natasha in hospital. I asked my mother if this was true, as I had no memory of it, and it seemed such a bizarre choice on every level, least of which was that it played no part in our childhood: “Darling I don’t even know the words to it!” she replied.
Concerning the responsibility of the press, a national newspaper recently decided to print this cobbled-together prose — taken from interviews, excerpts of autobiographies — but all taken out of context. It included a good dose of “he said/she said” of which the large percentage of people quoted are now dead. A useful tool in his case.
The newspaper pulled out a truncated version of a sentence that stated “the day Vanessa Redgrave walked in to find her husband in bed with her father”. It repeatedly ran this statement as its headline. If one were to have read the whole piece, it did mention right at the very end — small print as it were — that “someone (now dead) supposedly said it to someone”.
If we are to enter a phase of journalism where “rumour has it” is printable, then no one is safe. It’s vastly irresponsible and as my favourite Chinese whisper joke goes “send reinforcements we’re going to advance” whisper, whisper down the line, “what did he say?” — “He said send three and fourpence we’re going to a dance!”.
The argument of “today’s news, tomorrow’s fish and chips” no longer holds, with information stored on the internet. This should heighten the bar of responsibility, not lower it.
The articles reduced my parents to the labels of “Bisexual Father and Marxist Mother”. Myopic to say the least. My mother, for the last 20 years anyway, would not call herself a Marxist but a human rights activist. In fact she has not been a member of any political party for decades. In the last two general elections she has voted Liberal Democrat. For the past 16 years she has been a Unicef Global Goodwill Ambassador.
My father’s bisexuality is a footnote if anything, not a headline of what defined his great contribution to the arts. Are Tennessee Williams or Terence Rattigan known as “gay playwrights”? Of course not. The prejudice displayed by both the author and the newspaper in the published extracts reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s trial at the Old Bailey. Please tell me we’ve moved on from 1895!
I am trying to ignore the more emotional argument, which I suppose could be purely personal. Does a woman who lost her eldest daughter, sister and brother within a year need to be reminded of how she might have failed loved ones 30 years ago? Love her or loathe her she is undoubtedly one of the greatest actresses of all time. Last year Bafta awarded her a “fellowship” for her contribution to film and television.
Vanessa would be the first to say her politics, or actions, have been misguided at times. But compare a woman who gives the shirt off her back (she does live in a small two-bedroom flat as a result — the book was right about that one) with newspapers or writers who profit from the misery of others.
The highest pay cheque my mother ever received funded the building of a nursery school in Shepherd’s Bush — the school cost well over three times the money she donated to the making of the film The Palestinian. Unsurprisingly this always goes unmentioned in the press.
My sister and I have always worried about Vanessa’s total selflessness, hence Tasha’s very poignant present to mum shortly before she died — a little purse embroidered with “save for a rainy day”.
Why bother addressing these issues publicly? I’d prefer not to, but these “statements” were issued publicly about my family. So I’m using the freedom of the press to respond with the truth.
My mother did not walk in to find her father in bed with her husband. Silly as pie on the one hand, highly defamatory on the other: “prurient contemptible hackery” as a friend described it. As a family we are taking legal action.
To newspapers and publishing houses I urge the use of fact over fiction, freedom of the press, and responsibility at all times.
via The Telegraph