Nancy Brooker Spain (13 September 1917 - 21 March 1964) was a prominent English broadcaster and journalist. She was a columnist for the Daily Express, She magazine and the News of the World in the 1950s and 1960s, also appearing on many radio broadcasts, particularly on Woman's Hour and My Word!, and later as a panelist on the television programs Juke Box Jury and What's My Line?. Spain died in an airplane crash near Aintree racecourse while travelling to commentate on the 1964 Grand National.
1 Early life,
2 Post-war career,
3 Private life,
Spain was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. She was the second of the two daughters of Lieutenant-Colonel George Spain, a freeman of the city and a prominent figure in local military and antiquarian affairs. He was a writer himself and appeared in a number of radio plays as well as broadcasting commentaries on Newcastle United games. Her mother, Norah Smiles, was the daughter of Lucy Dorling (a sister of Isabella Beeton) and William Holmes Smiles (son of Samuel Smiles).
As a child, Spain remembered pushing the future eminent journalist William Hardcastle into the Bull Park Lake on the Town Moor, where she used to learn to ride at five shillings an hour "with other little bourgeois tots".
Spain went to Roedean School (a family tradition) from 1913 to 1935, where she began wearing "mannish" clothes, and developed the speaking voice which stood her in such good stead in her eventual media career. She played lacrosse for Northumberland and Durham, and hockey for the North of England, as well as playing tennis and cricket. She also acted on BBC radio, where she took over the star parts vacated by Esther McCracken. She was a sports reporter for the Newcastle Journal, and had a love affair with local sportswoman Winifred Sargeant. During the war, Spain served in the WRNS on Tyneside, a period covered in her book Thank you, Nelson (1945). She served as a driver and was then commissioned, and worked in the WRNS press office in London.
After the war, Spain published several books, including a series of detective novels set at a girls school, Radcliffe Hall (based on Roedean). She became a star columnist for the Daily Express, She magazine and the News of the World in the 1950s and 1960s and made many radio broadcasts, particularly on Woman's Hour and My Word! She later appeared as a panelist on BBC TV's record review program Juke Box Jury and the panel game What's My Line? In 1962 she performed "The Blaydon Races", the Victorian Tyneside song, at London's Marquee Club with Alexis Korner and Blues Incorporated. A recording of the latter was published on the album R&B from the Marquee.
Spain's scatty style of column-writing caused the Daily Express to be sued successfully for libel - twice - by Evelyn Waugh.
As well as Spain's books of memoirs, including Why I'm Not a Millionaire (1956), Nancy wrote a biography of her great aunt, Isabella Beeton (author of on of the first cooking books, "Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management"), and a series of detective novels. Rose Collis wrote a posthumous biography of the broadcaster and journalist in 1997.
Often in the news, and tempted to marry to seem respectable - Spain's name was linked with that of Gilbert Harding - she lived openly with the editor of She, Joan Werner Laurie (Jonny), and was a friend of the famous, including Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich. She and Laurie were regulars at the Gateways club in Chelsea, London, and were widely known to be lesbians. Spain and Laurie lived in an extended household with the rally driver Sheila van Damm, Laurie's son Nicholas (born 1946), and Spain's alleged son Thomas (born in 1952 after an affair with Philip Youngman Carter, husband of Margery Allingham; Thomas was described as Laurie's youngest son).
Spain died, with Laurie and four others, when the Piper Apache airplane crashed near Aintree racecourse on her way to commentate on the 1964 Grand National. She was cremated with Laurie at Golders Green Crematorium, London, and her ashes were put in the family grave in Horsley, Northumberland.
Spain is rumoured to have left a son - Thomas Carter - allegedly fathered by Philip 'Pip' Youngman Carter but she did not acknowledge him publicly during her lifetime. Tom was raised as the son of Joan Werner Laurie and his birth certificate shows him to be her son with Paul Seyler as his father. Spain's will left her estate to Joan Werner Laurie (as JWL's did to her), and Laurie being three years younger was assumed for legal purposes to have died after Spain. Laurie's son Nicolas inherited the joint estates as the eldest son, and thus Spain's alleged son inherited nothing. Nicholas did pay for Tom's education through school and university before settling 50% of the residue on him.
Coward summed up in his diary: "It is cruel that all that gaiety, intelligence and vitality should be snuffed out when so many bores and horrors are left living."
This section may require copy-editing. (September 2013)
Thank You, Nelson: London: Hutchinson: 1945.,
Mrs Beeton and Her Husband: London: Collins: 1948.,
Teach Tennant: The Story of Eleanor Tennant, the Greatest Tennis Coach in the World: London: W.Laurie: 1953.,
Why I'm Not A Millionaire: London: Hutchinson: 1956.,
A Funny Thing Happened to the Way: London: Quality Book Company: 1964.,
The Nancy Spain All Colour Cookery Book: London: World Distributors: 1967.,
Detective Series featuring Johnny DuVivien and/or Miriam Birdseye
1. Death Before Wicket (1946) 2. Poison in Play (1946) 3. Murder, Bless It (1948) 4. Death Goes On Skis (1949) 5. Poison for Teacher (1949) 6. Cinderella Goes to the Morgue (1950) aka Minutes to Murder 7. R in the Month (1950) 8. Not Wanted On Voyage (1951) 9. Out, Damned Tot (1952)
Novels The Kat Strikes (1955)