Laurie was born in Marylebone, the daughter of Thomas Werner Laurie, a London publisher with a reputation for publishing risqué titles. Her parents had three children before they married in 1931.
After finishing school in Switzerland, she married Paul Clifford Seyler MC, son of playwright Clifford Seyler, in May 1942. She joined the WRNS shortly afterwards, serving as a clerk and then as a driver. She worked in an SPCK bookshop after the war, and had a son (Nicholas Laurie Seyler, later Nicholas Werner Laurie, now Nick Laurie), in 1946. Her husband left England soon after their son was born, and disappeared.
Her father had died in 1944, and she worked for his old company as a production editor.
From 1954 until her death, she edited the woman's periodical She, dealing frankly with a range of issue of interest to women, from menstruation, hysterectomy and abortion to recipes and carpentry. Joan and Nancy lived openly together with their sons, and later the couple provided a home to Windmill Theatre owner and rally driver Sheila van Damm. Among her other achievements she was herself a competent rally driver and navigator.
She was learning to fly when she died, with Nancy Spain and four others, when the Piper Apache aeroplane crashed near Aintree racecourse on the way to the 1964 Grand National - the Civil Aviation Authority Accident Report ended with the words "Passenger interference cannot be ruled out". She was cremated with Spain at Golders Green Crematorium, London. The relationship between Werner Laurie and Spain is described in Rose Collis' posthumous biography of Nancy Spain, published in 1997.
Nancy Spain with Gilbert Harding. Photo by Roger Storey
Nancy Spain 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 has a son Nicholas, and Spain's alleged youngest son, Thomas, was born after an affair with Philip Youngman Carter, husband of Margery Allingham.
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. She also appeared on many radio broadcasts, particularly on Woman's Hour and My Word!, and later as a panelist on the television programmes What's My Line? and Juke Box Jury. Spain died in an airplane crash near Aintree racecourse while travelling to commentate on the 1964 Grand National.
Spain was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. She was the youngest of the two daughters of Lieutenant-Colonel George Spain, a freeman of the city and a prominent figure in local military and Antiquarian affairs. Her father 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 the Roedean School (a family tradition) 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, the title an obvious allusion to Radclyffe Hall). She became a star columnist for the Daily Express, She 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 one 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.
It was often in the news that she wanted to get married 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 youngest son, Thomas, was born in 1952 after an affair with Philip Youngman Carter, husband of Margery Allingham.
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.
Rumor has it that Spain left a son, Thomas Carter, allegedly fathered by Philip 'Pip' Youngman Carter, but she did not acknowledge him publicly. Thomas 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 paid for Thomas's education through college 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."
A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain (Sexual Politics) by Rose Collis
Series: Sexual Politics
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Continuum Intl Pub Group (Sd) (March 1997)
Amazon: A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain
When Nancy Spain died in a plane crash in 1964, aged 47, with her partner, Joan Werner Laurie, she was at the height of a brilliant media career. A famous all-media celebrity of the time, she was a seasoned journalist and writer - with over 10 camp and frothy crime novels to her name. She later moved into radio and TV, quickly becoming an established panelist on "Juke Box Jury" and "What's My Line?" as well as a knowledgeable and lively contributor to "Woman's Hour". In this revealing biography, Rose Collis rediscovers Nancy Spain's public and private life and therein creates an account of an exceptional woman.
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