Writers of all genres have to endure patronizing remarks. If I had a dollar for every person who has told me they would love to write if only they had more time, I could throw away my (admittedly modest) royalty cheques. The inference is that they are busy with far more challenging endeavors. Patronizing advice is another matter entirely, and when it comes from a lifelong ‘friend’ it must be utterly galling. A note held by the State Library of New South Wales prompted me to write this piece.
Jocelyn Rickards and Robin Dalton left Sydney in the 1940s; two attractive, ambitious young women. Both forged successful careers in London, mixing with the celebrities of the day and leading lives filled with glamour and a good many romantic liaisons.
Rickards (1924 -2005) was an artist and costume designer. She had an enormous influence on fashion, particularly during the 1960s when she worked on the James Bond film From Russia With Love (1963) and the existentialist drama Blow-up (1966).
Fast forward to the year 2000. In a letter to Rickards and her husband, film director Clive Donner, Robin Dalton mentioned in passing, that she was annoyed by the lack of response from the editor of The Oldie, Richard Ingrams. She had queried him about submitting an article on the writer Ben Travers.
On the reverse of a reply to the letter from Donner, Rickards launched into some completely unsolicited advice;
Oh good grief! Now this advice was not offered to an eighteen year old aspiring author, but to the then eighty year old Robin Dalton (1920 – ). Dalton was a lifelong friend and contemporary of Rickards. She had a background as an intelligence agent, successful literary agent, writer and film producer. She had already published two books, including the best selling 1965 memoir, Aunts Up the Cross.
The note from Rickards ended with an equally irritating sign-off; a syrupy chaser for her dose of patronizing counsel.
The restraint in Dalton’s reply can only be admired;
‘Ta for lecture. I will try to pay attention. However, it never occurred to me that I might be an unknown woman, so maybe I have to rethink the whole persona rather than editors’ manners.’
Privately, Dalton was seething and penciled the following on Rickards’ note;
‘Incredibly patronizing and pretentious letter from Jocelyn Rickards.’
And so it was! It’s hard to decide what would have been more difficult to swallow; the overall sentiments, the ‘shouty’ capitalization, or that cutting jibe, ‘unknown woman’. For Dalton, the bitter taste of Rickards’ note lingered, even though there was no outward breach in their friendship.
I don’t know whether Robin Dalton ever heard back from editor Richard Ingrams, or had her piece on Ben Travers accepted. However, in 2017, at the age of 96, she published another witty, well received memoir, One Leg Over.
NOTE: Responses from editors can be pretty brutal in themselves. However, I doubt there has ever been one quite so awful as that received by a Blue Mountains Poet.