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).

Jocelyn Rickards, whose unsolicited advice so irritated her friend Robin Dalton.
Jocelyn Rickards Designs

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;

Unsolicited advice from Jocelyn Rickards to Robin Dalton.

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.

Robin Dalton and Sir Laurence Olivier.

The note  from Rickards ended with  an equally irritating sign-off; a syrupy chaser for her dose of  patronizing  counsel.

Sign off from Jocelyn in a letter of advice to Robin Dalton.

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;

Robin Dalton's irritated response to advice from Jocelyn Rickards.

‘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.

Robin Dalton's memoir.

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.

  1. Good grief – amazing the friendship lasted! The average rejection letter is far kinder than that.
    As for your initial comment, Pauline, about people saying, ‘I’d write if only I had more time,’ all I can say is, they have NO IDEA about the discipline and sheer hard work involved – or the guts required to just keep at it over months or even years until the manuscript is finished. Time? That’s just the beginning!

    • Pauline

      And the wretched Jocelyn Rickards wasn’t even a writer! What a nerve. Oh yes, and you are so right about the ongoing effort producing a book requires.

  2. Appalling attitude and response. Just remind me why they were ever friends in the first place?

    • Pauline

      I think just because they were fellow ex-pats in London, and moved in the same circles.

      • haha my question (more of a statement) was very much with tongue in cheek

        • Pauline

          Oh, I wondered about that,lol But I hadn’t actually explained the origin of their ‘friendship’.

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